C.S. Lewis on Perfection


In the following quote from Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis expounded on Matthew 5:48. You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were “gods” and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him—for we can prevent Him, if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.

As usual, Lewis got most of it right, but his ideas as expressed aren’t—well—perfect. Jesus didn’t intend his use of the word “perfect” to immediately challenge his followers to absolute perfection, as he is the only human being who could ever meet that standard. Yes, we must emulate Jesus in every way possible, but even through his Holy Spirit living within us, absolute perfection, in practice, won’t be ours until we shed these moral bodies and Join him in glory.

But how will that happen, as we are anything but holy. I suspect Jesus expressed that shocking statement more as a reality check than as a demand for his audience’s immediate obedience. The Jews listening to his Sermon on the Mount were very much like we are: always looking for the easy ways to meet religion’s standards. So Jesus upped the ante beyond anyone’s reach. His simple statement expressed the absolute spiritual law that sin cannot exist in the holy God’s presence, so only those who are indeed holy, with Christ’s imputed holiness, will live with God in glory.

Most people who happen upon this blog-post already know the way of salvation: Acceptance of God’s conviction of sin in our lives. Confession to God of our rebellious, self-will. Repentance(turning away) from dead works. And obedience to the Law of Christ. Of course, each of those steps’ simple statement seriously belies the processes behind them. Only through the indwelling presence of Christ’s Holy Spirit can we even begin to mature spiritually, and then we have the rest of our lives to wrestle with the infernal ruler of this world, while we grow toward the perfection of which Jesus spoke.

As Lewis wrote, “The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.”

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