In recent ponderings, my thoughts have been turned to the Saviour’s charge “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in Heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) This is a much debated and often confusing topic of discussion as we consider the commandment placed in context with our current mortal state of imperfection. If we believe that immediate perfection is what is expected, we will quickly become disillusioned and discouraged in our own inability to measure up. If we simply wave it off as an impossibility, then we risk missing the opportunities to engage in a sanctifying process that will lead us to kneel in the presence of God and ultimately reside with Him. The Greek word translated as “perfect” more accurately means complete, or fully developed. We must agree that the Saviour's challenge involves a process that will eventually lead us to an exalted, perfect state, a resurrected perfect body with a sanctified and pure spirit. It is a process that will make us one with the Father and his Son, complete and fully developed in every way. Perhaps I can explore several of the processes that may lead to this state of sanctification.
Obedience is a purifying characteristic. As we struggle to obey we often have to reach beyond our own capabilities in order to succeed. We can achieve perfection in obeying the commandments, as we understand them. For instance we can be perfect in our payment of tithes and offerings. We can be perfect in our observance of the Sabbath Day or in our obedience to the Word of Wisdom. However, this is not all that is required. I am reminded of the rich young man who presented himself before the Lord earnestly seeking to know what he could do to obtain the kingdom of God. The incident is recorded in the New Testament: “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life ?
“And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
“He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,
'Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
“The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
“Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
“But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:16-22)
During the interview, it is apparent that the young man had checked all the boxes. He had perfected keeping the law but had not given his heart to the Saviour. He was not complete. In this example, the young man was unable to place his wealth upon the altar, but it may be other things that keep us from turning our hearts to the Saviour. Perhaps our hearts are too attached to “our” wealth, time, sin or pride to fully be turned to the Savior. We must not become pharisaical in our approach to perfection. The Saviour was clear in his rebuke of such an attitude. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” (Matthew 23:23) We must remember that exaltation is not something we can earn, but a gift given us by the grace of the atonement after all we can do. (2 Nephi 25:23) Emulation of the Savior will sanctify us and allow our hearts to turn to him. Christlike attributes are developed through humble and prayerful adherence to principles that He taught.
Endure to the end
Endurance is such a hard word. It brings up feelings of exertion and exhaustion. Perhaps this is good because true endurance in the scriptural sense demands some of both. Recently I attended a ward in Arizona. It is a popular wintering place for many seniors. I walked into the chapel twenty minutes early to find not only the chapel filled to capacity, but also the cultural hall. I reflected on the vast breadth of experience and faith in the room. I thought about the number of struggles, disappointments, difficulties and heartbreaks this group had endured faithfully throughout their lives. I am certain that many had felt the sting of losing a loved one or the loneliness of being single. Perhaps they had endured difficult illness, straining financial times or the heartbreak of errant children. One can only imagine the cumulative experience of such a group. During a choir number, a sweet aging sister sang a solo part of “I Know That My Redeemer Lives”. Her frail voice, no longer youthful but weakened by her years, was strong and resolute in her sweet testimony of the Savior. My heart soared to feel her spiritual commitment and her faithful endurance. Her solo transcended the world’s definition of perfection. All of the trials that we faithfully endure during this life are sanctifying and lead us to better understand a loving Father. It is not easy to endure such trials. Many blame God and turn away in the very time He is reaching out with understanding. To become complete, we have to feel what He feels and know Him as a loving Father. In Gethsemane, the Saviour endured not only the pain of our sins but also the pain of living in this world and travelling the difficult path to perfection. The road to perfection is strait and narrow, but not smooth nor always pleasant. Often we will be tempted to take detours or even pull off and park for awhile, attempting to rest from the difficulties of life. Perfection demands that we finish. We were not promised a smooth path to exaltation, only a way. Those who have traveled much of this road can look back with wisdom and recognize the sanctifying nature of the difficult experiences along the way. When our hearts and minds are turned to and focused on the Saviour, we will look at the difficulties of life not as trials but as blessings that change our hearts and prepare us for exaltation.
Share the Gospel
We read in Doctrine and Covenants a promise given by the Saviour. “Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved.” (D&C 132:32) We cannot simply claim the rights of the covenant. Jesus reprimanded the Pharisees in their claim to Abraham’s blessings: “They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, if ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham” (John 8:39). Part of the promise given to Abraham was that the gospel would be brought to all the world, both living and dead through his posterity. Accomplishing this work through missionary and temple work is not only a fulfillment of the covenant, but also a blessing to be claimed. It is a sanctifying work and one that will bring us closer to being one with our Heavenly Father and His Son. Exaltation, perfection and completeness requires us to be involved in this sanctifying work. Those who have experienced the joy of sharing the gospel with a neighbor or the spiritual proximity to those on the other side while kneeling at temple alters on their behalf understand and feel personal fulfillment. We can literally feel the blessings of the covenant. The prophet Joseph Smith taught many times that our own exaltation depends on our ability and willingness to open our hearts and mouths to others both living and dead. He taught in the Doctrine and Covenants, “And now, my dearly beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect – neither can we without our dead be made perfect.“ (D&C 128:15) The Saviour shares with us the blessing of participating in His work and glory to bring to pass the exaltation of his children. His description of faithful saints in the Doctrine and Covenants says it all: “For they were set to be a light unto the world and to be the saviors of men“ (D&C 103:9). During this life, we will never be more one with the Father and His son than while engaged in this work because it is their work. It is the ultimate expression of love and concern for God’s children. It is the work of salvation.
Brothers and sisters, I marvel at the invitation of the Saviour. It is much more than a challenge to live the commandments, but an open-armed invitation to be one with the Father and Christ, to be like Them, purified, complete, fulfilled and whole. It is the ultimate extension of grace and love. It is my prayer that while we ponder these things, we will be lifted and sanctified and we will understand our true potential as sons and daughters of a living and loving God. Moroni recorded the words of his father which he deemed most important. He summarized with the following beautiful passage. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.” (Moroni 7:48)
May you feel His blessings as you ponder His gifts to us, the possibility of being with Him and even being like Him.