Question: "What is the meaning of perfection in the Bible?"
Answer: The meaning of perfection in the Bible relates to a state of completeness or absolute wholeness. Biblical perfection involves freedom from fault, defect, or shortcoming. In the New Testament, a Greek term for “perfection” can also mean “maturity.” The Bible expresses perfection in at least three different contexts: the perfection of God, the perfection of Christ, and the perfection of humans.
Absolute perfection is a quality that belongs to God alone. Yet only in Matthew 5:48 does the Bible explicitly state that God is by nature perfect: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” As God is the perfect being, all that He does is perfect: “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4). His knowledge is perfect (Job 37:16). His way is perfect, and His Word is flawless: “As for God, his way is perfect: The LORD’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 18:30). God’s laws are also perfect (Psalm 19:7; James 1:25). The apostle Paul describes God’s will as perfect: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
In Hebrews 2:10, Scripture says that Jesus was made perfect through suffering: “God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation” (NLT).
As God incarnate, Jesus was already morally perfect. Christ’s suffering and death made Him “perfect” in the sense of qualifying to serve as the faultless high priest for God’s people (Hebrews 7:28). Only through suffering on the cross was Christ able to accomplish the work of redemption and become the perfect, complete, effective Savior of His people (Hebrews 5:9). Jesus was the perfect example of what it means to live in obedience to the Father’s will.
As we read in Matthew 5:48, God’s children are called to be perfect. This does not mean that humans can obtain the same holy perfection as God, for He alone is set apart in holiness (Isaiah 6:3; Psalm 99:9; Exodus 15:11). The call to be perfect is what the apostle Paul meant when he said, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1, ESV). As children tend to imitate their parents, God’s children ought to imitate their Lord and reflect His perfection in the way they live.
The idea of spiritual maturity relates closely to the word perfection in the Bible. Humans are not perfect, but followers of Christ are encouraged to seek perfection: “And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4, ESV). Paul said that he had not yet obtained perfection but had made it his goal: “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me” (Philippians 3:12, NLT). Paul knew that perfection for believers would only be realized in the life to come (verses 13–21).
Perfection is a gift that humans receive through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ: “For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins. But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. There he waits until his enemies are humbled and made a footstool under his feet. For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:10–14, NLT).
Another verse that is key to understanding perfection as it relates to the Christian life is 2 Corinthians 12:9: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’” Through the grace God offers in Jesus Christ, Christians are perfected in weakness; through participating in the sufferings of Jesus Christ, they are conformed to His image (Matthew 5:10–12; 1 Peter 2:19–25; 3:14; 4:12–19).