We now begin the “Summary” attributes (perfection, blessedness, beauty, majesty, and glory), which means they complement and summarize and are comprehensive of the previous ones. They are capstones, so to speak.
This attribute is considered communicable because it can be “transferred” or shared with us. We are made in the image of God, and he has graced us with the capacity to receive it.
Now let’s define it.
What do scholars and theologians say?
Let’s do a short word study first.
The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the adjective that is usually translated as “perfect” is Tamim (91 times), and the synonyms are “without defect, blameless, full, whole, entire.”
The New Testament was written in Greek, and the adjective that is usually translated as “perfect” is teleios (19 times), and its synonyms are “mature, complete.” The verb is teleioō (22 times), and it can be translated as “to complete, finish, to reach a goal; be fulfilled” in addition to “to perfect.” (Howard W. Goodrick and John R. Kohlenberger, The Strongest: NIV Exhaustive Concordance [Zondervan, 1990, 1999; Mounce, pp. 506-07]).
Most of the verses with those words in them are about people. So what do they mean to God? How is he perfect? We have to use Scripture-based logic. It is impossible to improve on what Reformed theologians Herman Bavinck writes:
God’s ‘highest perfection’ is the sum and substance of all the attributes … Accordingly, when we speak of God’s perfection, we do not refer exclusively to his moral excellence, whether ‘goodness or holiness,’ but we mean that God is the sum-total of all excellencies, the One than whom no greater, higher, better can exist, either in thought or reality … In other words, God answers fully to the idea of God (Doctrine, p. 246).
In other word, all of God’s attributes are absolutely perfect, in sum total. He is greater than any other being, either one we think about or one that really exists.
This attribute of God means that he is absolutely and totally complete and entire and whole—not broken or incomplete or deficient in his nature or being.
What do the Scriptures says?
I use the NIV here. If you would like to see the following verses in many translations or in their contexts, please go to biblegateway.com.
Since God himself is perfect and he interacts with humankind, we expect his revelations and way to be perfect too. Here are some verses spelling this out.
His ways and word are perfect:
As for God, his way is perfect:
The Lord’s word is flawless; (Ps. 18:30)
Some interpret the word “word” in the above verse to mean written Scripture (total inerrancy and infallibility), but the sense is that the content of God’s word is flawless for daily living. The Bible and its laws are practical and down-to-earth. And the same goes for the next verse:
The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple. (Ps. 19:7)
Perfection and God’s faithfulness:
Lord, you are my God;
I will exalt you and praise your name,
for in perfect faithfulness
you have done wonderful things,
things planned long ago. (Is. 25:1)
Now we turn to the New Testament. These verses are bound to intimidate some people—and with good reason! Can we achieve perfection down here? It is better to see the word “perfect” as “whole” or “complete” or moving towards “fulfilling the goal” of being like Jesus (Rom. 8:29; Phil. 3:10; 1 John 4:17).
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:48)
Next, the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant could not make people perfect:
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. (Heb. 10:1)
We are in a race, heading towards completing God’s goal for our lives—being like Jesus (Rom. 8:29; Phil. 3:10; 1 John 4:17). The good news: Jesus is the pioneer and perfecter. We let his Spirit flow through us, and he will complete his mission. Self-effort leads to dead works.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Heb. 12:1-2)
Finally, God’s gifts are perfect. He is light, without shadow or personal inconsistency.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)
How do I come to know God better?
God is absolute perfection. Every attribute, whether considered one at a time, or all together (without confusing them) is totally and completely perfect. He is perfect righteousness and perfect holiness. He has perfect standards.
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). We are called “… to be conformed to the image of his Son” … (Rom. 8:29).
So what happens when we don’t meet those absolute standards? And we are bound to fall short, because he is God, and we are human.
We Christians can worship and praise him that he is perfect love and mercy and grace. He extends those wonderful attributes to us. He wants us to receive his Son Jesus Christ. When we do, his Spirit lives in us, and inch-by-inch he transforms us into better persons. Yes, we have a part to play, like reading Scripture and praying and communing with Jesus, and staying close to fellow believers who are on the same journey towards becoming like Jesus (Rom. 8:29; Phil. 3:10; 1 John 4:17).
But make no mistake. Life in Christ is life in the Spirit. We let the Spirit flow through us (Gal. 5:16), and as fruit grows naturally from a tree (Gal. 5:22-23), Christ himself moves us forward with a God-given ease, not struggle and self-effort.
Written by James Malcolm
ARTICLES IN “DO I REALLY KNOW GOD?’ SERIES