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The Savior concludes His Sermon on the Mount with this final commandment: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father … in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
“With that concluding imperative, we want to go back to bed and pull the covers over our head,” said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during the Saturday morning session of general conference on Sept. 30. “Such celestial goals seem beyond our reach. Yet surely the Lord would never give us a commandment He knew we could not keep.”
Such passages of scriptures seem to double as reminders that “we are falling a little short,” he said. There are many around the Church who worry they are not good enough and that they will never measure up.
“What I now say in no way denies or diminishes any commandment God has ever given us. I believe in His perfection, and I know we are His spiritual sons and daughters with divine potential to become as He is.
“I also know that as children of God we should not demean or vilify ourselves, as if beating up on ourselves is somehow going to make us the person God wants us to become.”
Elder Holland added it’s his hope that “we could pursue personal improvement” in a way that doesn’t include getting ulcers, depression or diminished self-esteem.
In a fallen world, all far short of Christ’s divine mark and example. But hope can be found in simply knowing He is indeed perfect.
“How grateful I am that at least God can bless those who despitefully use Him because, without wanting or intending to do so, we all despitefully use Him sometimes,” he said. “I am grateful that God is merciful and a peacemaker because I need mercy and the world needs peace.”
Elder Holland emphasized that focusing on the Father and the Son’s achievements rather than one’s failures “does not give us one ounce of justification for undisciplined lives or dumbing down our standards.”
One purpose of a scripture or commandment, he added, “can be to remind us just how magnificent the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ really is, inspiring in us greater love and admiration for Him and a greater desire to be like Him.”
It is by His grace that all may be perfect in Christ. All fall short and transgress. Everyone is a debtor who faces imprisonment if not for the grace of the Lord who offers freedom through His atoning love.
Elder Holland called the Atonement “an unfathomable gift given at an incomprehensible cost.”
“That, it seems to me, is at least part of the meaning behind Jesus’s charge to be perfect.”
Except for Jesus Christ, there have been no “flawless performances” during mortality. “So while in mortality, let’s strive for steady improvement without obsessing over what behavioral scientists call ‘toxic perfectionism’.”
Elder Holland added such unrealistic expectations of perfection should not be attached to any who are called to serve in the Church.
“Brother and sisters, every one of us aspires to a more Christlike life than we often succeed in living,” he taught. “If we admit that honestly and are trying to improve, we are not hypocrites; we are human. May we refuse to let our own mortal follies, and the inevitable shortcomings of even the best men and women around us, make us cynical about the truths of the gospel, the truthfulness of the Church, our hope for our future or the possibility of true Godliness.
“If we persevere, then somewhere in eternity our refinement will be finished and complete — which is the New Testament meaning of perfection.”
Elder Holland concluded by testifying “of that grand destiny” made available to all by the Atonement of Jesus Christ, who Himself continued “from grace to grace” and received a perfect fullness of celestial glory.
“I testify that in this and every hour He is, with nail-scarred hands, extending to us that same grace, holding on to us and encouraging us, refusing to let us go, until we are safely home in the embrace of Heavenly Parents.
“For such a perfect moment, I continue to strive, however clumsily. For such a perfect gift, I continue to give thanks, however inadequately.”
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