Perfection remains a common topic in Mormonism. Mormons are regularly exhorted to work on becoming perfect. Matthew 5:48 is still frequently quoted. It, however, is usually described as a process; people will become perfect eventually.
The approach which follows is spelled out in more detail in chapters eight and nine of Speaking the Truth in Love to Mormons. It is also used in detail on beyeperfect.org. We suggest you check those two resources for more in-depth treatment.
Use Matthew 5:48 to show them their sin
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
The key word is “be.” Mormonism regularly talks about “becoming” perfect – a process that could involve thousands of years. Both the KJV at Matthew 5:48 and the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 12:48), however, say “be” and not “become.” Take time to explain and illustrate the great difference between “be” and “become.” Talk about what a father means when he tells his child to be good. How foolish it would be for the child to think his father means he can become good over a period of time. The same holds true for a boss who tells his employee to be on time. He’s not telling the employee he can work at being on time! He wants him to be on time immediately! God’s command is the same. Underscore that God demands perfection right now.
Also, emphasize that 99.9% is not perfection. One sin ruins perfection. What if one were to add a zero to a complicated multiplication problem? The total would become a zero. Or, consider what would happen if one bad link was added to a chain. The whole chain would be rendered useless.
Most Mormons feel that talking about perfection as something attainable right now is ridiculous. But the LDS manual, The Life and Teachings of Jesus & His Apostles, states: “Perfection is a word that causes different reactions from many people. Some people say, ‘Perfection? Why, that is impossible!’ Others say, ‘Perfection! I get discouraged just thinking about it!’ Yet, would the Lord give us a commandment that was impossible for us to keep? And when he gives a commandment, doesn’t he, as Nephi said, prepare a way for us to accomplish what he commands? The Sermon on the Mount is the Lord’s blueprint for perfection” (p.57).
The manual refers to 1 Nephi 3:7, “I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” In plain English, this says the Lord won’t ever command us to do something that he doesn’t also give us the ability to do. You could use this passage to point out that, according to the Book of Mormon, it is possible to keep the command, “Be perfect.” (The only problem with doing so is they might wonder how you know about 1 Nephi 3:7).
Talk about perfection in Christ
Don’t transition too quickly to discuss how you are perfect in Christ. They will need to struggle with the reality of their sinful imperfection. Paraphrasing Luther, a person must go through hell before they appreciate God’s gift of heaven.
A key verse about perfection in Christ is Hebrews 10:14. “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” The two key thoughts are:
- The past tense “he hath perfected.” Being perfected has already been accomplished – it is not something we must attain.
- It has been achieved for us. Note the key idea of substitution. It is by the one offering of Jesus. The context makes clear the offering refers to Jesus’ death.
Sometimes they will key in on the phrase “them that are sanctified.” They might state something to the effect that people are perfected only after they sanctify themselves. The context, however, rules out this interpretation. Especially note verse 10. “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Sanctification is also “through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ.”
Based on this passage, we can confidently declare that, in Christ, we are perfect right now in God’s sight. But Christians frequently feel uneasy about saying this because they are so aware of their sinfulness. In this regard, it is helpful to distinguish between a believer’s status and state. Our status is our legal standing before God – how God sees us. When we are in Christ, God sees us as perfect. Christ not only washed away all our sins with his blood, but he also perfectly obeyed God for us. To put it another way, he undid what we had done and did what we didn’t do. Therefore, in Christ, our status is righteous, acquitted, declared not guilty, and perfect. This is why the Bible often refers to believers as saints and God’s holy people. Holy is our status, even though we are still in a state of sinning. When it comes to salvation, all that counts is God’s verdict announcing our status. Our status in Christ is holy, perfect, saints.
When we are clear on this distinction, we can boldly declare our perfection in Christ right now. It is something we need to do with Mormons. Fewer things are more compelling to them than when Christians speak with great assurance of their perfection in Christ. Such confidence is something they don’t have, but it is something they truly desire.
Be confident your words are having an effect even if they don’t show it. Be confident because God’s Word is powerful.