I am working on an article right now that
considers a different metaphor for understanding the goal of “perfection” as a Christian. So this post is a bit of a scratchpad where I put down my thoughts. Commonly, the term is linked with moral holiness and holiness often is connected to the metaphor from the OT sacrificial system, an animal “without spot or blemish.” It is indeed a metaphor… a lack of problem externally in an animal, or lacking variety in coloration hardly means in some “real” sense that the animal is particularly holy, to say nothing of perfect. One only has to consider the illustration of Jesus regarding “whited sepulchers.”
One of the challenges in the Bible is that in Greek thinking, there was at least two very different ways to look at perfection. Aristotle listed three, but two of them overlap considerably. One can think of the perfection in terms of Substantive Perfection, or Functional Perfection. In one case, perfection is seen as something absolutely complete, inherent to the item, and lacking the possibility of being improved upon. The other means that it meets the need or function it was designed for… perfectly. As such, the perfection is not inherent but in its role. In the former understanding, perfection is static, final, unchanging. With the latter, there is no such assumption.
Consider Jesus in Luke 2:52. Most of us would see Jesus as perfect. The passage speaks of Jesus growing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. With the first definition, Jesus would be transitioning towards perfection but as a child would be imperfect. However, with the latter definition, children are suppose to learn, grow, and develop. As such, there is no reason to presume that Jesus was imperfect as a child. He was growing exactly as a child should. Likewise, Jesus scars after His death and resurrection are not imperfections, but demonstrations of God’s perfect faithfulness and power.
For me, a useful metaphor for the perfection of the saints is not in line with the Holiness movement… or with linking perfection with holiness at all. If we are called for perfection, even though we are flawed and constantly changing, it seems as if we have to see perfection as unattainable—- OR we have to rethink our understanding of perfection.
<A similar thing comes up with Righteousness. Some link righteousness with holiness. But the OT word for righteousness “tsedeq” has more to do with “right relationship.” So when we are told in the New Testament that through Christ we are righteous, this is more than simply a legal sleight-of-hand (“penal substitutionary atonement” may be a useful explanation, but it misses the point in this case). Through Christ we have a right relationship with God, so in that sense we are righteous even though we are not sinless.>
I am getting long-winded and I haven’t even gotten to writing the article. But I found a very nice quote by Forsyth:
“Perfection is not sinlessness. The perfect in the New Testament are certainly not the sinless. And God, though He wills that we be perfect, has not appointed sinlessness as His object with us in this world. His object is communion with us through faith. And sin must abide, even while it is being conquered, as an occasion for faith. Every defect of ours is a motive for faith. To cease to feel defect is to cease to trust.” –Peter T. Forsyth (1848-1921)
Anyway, I am still researching. I may change my mind still. But my hypothesis of perfection being a more dynamic rather than static quality appears to be good… so far.