You therefore must be perfect
Cut to the Heart
It is not uncommon: The husband learns that his wife feels unloved. He asks, What do you want me to do? She says, Love me. Yes, he says, but what do you want me to do? Do you want to get you presents? Do you want a vacation? I want you to love me.
Or, when someone in the church has fallen into some great sin: when I meet with them, they ask, What do you want me to do? God calls for you to repent. Yes, but what should I do? Repent. Yes, but what am I supposed to do?
The husband and the one who does not repent both possess the same trouble: They are willing change their behavior, but they do not understand their trouble lies deeper and elsewhere: the change they need is a change of heart. When Peter preached on Pentecost, Luke tells us that the people present “were cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37). Conduct merely exposes the heart.
God Seeks Heart Devotion
It is heart religion which God seeks. Conduct matters, obedience matters – but it merely matters as it works with the heart. Obedience without a heart of devotion is hypocrisy. In Psalm 50, God explains he does not hunger or thirst for sacrifices – like some vicious pagan god.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls
Or drink the blood of goats?
Psalm 50:13. What then does God desire
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
And perform your vows to the Most High,
And call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you and you will glorify me.
Psalm 50:14-15. We think that our greatest trouble comes about because or behavior. We experience guilt and shame and fear and think that if we could only obey the law, all would be right. But behavior will not work:
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Romans 3:20. It is true that we cannot be perfect and the law shows how imperfect we are. But the law is the x-ray, our disease is a lack of love.
We are imperfect law-keepers. Yet the real heart and point of the law is that can only be met by love. Breaking the law of God is objective rebellion against God – when refuse to obey, it is because we refuse to love, we fail to “glorify” God – as God calls for in Psalm 50. We refuse to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Paul makes this point in Romans 1. In verse 21, he says the trouble with human beings is that we fail to “honor” God and we are not “thankful“. In verse 23 he human beings have
exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
In verse 25 the trouble is that fail to worship God.
These are heart troubles. It is the heart which refuses to be thankful, to give honor, to worship. These are problems of relationship. These are problems of love.
The deepest trouble for humanity is that we lack God, we lack the dearest and deepest desire of our soul. God has been patient, and his kindness is meant to lead us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). When Paul explains justification – the act of God responding to our law breaking, Paul writes:
5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” Romans 4:5–8 (ESV)
The Gospel Glorifies God in Jesus Christ
When we think our deepest trouble is law keeping, we draw all the wrong conclusions. We miss the whole point of the Gospel. We miss the whole point of the Christian life. God does not forgive us because we have obeyed well enough to make up our past transgressions. God forgives on the basis the merit of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel is the story of God glorifying Jesus in his incarnation, obedience, death, burial, resurrection, ascension. Thus, as the Jesus nears the cross, he prays:
And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. John 17:5 (ESV)
One element of the Father glorifying the Son is the the Father gives the elect to the Son. We are saved for the purpose of God being glorified.
Thus, we cannot be “saved” on our merit — for that would be for our glory. It can never be a matter of great obedience. Rather, we are “saved” solely on the basis of the merit of Jesus Christ. Jesus gets the glory and the honor for our salvation.
Our standing with God derives solely from the merit of Jesus — merit which we recieve by faith through the grace of God. We receive justification, salvation on the basis of a relationship with God in Jesus. We come as beggars and rebels and leave as sons and daughters.
Peter writes that God “redeems” us based upon the payment of the “precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 18-19).
We obtain that merit on the basis of relationship: We are to “believe” in his name (John 3:16).
We must come to God in faith (Heb. 11:6).
We exercise “faith and hope in God” (1 Peter 1:21).
We believe that God has demonstrated Jesus to be the Son of God in power (Romans 1:4; 10:9).
We confess Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9).
We are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9).
When we are saved, we are brought into relationship with God. Peter states that we are being “built up as a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5). He calls us the “household of God” (1 Peter 17).
Paul writes that we are “in Christ” and thus “a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).
We have been raised up and seated with Christ (Eph. 2:6).
We have been buried and we have been raised with Christ (Rom. 6:2-11).
We have been adopted by God! (Rom. 8:15).
We are joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).
As Paul writes:
20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (ESV)
God deals with our sin by dealing with our relationship to him. Jesus has overcome sin and death. Our job is not to overcome the guilt of sin, but to join in relationship to God in faith, hope and love.
The Gospel is that the King has come. He has overcome guilt of the law. He has overcome sin. He has overcome death. That is the good news. Because of that good news we can freed from sin and death, but only by becoming reconciled to the King.
We Draw the Wrong Conclusion
Unfortunately, Christians draw the wrong conclusions. On one hand, many seek to become extra-saved, extra-righteous by means of effort. They try to set aside the relationship to God and to finally be right before in their personal efforts. This is the husband who asks his wife, What should I do? Surely the husband’s conduct matters, surely his behavior matters to his wife – but only as it points to his heart.
A wife would desire her husband to husband to show her kindness by helping with the housework – but if her husband had broken legs, she would not think him less loving when did not mow the lawn. A wife could desire her husband to take her to a nice restaurant for dinner, but if they have no money, she does not think that he doesn’t love her. The behavior matters – but only as it points to the heart.
There is a second problem: fancy word, “antinomianism”. This is the guy who, “That’s legalism bro,” when you point out his sin. They figure that since we are saved on the merit of Jesus Christ alone, it does not matter what we do. Holiness may be nice, but it is not essential. This is a husband who ignores his wife, because they are married.
In the movie Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, a husband says to his wife, “What I need manners for? I already got me a wife.” His lack of manners reflects a lack of love in his heart.
There is a middle ground which takes a bit from both. This perhaps the most common and subtle version: In this case, one does not go so far as to deny all need for moral life. However, in this third version we make the commands a bit less extreme. We know that we cannot be perfect, so we think lessen the commands and make exceptions and add caveats.
This is a husband who says, I’m good enough and she should be content with that – even though she knows herself to be unloved. He doesn’t beat her, he doesn’t commit adultery. And, he doesn’t love her. It is the man who wants to know why he should repent, because there are other people who are worse.
You Must be Perfect
But consider our command in 1 Peter 2:1
1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.
This is merely the first of many commands which given by Peter. That command contains no limitations, exceptions or caveats. In fact, to make the point emphatic, Peter uses the word “all” three times in one sentence.
I will not humiliate you with a public interrogation. However, I think it safe to say that at the very least the “hypocrisy” clause will catch us all as law breakers.
Later in the letter, Peter will make extraordinary demands upon employees, upon husbands, upon wives. These demands weigh so heavily upon the flesh, that many people think they are unfair. Indeed, many Christians think that God cannot possibly mean what he says.
Servants are supposed to endure beatings and “endure” because “this is a gracious thing in the sight of God” (1 Pet 2:20).
In the same manner, wives are called upon to submit to husbands who “do not obey the word” (1 Peter 3:1) and show “respectful and pure conduct”, a “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:2 & 4). Surely God does not mean that we are called upon to suffer.
But Peter measures the suffering and sacrifice by the sacrifice of Jesus. People calls Jesus the “example” which we are commanded to “follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). We are commanded to be like Jesus.
And that is the point.
God demands absolute perfection:
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48 (ESV)
You must be perfect. Period:
Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisee, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20 (ESV).
What Will We Do?
So, what will we do? Plainly we are not and cannot be perfect. We can try to be perfect, and be disappointed – we can crush ourselves in pain. But that will not work. We can throw up our hands and try nothing at all.
Usually, we seek to shift our ground – we make the command less. We choose a command which we think we can obey. We argue that the command no longer applies.
All of these alternatives are wrong, because they miss the essential point: Our trouble with God is not the law breaking, but the rebellion. Our lack of perfection in obedience only demonstrates the lack of perfection in our love.
The reason a wife cannot submit to her husband is because she loves God too little – her complaints about her husband are excuses for her lack of love of God. The reason a husband does not love his wife is because he loves God too little – his complaints about his wife are excuses for not loving God.
We Must Desire God to Keep the Commandments &
We Keep the Commandments Because We Desire God
The trouble is that we misread the commands. We absolutely must fully and completely obey the commands – but we must obey them in the correct manner. We obey the commands, because we desire God.
I shifted things here a bit – I have been talking about loving God and now I have shifted to desiring God. So pay attention ….
I give you a set of directions. The traveling directions are painstaking and complicated. It will take days to complete the trip. You don’t care if you go. You look at the directions, drive a bit, quit.
Consider a different option: The instructions are identical, but the destination is different. The trip will take days, it will be difficult, there will be many hardships. But – and this is the key difference – at the end of the trip lies the place you want to go. By following the directions, you make it to a place you love. You will make the trip because you desire to obtain the beloved.
Let us say that a dear friend invited you to a dinner at his house in the Hollywood Hills. If you have ever tried to find a place in the hills at night, you know that it can be exceedingly difficult to even know where you are. Now, would you curse your friend for living in the hills, solely because it was a difficult trip?
Why then do we curse God for the difficulty of obedience and moral holiness?
Take the Ten Commandments. We can easily miss the entire point of God’s instruction to the people at Mt. Sinai. We make it ten commandments and lop off the first thing God says:
1 And God spoke all these words, saying, 2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20:1–3 (ESV)
God had already rescued Israel. The “commandments” were directions on how God and his people would live in relationship with one-another. Paul draws out this idea in 2 Corinthians 6:16, take a look with me:
16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, 18 and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” 1 Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. 2 Corinthians 6:16–7:1 (ESV)
The obedience comes about because of the relationship. Since we have these promises, let us cleanse ourselves ….
There are many things which I must do for my children. But I do not obey these rules so that a relationship will exist, but rather because the relationship exists. I care for my wife not for the purpose of creating the relationship, but because the relationship already exists.
But there is something more: I care for my wife and my children not merely because a relationship exists. I care for them so that my relationship will become more profound, more loving. I obey to increase to the love.
I follow the directions so that I can make it to dinner with my friend.
I obey God so that I can dwell with him. I obey because I love, and because I want to love still more. I obey because I desire God.
Psalm 15: We Shall Sojourn
Turn to Psalm 15:
A PSALM OF DAVID. 1 O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? 2 He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; 3 who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; 4 in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; 5 who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.
Who is going to live you? Who will dwell with God?
First, these demands are absolute. They seek perfection? Who has ever been this perfect? Hold that thought.
Now, one could read this and think: If I do these things, then I can earn access to God. But that cannot be true. The Bible everywhere states the opposite. When God rescued the Israelites in Egypt, the Israelites worshipped Egyptian idols (Lev. 17:1; Deut. 32:16-17; Ezk. 20:3-8). Abraham’s father worshipped idols (Joshua 24:2). As Paul wrote, God rescues the ungodly. And Peter makes plain that God rescues on the basis of the blood of Jesus.
What then must we think when we read Psalm 15? What would someone do with such a Psalm?
The answer takes two steps: First, there is the matter of the one described. The only one who perfectly fulfills such a demand is Jesus. We can only enter into this relationship with God, if we enter with and because of Jesus. Jesus’ entry is our entry. There is no other door to the temple.
Second step: We seek a blessing; we seek God.
But does that mean that we ignore this command for perfection because Jesus is perfect? No.
Think: Why would someone walk blamelessly, speak truth, not slander, et cetera? What is the promise? To sojourn with the Lord – in his tent. The obedience was to deepen and extend the relationship.
The 119th Psalm states that the one who walks blamelessly in the law of the Lord will be blessed. Why must you obey? So that you will be blessed. You obey so that you may dwell with God.
Consider another text, Isaiah 66:1-2:
1 Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? 2 All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. Isaiah 66:1–2 (ESV)
This takes the same idea but works from a different direction. Here, God is looking for someone – the one who is humble and contrite in spirit and who trembles at God’s word. God is looking for someone who will be in relationship with him.
Psalm 24:1-2 says,
1 The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, 2 for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. Psalm 24:1–2 (ESV)
If God is so great, how then will I come into relationship with him?
3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. Psalm 24:3–4 (ESV)
Why should I seek to ascend to the hill?
5 He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation. 6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah Psalm 24:5–6 (ESV)
The one who obeys is also called the one who “seeks the face of the God of Jacob”. We seek God, because we want God. We want the blessing. Obedience flows naturally out of a desire to obtain God.
In Colossians 3, Paul gives several commands for moral perfection. In verses 1-4 he commands that we set our hearts and minds upon Jesus – that we long and desire for him, to be where he is. He then lays out commands about anger and immorality and covetousness. Then, strikingly, he writes in verse 11
Here there is no Greek and Jew
What “here”: What is the place to which Paul refers? It is the place of obedience, the place of living as renewed, recreated human being. He then goes on to commend love for one another and desire for God. Obedience is the place where the love of God flows out of our hearts and into our lives.
Knowing that, consider our text in 1 Peter 2:1-3:
1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 1 Peter 2:1–3 (ESV)
If you think of the commands and obedience as burdensome things you must do, you will always be seeking some way to get around the problem. But that is not how Peter presents the situation.
Peter writes you are putting these things as you are longing for the milk. Obedience to the command and longing for God are the exact same thing – they are merely viewed from a different aspect.
Why do men work so hard to ride their bicycles through France? To gain a blessing, to win an award. Why would someone travel for hours through narrow, difficult roads, or waste around the indignity of an airport? To see grandmother.
The hard work is inseparable from the desire for the blessing at the end.
See this: In the very act of obedience, we are chasing hard after God.
Tim has been preaching on marriage. Now you could just think of this a marriage seminar. If you’ll do what’s right, you could have a better marriage. Yes, if you love and honor and cherish one-another as God has commanded, you both be happier. But that’s not the point. The experience of your happiness in marriage is an extra benefit of obedience – but it is not the primary purpose of marriage.
Peter gives commands to those in a marriage so that they can be like Jesus – and what did Jesus ever do except seek hard after his Father? What did he desire than his Father’s will?
What Happens in Our Obedience?
I love my wife so that I can understand God. I love my wife. I lead my wife, because in so doing I learn about God. But even more wonderfully, I will come to dwell with God in a more profound manner.
Think of it: When I love my and sacrifice my wife, I begin to understand better what it means for Jesus to love and sacrifice for me. When I love my wife, I am acting like Jesus. My act of love teaches me his act of love. It also teaches my wife about the love of Christ. My obedience to Jesus helps my wife come to know and love Jesus.
When my wife shows deference and honor and submission to me, it teaches her about the church’s relationship to Christ. It also teaches me about the church and Christ.
As I learn God in Jesus Christ, I grow in communion with the Father in the Son by means of the Spirit.
You could think of obedience as the map to a friend’s house. You could think of obedience as coming to stand on the top of a hill from which I can see the ocean. You can think of obedience as clearing out a dam which has stopped a stream.
When I guard my tongue – as Peter expects – I come into deeper fellowship with God in Jesus Christ. Peter writes of Jesus, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). Jesus did this, because he “entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
In 1 Peter 3:8-13, Peter commends love and perfect speech, so that we can obtain a blessing. Now what greater blessing can God give than himself?
When I love my wife, I ultimately seeking to come into the courts of God. When brothers and sisters live in fellowship, they are transformed drink deeply from the living waters.
Consider your own experience. When you have bickered with your wife, slandered your brother in Christ, brooded in anger, coveted, lusted, lied has been your experience that your heart ran more deeply in love for Christ?
Obedient holiness toward God is nothing more than seeking God in self-sacrificing love. I am not saying that obedience does not cross our flesh – it seeks to destroy our rebellion. But obedience can only flow out of love: “Love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10).
In our text, when Peter gives the commands to leave aside wicked speech and to deeply desire God, he goes to say that are thus being built up into a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5). He goes on to list out a series of relationships which exemplify our place before God: chosen, royal priests, holy nation, a people for his own possession, people who proclaim God’s glory. People who have received mercy, people who needed mercy because they – we — are profound law breakers.
When we live in self-sacrificing manner, our obedience derives from our relationship to God., and seeking relationship. Obedience is not like trying to obey traffic regulations. Obedience is seeking a friend, our dearest friend, our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Obedience Glorifies God in Jesus Christ
As noted above, the Gospel ultimately concerns the glory of God in Jesus Christ. The Gospel is ultimately Trinitarian. Humanity gains greatly when the glory and merit won by Jesus causes us to be “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). While the salvation of human beings is a step in the glory of Jesus Christ, it was not the chief aim of God’s intention:
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:11–12 (ESV)
R.C. Sproul explains:
God predestined from all eternity not only that Jesus should be Saviour, but that Jesus should be King of kings and Lord of lords. God has already crowned his Son, for the coronation has taken place in the ascension; but we live in a world that does not recognise its ruler, that does not kneel in obeisance before its appointed king. The same one through whom all things were made, by whom all things were made and for whom all things were made, will receive all things at the end of time. God’s appointed plan for the universe is to bring all things on heaven and on earth together, under one head. The goal of creation is neither chaos nor disharmony but unity, and the point of unity will be his anointed king.
How does that relate to us? Well it is in him. Paul writes: In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory (verses 11, 12). This universe is destined for glory and Christians are predestined to participate in and witness to that glory.
Calvin puts it well:
Here again he mentions the final cause of salvation; for we must eventually become illustrations of the glory of God, if we are nothing but vessels of his mercy.
We are “illustrations of the glory of God”. Thus, Peter explains that our salvation (the application of the Gospel in justification) and our obedience (the working out of that truth as a practical matter in our lives) are both for the glory of God. Note the progression in the following verses:
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 1 Peter 2:9–12 (ESV)
First, he chose his be people so that you would “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness”. Second, we abstain from sin in obedience to God’s commands so that even unbelievers will “glorify God on the day of visitation.”
(The audio for this lesson can be found here: http://calvarybiblechurch.org/site/cpage.asp?cpage_id=180033150&sec_id=180008560 The audio tracks the same material, but does differ in certain respects.)
John Calvin, Ephesians, electronic ed., Calvin’s Commentaries (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998), Eph 1:12.