But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:48 NLT
These words of Jesus have terrified Christians for 2000 years. What?! Be as perfect as God? No! So people have tried to explain it away in a variety of ways. But there it is, and it won’t go away.
I want to suggest another way to look at it. In the context of Matthew 5 what Jesus is saying is that we must love as God loves, with a love that is perfect (complete, whole) like his love is. An imperfect or incomplete love is one that only starts if someone else loves us first; an imperfect love will only continue if someone returns it. But God’s love is complete in itself, needing no one else’s to either start it or keep it going. That’s what you and I can have: a love that is a duplicate of God’s.
I have come to believe that this is an expression of the Bible’s “story-line.” God wants us to be in a relationship with him that changes our character. That’s what it meant to be an Israelite, and that’s what it means to be a Christian. The good news is that what the Israelite could not do, we can! We can replicate the character of God through Jesus. So, if you are not in a living relationship with Jesus that is changing your character into the likeness of his character, I dare to say that you are not a Christian.
Ouch! Isn’t being a Christian just to have your email address legally changed from your.name@hell to your.name@heaven? Well, no. You see, what Jesus is saying on the Mount of the Beatitudes is what Moses said on Mt. Sinai: you must, you may,(!) have the same utterly glorious (holy, perfect) character that the One who loves you (your Deliverer, your Father) has. Why did he get the Israelites out of Egypt? So they could “walk” with him, “walking” like he walks. Why did Jesus deliver you from the curse of sin? So you could walk with him, walking like he walks. Are you, am I, a Christian? What about it?