The Holy Spirit is the bond of tenderness between the Father and the Son. Thus, the indwelling Spirit bears the indelible stamp of the compassion of God, and the heart of the Spirit-filled person overflows with tenderness. The life of Jesus suggests to be like Abba is to show compassion. Donald Gray expresses this: “Jesus reveals in an exceptionally human life what it is to live a divine life, a compassionate life.” Remember the passage in Matthew where Jesus says, ‘Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’? In Luke, the same verse is translated, ‘Be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate.’ Biblical scholars say that the two words, perfect and compassionate, can be reduced to the same reality. Conclusion: To follow Jesus in His ministry of compassion precisely defines the biblical meaning of being perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect. My identity as Abba’s child is not an abstraction or a tap dance into religiosity. It is the core truth of my existence. Living in the wisdom of accepted tenderness profoundly affects my perception of reality, the way I respond to people and their life situations. Brennan Manning, Chapter Four
In our westernized Christian society, we’ve taken the word perfection, which is derived from the Latin word, perfectio, and defined it primarily as a state of flawless-ness or sinless-ness. So when people read the New Testament and we find Mathew quoting Jesus as saying, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” we all assume that Jesus is calling us to be ‘flawless’ (or sinless) as our heavenly Father is ‘flawless’ (or sinless).
But here’s the rub.
When you and I go around, believing that Jesus is commanding His followers to live sinless, flawless lives, we are actually mis-reading the original Greek text! You see, while our westernized definition of the word perfection does have some merit, the actual Latin word, perfectio, and the more ancient Greek word teleios (the word the New Testament actually uses) are much better defined by using our English word, completeness, rather than ‘flawless-ness’ or ‘sinless-ness’.
So when Jesus calls us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, or when the New Testament writers call us to perfection, they are actually calling us to state of ‘complete-ness’, not a place of ‘sinless-ness’. And while you might be saying right now that I’m just quibbling over words, let me tell you that I truly believe there is a huge discrepancy here that must be addressed in the westernized church. An error so large, it can truly control the difference between you and me living our lives in the tenderness of God’s Gospel of Grace versus trying to live lives under the heavy burden of empty rules and regulations, designed at their very core to make us less sinful.
Completeness, (teleios) you see, in New Testament Greek, is best defined as ‘being all a person can be’, ‘fullness’ or ‘a finished or mature state’ – ‘living in a place of doneness’. And since Paul (and the other New Testament writers) clearly tell us that none of us will ever live without sin, the flawed upward call to ‘perfection’ using sinless-ness as our goal, is like sticking a poor hungry mule out there on a lonely road, chiding him forward with the proverbial dangling carrot on the long unreachable stick! Or as Brennan Manning might define it, living outside of the wisdom of accepted tenderness is like “a tap dance into religiosity!”
As crass as this next sentence might sound to some of you, the truth is this: God has never been, nor will He ever be, looking for flawless-ness or sinless-ness from His children. What our Heavenly Father is looking for in us is a willingness to be brought to His ‘complete-ness’ or ‘done-ness’ in this life; a ‘perfection’ as demonstrated in the life and ministry of Jesus, the lowly Carpenter from Nazareth.
Perfection = complete-ness in Christ’s Love. Not sinless-ness, conceived in self. Not flawless-ness, found in flesh.
As I see it, if Jesus were looking for sinless, flawless followers, none would ever be there to fill the bill. But here is the Good News of God’s Gospel of Grace. Jesus is actually seeking flawed and sinful men, women and children who can be humble enough to allow the Holy Spirit to bring them to ‘completion’ (perfection), allowing God to release His merciful tenderness (His perfected compassion) into our hearts, minds and spirits, for His Name’s sake.
Living in the wisdom of accepted tenderness, then, is simply choosing a lifestyle where God’s forgiveness and grace will always trump our fleshly judgments and earthly shame. When that happens, complete-ness (i.e. perfection) is now attainable; not by living in some sinless or flawless illusionary state, but by living truthfully in the real world where God’s tender mercies (i.e. His Gospel of Grace) can rule the roost and win the day.
More on this amazing way of tenderness next time.
My prayer: Lord, I’m afraid that over the years, I’ve been striving for biblical perfection by believing You were looking for sinless-ness and flawless-ness in Your people. Thank You for the clarification that You’re not looking for that in me, but simply a willingness to allow You to bring me to ‘complete-ness’ through the tenderness found in Your love and acceptance. Holy Spirit, I submit to that ‘perfection’ and ask that You complete Your work, for Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: What ramifications are there if I put down my unending pursuit of sinless-ness & flawless-ness, simply allowing God to complete His work of ‘perfection’ in me? What might church life look like if we stopped majoring on sin management and flawless living and focused more on living in the wisdom of accepted tenderness?
So what is God speaking to you today as you live as Abba’s child in the midst of His Gospel of Grace?
Over an eleven-week period, you and I will take a deeper look at God’s Gospel of Grace; Exploring the Good News of God’s Unconditional Love & Acceptance. We are using Brennan Manning’s classic book, Abba’s Child – The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging as our guide. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Gospel of Grace home page for ease of use. ENJOY!
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There’s definately a lot to know about this issue.
I like all the points you made.
Great article. I am experiencing some of these issues as well..