Updated: May 15, 2019
The certainty of this truth as found in the Epistle to the Hebrews
"Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection..." Hebrews 6:1
“Can I really be “perfect”? Is that at all possible? After all, nobody is perfect are they?” No doubt you’ve heard that kind of talk before; perhaps you’ve even believed it. Well Jesus says this about Perfection and us. “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mtt 5:48).
Alongside of this truth there’s a lot of popular misunderstanding about what “perfection” is or might be, and when you add the Scriptural meaning to that it only increases the confusion – at least to unbelievers. Hopefully any sincere follower of Jesus Christ will not have a wayward or populist view of perfection. So as in all things, let’s stick to Scripture for our meaning.
Now having said that, it really isn’t as straightforward as you might imagine. There’s plenty on the internet about Christian Perfectionism and the many ideas associated with it. Just Google it and you’ll quickly see what I mean. In fact the topic is quite overwhelming and even after a short look through some of the writings on the subject you’ll easily be forgiven for wanting to abandon your study. There are numerous definitions, man-held doctrines, variants of truth, denominational ideologies, etc. However because I tend to see things from a Grander Panoramic viewpoint, I’ll focus here on what the Epistle to the Hebrews says about being perfect. You always have to start somewhere and I reckon Hebrews is very good place to begin.
In Hebrews the theme of 'perfection' is mentioned so often that any sincere student of the Scripture should want to investigate the topic fairly deeply. So then, what does it really mean, and more importantly how how can we apply this truth?
As usual, let’s go into the background of the Scriptural meaning behind the Greek word for Perfection. Telios is defined as follows: completion, consummation, finish, conclusion, reaching the goal. Originally this word was used to apply to a piece of mechanism, as a machine that is complete in all its well-fitted parts. Applied to people (especially the redeemed), it refers to completeness of parts where no part is defective or wanting – all by the grace of God.
We could put it this way: it’s a completion of a work given to be done; a fulfilment of a declared purpose; and a realization of a set goal. In the book of Hebrews this sequence or progression is a message to encourage the Believers, so it’s for the Saved not necessarily for the Unsaved. That’s why this epistle is often referred to as the Book of Better Things. The word “better” appears 13 times in Hebrews, and the term “more excellent” twice.
This gives us encouragement that there is something better, something greater, and far “more excellent” than what we normally see as “good”. The Father is inspiring us not to drift along with uncertain goals, or to try and advance spiritually without His declared purpose in mind. How many times have we as the Redeemed, done our own thing, manufactured our own goals, and chased after our own desires – and then dared to call it “God’s directing”. What a waste of time, what an arrogance to construct our own plans and then pretend (to others and even ourselves) that God ordained this or that. No wonder the church is still quite infantile in its understanding of the mature things, and while we’re still “blessing-centred” rather than “purpose-orientated”.
So it is that this lovely epistle speaks boldly of the theme of Perfection. But before we can arrive at “perfection” we need to leave something behind (Heb 6:1). "Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection..."
This “leaving” is a Greek verb that means to do some quite definite with an effective action. It entails the idea of a concise and definite action to be performed by one’s choice of will. It doesn’t mean to just “let go” of things you once believed or held dear as a spiritual infant. It means to decide to move on to maturity in Christ, and to take accountability for beginning that process. Of course this doesn’t mean we can just choose to be mature as an act of our own will. No, it requires the grace of God and the empowerment of the Spirit. But it certainly doesn’t let us off the hook; we are partly responsible for our own spiritual growth, so we should get on with it.
The Father has given every single redeemed saint the ability (by His Spirit) to desire progress. We are to move from just being Children of God to become Sons of God. He will do His work while we do ours. Thankfully He does most of it for us, but we certainly are required to buckle under and discipline our lives. There is a human side to the pressing on towards spiritual maturity, and that is what the writer to the Hebrews is trying to get across.
In the epistle he’s focussing on the need for the Jews to let go of the “shadows and types”, the symbolism used in the temple, feasts, etc and to see the “real” as portrayed in Jesus the Messiah. But for us in the New Covenant today we can extend this call to let go of the infantile stage of growth, and to now embark on a very real walking with Christ.
Further to all this is another wonderful insight about this word “leaving” (6:1). The word has the connotation of deliberately separated yourself from something infantile and no longer necessary, in order to then advance to something better (meaning, more mature). Now this “leaving” doesn’t mean you dismiss or stop believing the elementary and basic teachings of Scripture. Of course not! They are still vitally important, but they are only foundational. There is more, much more which is important and needs our attention, just like we move from kindergarten, to primary school, onto high school, college, university, etc.
In the spiritual life of a believer there will always be higher endeavours to attain. This is what some writers have called “Christ-likeness” but really what the Church has always called Sanctification. Now that’s a whole new study in itself but simply put it starts when we place our faith in Christ’s work at the Cross and keep our attention on Him thereafter. We set our eyes on Jesus and keep on going. This is a process that the Father desires for us, the Son prays for us, and the Spirit enables us to complete. Our part in this sanctification is to “press on” (6:1). Spiritual growth doesn’t come by our self-striving and self-effort but by the cooperation we give to God to willingly fulfil His will. If we limit our co-operation with Him then we should expect to “reap what we’ve sown”.
An old adage says “The new birth only takes a moment, but the growth of a saint will take a lifetime.”
We should note that our spiritual progress toward maturity is both expected by God and commanded by Him. The writer of Hebrews repeatedly alludes to the idea of “perfection” as accomplishing or reaching God’s intended goal for His children. How sad then to find that many young converts today hardly ever hear a message on this magnificent theme. They therefore don’t expect it to be neither achievable nor overly important. Even more “mature” believers tend to dismiss it somewhat and relegate the idea to the sidelines as something for the more “spiritual” or “devout” in the church.
If in the natural realm Growth is proof of life, then Death is proof that life isn’t present. Does that fit your spiritual experience? Are you going on for Christ? Do you endeavour to reach for perfection? Is your goal the very highest for Him? Are we aiming for nothing less than the most excellent life of faith? Anything less is simply a safe way out; anything more is surely worthy of our full attention.