True Christian Perfection

Epiphany 7 Saturday

Matthew 5:48

“This is why you are to be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

This is now how Christ concludes this chapter on such teaching and example…Our sophists have dreamed much about perfection and applied it all to their spiritual stations in life and their monastic orders, as if priests and monks alone were in the state of perfection, one more so than the other: bishops higher than the others, but the pope was to be the highest. In this way, they tore this word away from all Christians in common, as if they could not be called, or be, perfect. But here you hear that Christ is not talking to bishops, monks, and nuns, but in common to all Christians who want to be his students and be called God’s children, who do not want to be like the tax collectors or evil rogues, as the Pharisees and our priests are. But how does this take place that they are perfect? To answer briefly (elsewhere I have discussed the matter in greater detail), we cannot be or become perfect by having no sin, as the pope’s followers dream about perfection. Rather, this is what is called to be perfect, here and everywhere in Scripture, that first the doctrine is completely right and perfect and that then life also is directed by the doctrine. E.g., here there is the doctrine that we should love not only those who do us good, but also our enemies. Now, those who teach this and who live according to such teaching teach and live perfectly. But both the doctrine and life of the Jews is imperfect and incorrect, because they
teach only to love their friends and also live accordingly. But Christ wants to have a complete, round, undivided love. He wants us to love the enemy and do him good as much as the friend. Thus, I call a truly perfect man someone who has and keeps the teaching completely. Now, this perfection is not harmed when life is not as strong later on, because it cannot do so since flesh and blood get in the way without ceasing–so long as you strive for it, practicing and progressing daily, so that the spirit rules the flesh and keeps the later in check, forces the flesh under it and holds it back lest it gain an opportunity to act against this teaching. In this way, I let love proceed in the golden mean toward everyone lest it reject anyone. Then I have the true Christian perfection that is not tied to special offices and stations in life, but that is, and should be, common to all Christians, that follows the example of the heavenly Father who does not divide his love and benefits but lets all men on earth enjoy them by means of sun and rain, excluding no one, be he good or evil.

St. Louis ed., 7:489-491.

This entry was posted in Daily Devotions From the Writings of Martin Luther. Bookmark the permalink.