Striving for Heart Perfection

THE NUMBER OF Scripture texts exhorting followers of Jesus to strive toward “perfection” is impressive. Here are a few of these sacred admonitions:

“That we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”—Col. 1:28

“That they may be made perfect in one.”—John 17:23

“That the man of God may be perfect.”—II Tim. 3:17

“Till we all come … unto a perfect man.”—Eph 4:13

“If thou wilt be [made] perfect, go and sell that thou hast.”—Matt. 19:21

“The Law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did.”—Hebrews 7:19

“Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect.”—II Cor. 13:11

While these statements have slightly different connotations, their united testimony emphasizes the high standard of heart purity for which the true followers of Christ are admonished to strive. We know that in our flesh dwelleth no good thing, but we can thank God that he is not looking at the outward appearance, but at the heart, and has made a gracious provision for covering our flesh with the robe of Christ’s righteousness.

“Be ye holy; for I am holy,” quoted Peter. (I Pet. 1:16) What is holiness? Can we define such a word as this? It conveys to our minds some comprehension of the character of God, and of what he desires and requires of us. The Apostle John tells us that “God is love.” (I John 4:8) We are to be like God, which must mean that we are to be all love, as our Father is all love.

The word holiness conveys the thought of purity—heart purity—beauty of character in its most radiant form. It means the highest pinnacle of all loveliness. It is this loveliness, this holiness that we see in God, which inspires us to devotion and to imitation.

Consider the love of God which gave his Son for the life of the world because he desired that man should turn from wickedness and live. Consider the mercy that forgives; the compassion upon the weak; the infinite tenderness that heals the broken-hearted and assists the feeble in faith; that understands the crooked; that soothes and helps with the patient, forbearing, comforting love of a mother.—Isa. 66:13

Who of us has not known in our walk of faith the compassionate love of God! If we have known and proved the smallest measure of his love at any time, have we not touched and known the perfection, the holiness, of our Father in heaven? It is this perfection that our Lord Jesus exhibited in his own life on earth. Jesus was the effulgence of his Father’s glory, the express image of his person. (Heb. 1:3) As we consider him who is the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, we also consider our Father. (Heb. 3:1) Paul exhorts, “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children.”—Eph. 5:1

Now the desire burns within our hearts to achieve and to possess that which we have seen and looked upon with admiration and ardent longing. The cry arises from our innermost being, as an urging of the soul:

“O for a heart more like my God,
     From imperfection free;
A heart conformed unto thy Word,
     And pleasing, Lord, to thee.”

How to Attain

The question arises,

“How can we attain?
     Lord show us the way;
Enlighten us
     And we will obey.”

When an artist aspires to greatness, he studies long and intently the work of the great masters, striving to create a like masterpiece. If we truly aspire to the perfection of heaven, then we also must study and consider our great Master, Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our profession. (Heb. 3:1) Nor must we take just a few cursory glances, or take lessons only now and again. We must apply ourselves diligently to the task. Little worth while is ever achieved without a conviction of it being right, and a diligent enthusiasm for accomplishing it. The real secret is in our submission and obedience to the will of our Lord and our Father, “for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13) And in Jesus we see the greatest example of perfection of any who ever lived. He is the great masterpiece of perfect love, the one we must take for our pattern and example, our teacher and our guide.—John 13: 15; I Pet. 2:21

No day should be allowed to pass without meditation upon the life of our Master. It involves careful consideration and earnest prayer for grace to strive to attain the perfect heart; to copy the likeness of God’s dear Son. (Rom. 8:29) As the artist seeks to know the secret of the genius of the old masters, so we should search after the secret of perfection.

Paul beautifully describes the ways and means to see God, “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness [at Creation], bath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (II Cor. 4:6) Through the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost this shining began, enabling the Spirit-begotten to “see Jesus.” And Jesus said. “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.”—Heb. 2:9; John 14:9

What a consolation that we can look upon Jesus, our beloved Redeemer, through the records of his ministry and word, and hear him, our Master, before us, beside us, within us, and about us, giving us counsel, instruction, assistance and strength. Without him we surely will fail. With him we cannot fail.

Let my eyes see Jesus only;
     Let my lips speak forth his praise!

All the great saints since the days of the apostles who have devoted their lives to the cause of Christ and God’s plan of human redemption are also a splendid source of help and inspiration to us. Think of Paul! Read the life of any of the faithful disciples of Christ. As we learn of their struggles and conquests, their noble faith and lofty purpose, we are inspired to follow them as they followed Christ, and to join them in their great quest for heart perfection. Like them, by grace, we can win the crown of life.

We can all help inspire and encourage each other. Our own faith and noble determination can assist others who might faint. The light of our own enthusiasm can light a lamp in another heart and fan into a flame the same sacred ambition. Jesus admonished, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”—Matt. 5:16

If we are seeking heart perfection with sincerity, if we have a deep rooted ambition and apply ourselves to be like Christ and be found in him, then we shall, by grace and almighty power, receive the crown of life. As Paul remarked, “Not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”—II Tim. 4:8

We must not only long to possess the treasure of heart perfection, but seek to comply with the conditions to obtain it. Paul suggests in Philippians 2:12, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Indeed, we must suffer for it; we must sell all, to buy it—to give all in this life in exchange for it—as our great Master did. “He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil. 2:8) It requires the abandonment of self, and to make it the very first objective in life.

Do we know something of what Jesus meant when he said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me”? And, do we understand what he said to the rich young ruler, “Go … sell whatsoever thou hast, … and thou shalt have treasure in heaven”?—Mark 10:21

How do we understand Paul’s remarks? Do we apply them to ourselves when he writes: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me”? —Gal. 2:20

Do we “count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord”? (Phil. 3:8) Do we rejoice with Jesus in selfless service and obedience? (Ps. 40:8) If we do, then the crown is reserved in heaven for us. (I Pet. 1:4) We are by faith claiming and possessing in our hearts the perfection of our Father in heaven. On the other hand, if we know or possess little of the pain of striving: if we are not daily impoverished in self-esteem, then that crown of perfection is but a mirage, a phantom, a will-o’-the-wisp, a myth.

There is no royal road to heart perfection. It is a hard, rugged path. Jesus walked this way, thus showing us the path to God and his glory of holiness. “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” (Heb. 5:8; 2:10) When we first aim at heart perfection, we learn, as it were, our alphabet of grace. As little children we learned to articulate our first lesson in godliness. We seem to have been so pleased with our success when bad habits and moral slackness are overcome and put away. We measurably keep the commandments of Jesus.

We say our prayers. We do good as opportunity arises. We study our scriptural portions. We regularly attend our studies and gatherings. We feel ourselves as Christians well on the way, at least, to the perfection of heart which Christ set forth for us as our goal. (Matt. 5:48) Perhaps we wrap ourselves around with the cloak of complacency, thinking we are doing all that can be done by divine grace and providence. We are like the rich young ruler that came running eagerly to Christ, questioning, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?”—Matt. 19:16

The glance of the Master read through the heart of that young man, just as he reads through us. He sees the eagerness the desires, and efforts, that have been put forth; the sureness of our own moral growth when we say, like the young ruler, “I have kept the commandments.” Jesus, looking upon him, loved him as he loves us when we say, “Master, I have done this and that for thee.” And Jesus looks into our hearts and says, perhaps, “Yet lackest thou one thing.”—Luke 18:22

Perhaps, just as we think the will of God is sealed with us, a higher step blocks our vision, and we realize we have mounted only to the base of real ascent. As we come ever closer to him, through prayer, satisfaction with ourselves fades out, and we become conscious of weakness and faults before unseen. This consciousness of the vision of perfection brings to us the realization of John 15:5, “Without me ye can do nothing.” It is here we are stripped more thoroughly of our own righteousness realizing our need to embrace the truth of things. “He who knew no sin [became a] sin [offering] for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”—II Cor. 5:21

Then, like faithful Abraham, who realized the time had come for parting with righteous Lot, so we too look forward to the time when we might ascend higher into the hills of God’s atmosphere and to realize something of the preciousness of II Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” There is within our hearts a deeper longing after Christ and the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s power. We are surely on the way toward that aspired goal of heart perfection. While our first steps, or early months of experience, may be feeble, uncertain and timid, as time goes on our faith becomes strong, our heart confident, and we find ourselves adding virtue to virtue to gain moral excellence of thought and heart. It is here that our ‘gold’ meets the acid test.

Perhaps we have discovered through meditation and study of the Lord’s Word that much of what has been accomplished is the result of self-effort. Then perhaps it is here our Master seems to say, “It is not enough. You have only begun to attain perfection. Yet lackest thou one thing.” What thing? Something to make your moral excellence a warm, living glow of light and life to others; and, in all humility—for God’s glory—to keep yourself out of sight, and thought.

Sell all thou hast and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me, were Jesus’ words to the young man. But we have been following all the while! Yes, but now he is calling us to a closer following, a deeper, richer, fuller fellowship and nearness to himself, which is attainable only when, like him, we give our all in happy submission to our Father’s will. Let us not refuse, as did the rich young ruler, in order that we might still direct and rule our own life.

It is the glad abandonment of our wills that our Heavenly Father is looking for. He wants us to put away the human treasures of life—count them as refuse, as Paul said: “That I may win Christ, and be found in him.” (Phil. 3:8) “I consider the sufferings of the present time, as unworthy of comparison with the future glory to be revealed in us.”—Rom. 8: 18, Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott

To be over-anxious about many cares of life often means to exclude our Master from sweet hours of transforming fellowship, and is he not our great assistant and paragon of perfection? To serve self with the bulk of time and thought and give to him the odds and ends of whatever we can spare, is a miserly sum with which to hope to obtain heart perfection. There can be no heart perfection without renunciation. Whatever we lose for Christ’s sake, we gain in eternal values. The joy of the Lord, the power of Christ, the fellowship of God, are infinitely greater treasures than any of the earthly good things which we may pay out as the price for heart perfection.

In the Apostle Paul we have a very great example of one—though imperfect—giving his all for the hope of the perfection of heaven. He sought to be poured out as an sacrifice for others. It brought him at last to a prisoner’s lot—almost blind, and in chains. He faced a martyr’s death. But Paul could say with conviction and confidence, in all humility and in meekness, to the praise of God, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.”—II Tim. 4:6-8

Ah! The crown! That was the thing for which he had paid his all, esteeming it only a light affliction. He said, “If by any means,” he could gain the crown. He had nothing, yet he had everything. He had the conviction that the crown was his. Do we really have that same conviction, that heart set upon perfection, and are we following after this priceless experience and joy? Are we, too, willing to have it cost us our all?

Dawn Bible Students Association
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