“I Would That Ye Should Be Perfect Even as I”

D. Kelly Ogden, Andrew C. Skinner

President Hugh B. Brown said, “We take seriously and literally the injunction of the Savior to be perfect.”46 In fact, the Old Testament also teaches that we should be perfect (Deuteronomy 18:13). But what is the perfection that God expects of us here on the earth? We often think perfection is defined as “flawless” or “sinless.” But there has been only One in the history of this world who was in every way flawless and sinless. Yet the scriptures say that “Noah was a just man and perfect” (Genesis 6:9); Job was “perfect and upright” (Job 1:1); and Seth was “a perfect man” (D&C 107:43).

Apparently the scriptural definition of perfection is different from our usual one. In the Bible three Hebrew words and two Greek words are translated into King James English as “perfect.” They are shalem (1 Kings 8:61; 15:14; 2 Kings 20:3), tam (Job 1:1), tammim (Genesis 6:9; 17:1; Deuteronomy 18:13), teleios (Matthew 5:48; 19:21; Ephesians 4:13; Colossians 4:12; James 3:2), and artios (2 Timothy 3:17). None of these five words means “flawless” or “sinless.” They are otherwise rendered as “whole,” “upright,” “undefiled,” “just,” or “complete.” A person who is whole, complete, upright, and so forth, is one who, upon sinning, as all mortals do, immediately and thoroughly repents and is again reconciled to God and becomes whole, complete, and upright once more. It is an ongoing process of repenting and improving throughout this life.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained: “We don’t need to get a complex or get a feeling that you have to be perfect to be saved. You don’t. There’s only been one perfect person, and that’s the Lord Jesus, but in order to be saved in the Kingdom of God and in order to pass the test of mortality, what you have to do is get on the straight and narrow path—thus charting a course leading to eternal life—and then, being on that path, pass out of this life in full fellowship… . If you’re on that path and pressing forward, and you die, you’ll never get off the path. There is no such thing as falling off the straight and narrow path in the life to come, and the reason is that this life is the time that is given to men to prepare for eternity… .

“You don’t have to live a life that’s truer than true. You don’t have to have an excessive zeal that becomes fanatical and becomes unbalancing. What you have to do is stay in the mainstream of the Church and live as upright and decent people live in the Church—keeping the commandments, paying your tithing, serving in the organizations of the Church, loving the Lord, staying on the straight and narrow path. If you’re on that path when death comes—because this is the time and the day appointed, this the probationary estate—you’ll never fall off from it, and, for all practical purposes, your calling and election is made sure.”47

As this verse indicates, the Father and the Son are our supreme examples of the perfection that we eventually and ultimately want to achieve. By becoming one with our Savior (that’s the meaning of the word at-one-ment) we may eventually become perfect in him. Note the words of Moroni: “Come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness … that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ” (Moroni 10:32).

Verse by Verse: The Book of Mormon: Vol. 2