Q: I know I’m a sinner, so what does Matthew 5:48 mean? Does God really expect me to be perfect?
A: Imagine the cover of a thick, glossy women’s magazine. There are screaming headlines about what’s in style, who’s beautiful, and a racy teaser about improving one’s sex life. It’s the kind of magazine that preys on the low self-esteem women have been taught to lug around in our souls—the sense of unworthiness that compels us to shell out five dollars for the chance to master the art of contemporary femininity. (Or make an attempt at it again, at least.) Even though these magazines are often filled with recycled variations of the same tips and tricks they’ve been publishing for years, they are irresistible to many women. We long to measure up.
But the magazine I’d like you to conjure in your mind is different. The airbrushed celebrity isn’t a reality TV starlet but a grinning Jesus, with blindingly white teeth and full, shiny hair, as though he’s just had a blowout at a fancy salon. And the headline plastered across his brow in hot pink says, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
It sounds silly, I know. But I’m convinced many contemporary Christians—perhaps especially women who are constantly pounded with the message that we need to work harder to be perfect—have been reading Christ’s words about “being perfect” () out of context. We’ve received a message as false and seductively frustrating as an advertiser’s promise to take us from “flabby to fabulous” in three short weeks.1