It’s surprising what kind of things you will discover in Scripture when you mature in your understanding of who God is.
Matthew 5 didn’t used to be one of my favorite portions of the Bible. After I first started to grasp the goodness of the Gospel, passages like this were not ones I was especially drawn to. The Sermon on the Mount in this passage sounded like it was just more talk about our need to perform better to appease God, rather than to rest in His amazing grace. After my heart soaked in the revelation of grace for several years though, I finally could see this portion of the Bible as actually being super practical to life.
“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” Jesus says in verse 48. That can sound intimidating. Some preachers will say “perfect” just means “holy,” “complete,” or “mature”… but those words still sound difficult to live up to.
I now recognize that the whole passage gives us a picture of what being “like your heavenly Father” looks like. It looks like being meek and servant-hearted. It looks like being gentle and peaceable. It looks like being forgiving, humble, and embracing persecution.
When we realize how extravagantly our Lord demonstrated His merciful heart toward us through His life, death, and resurrection — our hearts likewise become tender towards God in reciprocal love. As a result, we further become tender toward OUR enemies. If we are truly touched by the kindness we were shown by our Savior, it is a natural progression for us to learn to embrace the “Sermon on the Mount” lifestyle. We want to treat others as great as we have been treated by the Father!
I believe this is why Luke, when writing in his account about the exact same speech that Jesus gave in Matthew 5, ends the Sermon with a different word. He quotes Christ as saying, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
Could it just be that to be “holy,” to be “perfect as our Father is”… is simply to express divine love like Christ models (1 John 4:8, 10)? Maybe it’s God’s exorbitant loving-kindness and mercy that makes Him so outstandingly distinguished from the “imperfect.”
Luke 6:32 -36 (English Standard Version)… “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
God is not challenging us to reach for a standard He knows we cannot attain. He’s given us mercy, and as we learn to savor it, we are also expected to give it away freely.
Suddenly, “holiness” doesn’t seem so elusive and abstract to me anymore.