Does God expect us to be perfect?
We are called to do our best, and rely on God for the rest. Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit, and the sacraments to give us strength.
Edmund: Okay, so growing up I was a fairly conscientious and obedient kid. But then you hear Jesus saying in scripture, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” And you might have had the same reaction I did, which is like, “Wait, what?”
Okay, being raised going to church, you probably heard this message a lot about not making mistakes and trying to avoid sin or messing up. I remember this being so much easier as a kid. Maybe had tiny fingers. And like, this game gives me anxiety. Okay, I’m going for the water bucket. What is the water bucket? Because you’re trying not to mess up and sometimes church or Christianity can feel that way if you’re focused on like making sure you don’t make any mistakes. And it’s like even though you do the best you can, sometimes you just mess up. But not this time. I got the Adam’s Apple out. Is this what the Church teaches? That we have to be perfect?
If you hear someone say the goal is to imitate Jesus, well Jesus never sins so we have to be perfect like Him? And this can be a little confusing for us if we even see in the Church teaching. In the Catechism paragraph 2013 it says “All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.” All are called to holiness: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” I mean, it’s literally quoting the words of Jesus that gave me a lot of stress.
And I’ll be honest, I can be a little bit of a neat freak when it comes to, you know, making sure things are in the right spot and they’re clean and wiped and organized. I have a little bit of a perfectionist-like mentality that plagues me a little bit. I mean, you might even see it if you were to watch me recording these videos. Like, I’m tinkering with little things; I’m cleaning stuff. Like right now. Why is my sink draining? Okay, but like here. Come here. So there’s more of the story here. What’s going on involves our effort and what we have to do if we’re going to accept Jesus’s invitation to follow Him and attempt to be perfect.
See, we have this identity in Christ; we are called to become His adopted sons and daughters. But we also have to choose our actions. So when we sin and fall short, it’s understandable that we would sometimes confuse our identity with the sin or the mistake. So if we lie, we say we’re a liar. If we steal, we say, “Oh, I’m a thief.” You can hear us making these judgements about our identity. But Jesus reminds us of our true identity when sin and fall short. That we’re in need of mercy and forgiveness but also we are sons and daughters of God. When we sin and fall short, we’re still called to return back to our loving Father.
See, God’s family is perfect but we’re not yet. And we’re invited into that family, which is why Jesus told us we should strive to be perfect. And one day we will when we’re with Him in heaven, we will be. Because in Jesus’ relationship with the Father, there is no lying, there is no stealing, there is no harming one another. There’s perfect love. And that’s what we’re invited to. And it’s the greatest gift we could possibly have.
So here’s the deal: there’s really two reactions we can have. The first reaction is just to say, “You know what?” I give up. This is just who I am and I’m not going to fight it. I do my best. Whatever.” And I get it. It can be tempting to think that way, especially when you struggle with the same sins over and over again.
But see, the other attitude, in some ways, can be worse. And that is to think “Okay, it’s just up to me to try even harder next time and be perfect.” I mean, this attitude is understandable because we make a mistake and then, you know, we want to try again; we want to try harder. What we’re missing in this is Jesus needs to help us by giving us grace and aid so that we can live out the virtuous life; so that we can try to imitate Him.
It’s true that Jesus is perfect, and He wants us to be perfect. And because God is perfect and we’re made for God. BUT we can never be perfect like God until we’re in heaven. See, Jesus reveals our TRUE identity and that is that we are sons and daughters of God.
The Catechism in paragraph 2013 goes on to say more about this: “In order to reach this perfection the faithful should use the strength dealt out to them by Christ’s gift…Thus the holiness of the People of God will grow in fruitful abundance, as is clearly shown in the history of the Church through the lives of so many saints.”
So what is Christ’s gift of strength? It’s that grace that God gives us so that we can try to live out and imitate His life. See, this is what the Saints realized; they realized that they’re sinners in need of a savior; that they’re in need of mercy and forgiveness when they sin. And that’s not a bad thing to be in need of mercy and forgiveness, especially when we’re just trying our best and relying on Jesus as much as we can to help us in the life of virtue. God will give us the grace we need to respond to Him in love. And our progress in overcoming sin and temptation is not to focus so much on resisting, but to focus more on inviting Jesus to give us more grace. We need to remind ourselves less of our sins and more of our identity as a son or daughter of God. And not just like bearing down as hard as we can by our own sheer willpower to avoid sin.
Jesus promises that He will live in and through us, and when we fall short of perfection, we know that that’s just the effects of original sin. As long as we’re trying the best that we can, Jesus will come to our aid. It just means that we’re in need of Jesus.
So we’re called to do our best and rely on Jesus for the rest. Because it’s Jesus that gives us the Holy Spirit, and the sacraments that give us strength. See, because God shows us the plan for our salvation through the Law, and gives us grace to respond to Him in love.
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