Perfection is a scary word for the Christian and rightly so, because there are many out there who abuse the term. But John Wesley had a strong impression as to how perfection was supposed to play out in the Christian’s life. He based his concept of Christian Perfection on five achievements:
- Loving God with all our heart.
- A heart and life all devoted to God.
- Regaining the whole image of God.
- Having all the mind that was in Christ.
- Walking uniformly as Christ walked.
“If anyone means anything more or anything less by perfection, I have no concern with it,” said Wesley. (The Works of the Late Reverend John Wesley, A.M. p. 309.)
Elsewhere, Wesley directly connects Christian perfection to the fruit of the Spirit. After being asked, “What do you think of those in London, who seem to have been lately renewed in love?” he responded: “I think most of them with whom I have spoken, have much faith, love, joy, and peace. Some of these I believe are renewed in love, and have the direct witness of it: and they manifest the fruit above described, in all their words and actions. Now let any man call this what he will: it is what I call Christian Perfection.” (A Plain Account of Christian Perfection. p 32.)
The fruit of the Spirit is discipleship. It is our call to grow beyond our salvation; to continue in our sanctification; to enter into Christian perfection. It is our call to become a new creation. If we can become loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, gentle, faithful, self-controlled people we will become that which God always intended us to be from the beginning. If we can grow that fruit in fullness, we will begin to look like Wesley’s idea of perfection: people renewed in loved.
It’s important that we struggle with Jesus’ command to be perfect (Mt 5:48). It always seems that Christians are adamantly fighting to water down Jesus’ strongest words. That isn’t all that shocking since we usually don’t want to do the harder things he states, but watering his statements down isn’t the answer. I prefer to live in the tension.
The author, poet, and Christian minister, George MacDonald (one of C.S. Lewis’ greatest heroes), heard people say, “I cannot be perfect; it is hopeless; and [God] does not expect it.” His response to this comment was that, “It would be more honest if he said, ‘I do not want to be perfect: I am content to be saved.’ Such as he do not care for being perfect as their Father in heaven is perfect, but for being what they call saved. They little think that without perfection there is no salvation—perfection is salvation: they are one.” (God’s Words to His Children: Sermons Spoken and Unspoken. p. 217.)
Christianity doesn’t stop at the sinner’s prayer. Live in the tension of sanctification unto perfection. Let’s not water Jesus down.