ESV - 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
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This is a great example of the great DANGER of taking individual verses, out of context, and building a theology around them. Christian theology has been built from the total Revelation of God contained in the bible. The interpretation of any verse is tested by comparing it to other verses that speak about the same topic. Our interpretation is refuted or confirmed by other scripture references, especially other verses that surround the topic being narrated. The quoted verse is part of Jesus's Sermon on the Mount, a broad teaching about the Kingdom of God. Jesus uses many examples to contrast life in our sinful world with a radical new life that he brings in the kingdom of God. Jesus uses these many examples to help us understand "spiritual truth" about the kingdom of God. This particular section of Jesus's sermon is focused on "Love for Enemies" (Matthew 5:43-48). Jesus is contrasting life in our world where people love their friends and hate their enemies; with life in the kingdom of God which is radically different. Where the people of God love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. Jesus challenges us to Love All Other People with all our Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength, no matter how they respond to our love [unconditionally]. Why, because this is the way God loves us. Jesus is saying "strive to be perfect in your love for other people, just like God is perfect in his love for all people, including us. This verse has nothing at all do to with our SALVATION. Jesus is talking about life inside the kingdom of God; he is talking to believers who have already been saved. Satan uses verses like these to trick and trap us into believing his lies and deceptions. He tries to convince new believers and others who are seeking the faith that God expects us to be perfect or he won't save us. Satan does this to condemn us - stop someone from becoming a Christian, and stop a new believer from growing up in their faith. When we feel condemned, we run away and hide from God, like Adam and Eve did. But we need to follow Jesus example when he dealt with the attacks of Satan during his 40 day trial in the wilderness. Satan tried to trick and trap Jesus, and even twisted the true meaning of scripture passages, but Jesus always refuted and rebuked Satan with the truth of the bible. There is no substitute for every Christian having a thorough knowledge of the bible so their Christian theology is built on a solid foundation. The apostle Paul called this wearing the "Armor of God" to defend us against all the flaming arrows of the evil one. People who come to faith in Jesus but never make studying the bible a top priority, will always be tricked and trapped by the evil spiritual forces around us, into believing their lies and deceptions; so our faith becomes of no use to God. Our salvation is secure, but we lose the eternal rewards that should be ours, when we faithfully fulfil God's plan and purpose for our lives.
As I understand the cited passage, Jesus is saying that Christians should always strive for perfection -- the same perfection that God possesses -- even if they fall short of obtaining it. No human has been capable of achieving the degree of perfection that God possesses ever since the fall of humanity into sin. That was why it was necessary for Jesus to be incarnated, live without sin, die an atoning death on behalf of all humanity, and then rise again. His perfect righteousness can then be imputed by God to Christians through their faith in Christ. However, the fact that our salvation is by faith does not provide an excuse for Christians to give less than their best effort in emulating Christ's perfect life, which serves as their model to follow -- not in order to be saved, but in gratitude to God for the salvation that He has already granted them -- and seeking God's forgiveness for Christ's sake for those occasions when they fall short.
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