Three Ways to Talk about Becoming Perfect with Mormons
For the past three years, Truth in Love Ministry has launched media outreach campaigns in Utah. Through television, newspaper, and bus shelter advertising coupled with mass mailings, the campaigns have invited Mormons to a website, beyeperfect.org, to find out more about forgiveness and meeting God's standard of righteousness.
It is common for people to ask me the question, "What effect are your campaigns having on the LDS Church?"
Judging by the number of recent articles in LDS magazines on the topic of perfection, it seems that our campaign is capturing the attention of the LDS Church.
In the July 2014 edition of Ensign, an article entitled "Becoming Perfect in Christ" appears to answer the questions presented in our advertising and mailings. An LDS authority, Gerrit W. Gong, provides an answer to Jesus' command in Matthew 5:48, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
What is his answer? It depends upon how you define perfection.
According to the magazine article, "be perfect" is no longer a black-and-white issue. By "understanding" the atoning love of Christ, a person no longer needs to feel the weight or the pressure of trying to meet "unrealistic" expectations.
"The word perfection, however, is sometimes misunderstood to mean never making a mistake." (Elder Gerrit W. Gong, Of the Seventy)
This "new" understanding of perfection is really an old LDS concept of trying to become perfect. By knowing or feeling that they are on the right eternal path, and continuing to strive to keep the Savior's commandments, and by following a process of repentance, a Mormon can say they are "being" perfect. Even though a Mormon makes mistakes, the key is "learn, repent, and grow by our own experiences and choices." When a Mormon sincerely commits to follow the Savior's example, they will receive "sufficient grace" to be obedient until that time they are perfected. It is in this eternal process that a Mormon can say they are "being" perfect.
Speaking the truth in love to a Mormon includes learning how to define key terms. The concept of perfection provides a great example and opportunity to share God's Word.
Here are three ways to talk about perfection:
- What is the common definition of perfection?
Ask a Mormon what it means to be perfect. How many mistakes does it take a person to be less than perfect? Jesus gives commands and expects perfect obedience. James 2:10 clearly spells out what Jesus meant in 5:48. Perfect means perfect.
- Read Matthew 5:48 in its context.
Ask a Mormon, "Who is Jesus addressing?" Jesus is talking to people who were placing their own pursuit toward righteousness as the object of their faith.
- Perfection is a status
Either you are perfect or you are not. A person can never become perfect. In Matthew 5, Jesus asks those who felt comfortable in their own righteousness. They believed that God would judge them favorably based on their commitment and obedience. In a sense, Jesus is asking, "Are you safe? Because you have not committed adultery, are you not guilty of lust? Because you have not murdered, are you not guilty of anger? My standard is to be perfect, because I am perfect." Ask a Mormon, "How comfortable will you be judgment day?"
A person who places their trust in Christ's completed work on the cross receives comfort by trusting God's promise that they are already been declared not guilty. This is their status right now. To accomplish Christ's call to be perfect in Matthew 5:48 is to receive Christ's perfection in our place. Because of Christ, a believer receives comfort in their status while uncomfortable in their state of sin.
Please remember there are many Mormons who are experiencing great stress in trying to meet the commands and expectations of the LDS Church. By lovingly pointing out the biblical definition of perfection and Christ's solution of being perfect, we can share the true message of forgiveness and grace.