There are many denominations of Christianity that teach we are to be perfect in order to go to heaven. There are a few which teach it is impossible for us to be perfect this side of heaven. To the outsider (unbeliever), Christianity must seem ludicrous. I would like to say which side is right, but unfortunately, I believe both teachings are correct. It depends upon how one defines the use of the word, "perfect" in the Scriptures. But before I address the meanings of the word, "perfect" in the New Testament, I need to correct the false belief that people are either Saints (saved), or they are Sinners (lost).
Let me begin by saying there is clear evidence that a Christian is not perfect in the sense he has become like God. 1 John 3:2 says, "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is." Christians still sin, as can be seen by the Apostle Paul's struggle in Romans 7:15-25. And although unrighteousness and righteousness are mutually exclusive states of being, Christians can be in either state at any given time. We are unrighteous when we sin, but for the believer, God returns us to a state of righteousness when we confess our sin (1 Jn. 1:9).
Another piece of evidence that Christians are not yet perfect is the symbolism of the elements used in celebrating the Feast of Pentecost. The bread used in the Feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits, feasts that represent Christ's First Coming, had no yeast in it. Yeast (leaven) always represents corruption or sin. However, the two loaves that are used in the Feast of Pentecost, which pictures the Church Age between the Christ's two advents, were leavened. These two loaves represent the Church which is made up of Jewish and Gentile sinners. In Leviticus 23:16-17, Moses wrote, "Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the LORD. Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals: they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; [they are] the firstfruits unto the LORD."
It also might be worthy of note that the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus tells His audience to be perfect, was addressed exclusively to a Jewish audience (Matt. 5:48). He was speaking to those for whom the Law was given to explain what "being perfect" means. Paul wrote of the Law, "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster [to bring us] unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster" (Gal. 3:24-25). Paul had written earlier, "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Gal. 2:16).
Tomorrow, Lord willing, I will try to explain what "perfect" means to a Christian.