Matthew 5:48 is troubling in the New International Version of the Bible. Jesus says,
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Today I have been inspired and encouraged by the way Eugene Peterson renders that in The Message.
“In a word, what I’m saying is grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
I love this idea about what it means to be perfect. To be perfect just means to grow into the people God created us to be. Peterson has Jesus saying, “Grow up.” Perhaps no two words are more precious and more needed in the church than these. Grow up. Stop being petty. Get over yourself. Get a life — the life I destined you for before you were ever born.
I turn 40 next July and I think maybe I’m just beginning to live out my God-created identity. Or maybe it’s just now beginning to feel comfortable for me and like something I understand in some way and am proud of.
Grow up. Put away the attitudes of your past. Put down the constant whining of that part of you that is still very much a baby. Grow up. Realize that you will not live forever. Your life ebbs away even as you type. Only babies, only children live as if there will always be time. Time to love and laugh and work as hard as possible and to invest in those we love. Time to live in peace with ourselves and with each other. Time to shuffle off one life of idyllic naivety and take on another — but not the life of cynical jadedness that some believe is the alternative. The alternative, or the natural progression, from idyllic naivety is not toward cynical jadedness, but toward mature wisdom. Cynical jadedness is an imposter. It masquerades as wisdom but is really just pompous negativity, dismissive of every kind of joy and sweetness and innocence and faith that it finds.
To grow up is not to become cynical and skeptical and jaded. To grow up is not to claim that some holy book has every rule necessary for successful living already written out. To grow up is to take on the mantle of a God-created identity and learn to live in it. Anything that comes out of me that is not consistent with God’s character is not part of the identity he created for me.
I like the band Megadeth. Last night I went to see them in concert in Grand Rapids. As I stood in line, looking quite out of place, my mind began to wander. This was a tough crowd by almost any standard and I imagined doing something to accidentally provoke a confrontation. As that movie rolled in my head I asked myself again and again, “Would you have the courage to allow someone to hit you and to not hit back?” That is, after all, clearly what Jesus required. The longer I concentrated on that question the more nervous I became that, should I ever be in such a situation, I might fail to respond as I should. Thinking back on that episode in my devotional time today I realized that I displayed both maturity and immaturity. It was mature for me to consider taking Christ’s words seriously and “turning the other cheek” (this is one of Christ’s commands most frequently dismissed). It was mature for me to want to do what Christ commanded. But it was immature for me to be fearful or overly concerned. After all, not only was it all in my imagination anyway, but fear is not from God. And since my concern over whether I would do what would please Jesus led to a bit of self-castigation that I in fact might not, that was clearly not from God. God does not grow us up by guilt-tripping, criticizing, or belittling.
It is easy to fall into ditches in the spiritual life. It seems those who fall into the ditches on the left often deride those who have fallen into the ditches on the right and vice versa. As for me, I wish to avoid ditches on both sides and simply grow up, one step at a time, as I learn what it means to live out my God-created identity.