I think the call of Jesus is all about a call to the unattainable. I don’t know if we can fulfill any of His commands apart from His help!
It all started at the base of Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments. I think if Moses and the calf-worshipping Hebrews had the wherewithal to consider the standard that God had just handed down to them on those two stone tablets, they would have known that the standard had been set too impossibly high.
If it wasn’t obvious to them then, it sure must have become obvious after God spelled out the details of what perfection really meant. This is what cleanness, as the Hebrews called it, had to look like if it was to be attained by human means. Even if a person did manage not to sin – ever – they still ran the risk of becoming unclean according to the Law, either uncontrollably or accidentally. A woman become unclean just by menstruating. A man could become unclean just by touching something that had touched a dead animal – a simple strip of cloth, or a sandal lace for example.
Your donkey brushes his foot against a dead squirrel out in the field. Later that day, your toe touches the donkey’s hoof while you’re brushing his coat. Boom – you’re unclean.
In fact, I’ve wondered if the impossibility of fulfilling the Law was one of its whole purposes for existing. God’s standard is so impossibly high – we have no hope of ever reaching it on our own! It’s almost like… that’s the point!
So Jesus comes along and delivers the Sermon on the Mount, in which He essentially says, “You thought the Ten Commandments were impossible to follow? Well get a load of this: it’s not that you’re just not allowed to murder – you can’t even think hateful thoughts! It’s not that you just aren’t to commit adultery – you can’t even think lustful thoughts! Not only should you love your neighbors (hey – anybody can do that) – you’ve got to demonstrate active love towards your enemies!” Now how high has that perfection bar been set?!
So the questions before us are these:
- Is Christian perfection attainable? and
- Would God hold us accountable to a standard we cannot possibly uphold?
I could be wrong, but I happen to be of the opinion that, no, Christian perfection is not attainable*, and that yes, God would require us to uphold an impossible standard.
So, the obvious question this leads us to ask is, “Then why would He ask us to do something He knew we could not do?”
My first gut-honest answer to that question is… I don’t know.
But my second answer is related to this whole “saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus” thing. As we go about the business of being God’s adopted children, we must continue to rely on God’s gift of grace, through faith in Christ Jesus, even after our conversion (or initial moment of salvation). It is the Holy Spirit at work within us, bringing us by degrees to that point of perfection, or Christian holiness, as we cooperate with Him through devotion to prayer and obedience.
*I cannot be perfect as my Father in heaven is perfect. Period. It’s impossible on my own. It can’t be done by human means. But as I willingly welcome the help and ever-increasing purification of His Spirit dwelling within me, He can produce Christian perfection in me! – by grace, as I demonstrate faith in Christ Jesus through a prayerful and obedient life.