In His sermon on the mount, the Savior admonished: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
Accounting for all that Christ has revealed about being perfect, two types of perfection appear: one we can only honor and aim for in this life, but the other, we can do today through His grace and guidance.
Apostle Bruce R. McConkie identified these two types of perfection in his book “Mormon Doctrine.”
“Perfection is of two kinds–finite or mortal, and infinite or eternal. Finite perfection may be gained by the righteous saints in this life. It consists in living a godfearing life of devotion to the truth, of walking in complete submission to the will of the Lord, and of putting first in one’s life the things of the kingdom of God. Infinite perfection is reserved for those who overcome all things and inherit the fulness of the Father in the mansion hereafter.”
The Apostle Paul taught that attaining the highest kind of perfection, Infinite Perfection, is the great goal of Christ’s Church–it is the primary reason why the Savior established His Church:
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, . . . Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4: 11-13).
Note how Paul speaks of a “perfecting” process, a journey of faith that continues “till” the saints come to a “unity . . . unto a perfect man.”
In mortality, we can only aim for and honor this highest kind of perfection–“the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” Nevertheless, “line upon line” (Isaiah 28: 10), one step at a time, our earthly journey of faith can be filled with many moments of Finite Perfection–even amid human failings (Rom. 3: 12, 23).
The scriptures describe Noah, Seth, and Job as “perfect” men. Since only the Savior was sinless in this life, these three men were eventually made “perfect” by God’s redeeming grace and through covenant efforts of thorough repentance and complete obedience.
Perfect Possibilities Right Now: Moments of Mortal Perfection
To realize the possibilities of perfection today, right now, a clear distinction must be made between general aims of mortal-finite perfection, which may never be attained in mortality, versus specific and inspired one-at-a-time tasks that are perfectly do-able today!
The facets of finite perfection that can be realized right now are specifically conceived and achieved one particular task as a time! I call such attainable opportunities: moments of mortal perfection. An Old Testament verse alludes to the way these moments are realized:
“Let your heart therefore be perfect with the LORD our God, to walk in his statutes, and to keep his commandments, as at this day” (1 Kings 8: 61).
Two keys for attaining moments of mortal or finite perfection are:
1) Having a perfect heart while walking in His ways.
2) Seizing inspired opportunities in the immediate moment:
taking the next step “as at this day.”
The phrase “as at this day” expresses immediacy–the present, right now! This is where moments of mortal perfection are manifest, not necessarily through magnificent outward efforts, but by bringing to the altar of worship an inward offering: a broken heart and a contrite spirit. This is the sacrifice that engages God’s perfecting grace.
Both King David and the Apostle Peter acknowledged the necessity of Divine intercession in attaining moments of mortal perfection:
“But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you” (1 Peter 5: 10). “God is my strength and power: and he maketh my way perfect” (2 Sam. 22: 33).
Defining Perfection According to the Lord’s Revelations
It is important to examine contemporary definitions of the word “perfect” and discard those meanings that are not taught in the Lord’s revelations:
Perfect – etymology from Latin perfectus = to carry out;
per = thoroughly + facere = to do or to act
Having all its parts: whole and complete
Being entirely without fault and defect
Corresponding to an ideal standard
** Completely skilled: expert **
Satisfying all requirements
Among the previous meanings, the idea of being “completely skilled or expert” does not consistently fit with scriptural definitions of perfection. In fact, a focus upon being “perfectly skilled or expert” in outward performance is often the very definition of perfection that can set up discouragement, depression, and stress.
In contrast, moments of finite perfection that are pleasing to the Lord may appear unskillful, even outwardly awkward; yet what resides inside is the sincere intent of a humble heart–a heart made perfect through Christ’s redeeming miracle. Establishing a Divine definition of Finite Perfection, The Lord Jehovah put forth the primary importance of having a perfect heart:
“But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
The scriptures define the inward attributes of a perfect heart as: submissive, sincere, childlike, non-offensive, . . . consistently pushing aside selfish will and yielding to the will of the Father–these are some of the attributes of a “perfect heart.”
Christ gave the supreme example of obedience with a perfect heart. Jesus taught that obeying the Father was more important than daily food (John 4: 31-34).
As to outward efforts of perfection, all we can ever do is . . . do our best to obey specific Spirit promptings; still, if our sacrifice to God will be acceptable and pleasing, the associated inward offerings must be given with a “perfect heart” and nothing less.
It is instructive to note that the words sacrifice and perfect share the same Latin root, facere = to act. Deriving definitions from their Latin roots, sacrifice means sacred act and perfect means thoroughly done or whole act. Being perfect is a sacred act of total consecration; such complete and thorough wholeness is echoed in the way we should live the great commandment:
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind” (Luke 10: 27).
Correlating what the scriptures say about perfection to contemporary definitions, the Savior’s finite meaning of “Be ye therefore perfect” is fundamentally about:
1) Thoroughly obeying the Father’s will with exactness
and purity of heart,
2) Becoming whole and healed, without defect,
completely clean through the blood of Christ.
There is circular synergy that occurs when penitent and obedient acts are whole and thorough: our Redeemer makes us whole and healed–complete, without defect, . . . perfect. And on the other side of this circular synergy: as we are made pure by the blood of Christ, our disposition to consistently obey the Lord is enlarged to the next “line.”
Perfection Unfolds Line Upon Line, One Step at a Time
To assume that Christ cannot make you perfect through one single task in mortal time is to miserably underestimate the infinite power and compassion of your Savior and Redeemer!
Some may be surprised to realize that even the Son of God’s Mortal Perfection unfolded “line upon line.” The Gospel of Luke records: “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him” (Luke 2: 40). The Apostle Paul describes how Jesus learned obedience through His mortal trials and was “made perfect” by the Father’s grace:
“Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Hebrews 5: 8, 9).
A latter-day Apostle, James E. Talmage, writes about the “grace to grace” growth of the Boy, Jesus of Nazareth:
“He came among men to experience all the natural conditions of mortality; He was born as truly a dependent, helpless babe as is any other child; His infancy was in all common features as the infancy of others; His boyhood was actual boyhood, His development was as necessary and as real as that of all children. Over His mind had fallen the veil of forgetfulness common to all who are born to earth, by which the remembrance of primeval existence is shut off. The Child grew, and with growth there came to Him expansion of mind, development of faculties, and progression in power and understanding. His advancement was from one grace to another, . . . from good to greater good, . . . from favor with God to greater favor.”
Line upon line, one step at a time, the Son of God’s Finite Perfection unfolded, and through each phase of His immaculate mortal maturation: He was always completely pure and without sin and His obedience to the Father was humble and whole–perfect.
It wasn’t until Christ was resurrected that He attained Infinite Perfection. This truth is known by comparing Christ’s invitation to perfection on the mount at Jerusalem (Matt. 5: 48) to the words a resurrected and glorified Christ spoke to the inhabitants of ancient America (3 Nephi 12: 48).
The Specific Steps of Finite Perfection:
Thorough Repentance & Complete Obedience with a Perfect Heart
It is clear that most mortals cannot sustain a “perfect heart” through every moment of every day of every year–we all “fall short” of the Savior’s example. Further, the finite perfection of Job, Seth, Noah, and others required repentance and redemption to eventually arrive at the pinnacle of being perfectly clean and consistently obedient, like Christ.
Again, from a general view of Finite Perfection, most mortals will ever be inadequate; but from a specific view of particular opportunities “as at this day,” it is completely possible to obey a single, specific promptings of the Spirit with a perfect heart–right now.
The Lord patiently invites us to take the next step in the perfecting process: learning the next gospel precept and growing to the next degree of grace. The Lord patiently waits to inspire and lift us to His Infinite Perfection.
It’s amazing what two can do, when one of them is God.
The immediate possibility of realizing moments of finite perfection is illustrated in the life of a prophet in ancient America:
“I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3: 7).
The Lord gave the prophet Nephi a direct, personal commandment to accomplish a specific task, not of his own unassisted mortal might, but with the assistance of Divine intervention: “the Lord giveth no commandments . . . save he shall prepare a way.” Remember, it is always through Divine intercession that we are lifted to moments of Finite Perfection–“he maketh my way perfect” (2 Sam. 22: 33).
Christ taught that “without me ye can do nothing” (John 15: 5). This is precisely why we should never take pride in supposed righteousness, for all boasting is excluded. The truth is that every good deed we do happens exclusively through our faithful connection to the “true vine.”
The Miracle of Forgiveness:
Perfectly Pure through Christ’s Precious Blood
In addition to the real, immediate possibilities of being obedient with a perfect heart, the other do-able facet of Finite Perfection is that of today’s perfect repentance: Through the miracle of forgiveness, we can be made clean, whole, and healed through Christ’s redeeming blood–a miracle invoked every time we sincerely and thoroughly repent.
Would Christ accomplish a cleansing of sins in any other way than . . . complete and perfect?
“For I am able to make you holy, and your sins are forgiven you” (D&C 60: 7).
This holy cleansing is not yet a redemption to Infinite Perfection, but a perfect cleansing to a particular level of light–a new degree of grace. In another latter-day revelation, the Lord explains that His judgments are adjusted to individual ability and knowledge:
“For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation” (D&C 82: 3).
Our finite perfection unfolds one step at a time as the Lord leads, crawling before we stand, walking before we run, milk before meat, learning line upon line, even as young Jesus of Nazareth grew from grace to grace.
“Therefore, be ye as wise as serpents and yet without sin; and I will order all things for your good, as fast as ye are able to receive them” (D&C 111: 11); “Ye are not able to abide the presence of God now, neither the ministering of angels; wherefore, continue in patience until ye are perfected” (D&C 67: 13).