We are commanded to become perfect. The Savior taught the Jewish people, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). Many people find this commandment to be overwhelming and become discouraged when they make mistakes. People often feel that perfection is unattainable and thus not worth working toward. We all need to realize that perfection in this life is not expected or even possible. What is expected is that we try each day to be better than we were the previous day. We can reach perfection eventually if we do the best we can each day.
Perfection is an attainable goal for us. According to footnote b to Matthew 5:48, the word "perfect" means to become "complete, finished, fully developed." Becoming perfect does not mean never making a mistake. It means repenting of our sins, learning from our mistakes, and working to become complete, fully developed, righteous people, like our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ. Becoming this kind of person is not an event that happens all at once; it is a process that we must work at all our lives.
Striving for perfection can be compared to a beautiful object carved from a piece of wood. The item was once just a piece of wood, and it did not become beautiful or useful all at once. It had to be carefully and gradually shaped and polished by the person who made it. Likewise, we do not become perfect all at once. We gradually and carefully "shape" and "polish" ourselves by following Christ's example and striving to live his teachings.
Jesus Christ is our model for perfection and taught us how we could become like Him. He taught the ancient inhabitants of
I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is
perfect." (Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ, 3 Nephi
This teaching is very similar to that given to the Jews, but it refers to the perfection of Jesus Christ as well as the perfection of our Father in Heaven. Matthew 5:48 was spoken while Jesus was alive on the earth, while 3 Nephi 12:48 was spoken during Jesus' visit to the Nephites after his Resurrection. Although Jesus was without sin, He did not become perfect - complete, finished, fully developed - until after He was resurrected. (See Luke 13:32: "… and the third day I shall be perfected.") Likewise, we will not be perfected until after we are resurrected. But our Father in Heaven and our Savior expect us to begin the process of perfection while we are on the earth and to make a sincere daily effort toward becoming perfect.
Jesus Christ was the very first person to be resurrected and become perfect and set an example for us to follow. When He taught the Nephites, "Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am." (Book of Mormon - Another Testimony of Jesus Christ, 3 Nephi 27:27), He suggested that we could work toward perfection by becoming as much like Him as we could.
The ancient American prophet Moroni wrote, "Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God" (Book of Mormon - Another Testimony of Jesus Christ, Moroni 10:32).
While perfection cannot be entirely achieved in mortal life, we can make great progress toward it. The Lord expects us to do all we can toward giving up our sins and becoming perfect, and He has given us the gospel to help us do this. We can do this by using the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The fourth Article of Faith tells us that "the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Hoy Ghost" (Pearl of Great Price, Articles of Faith 1:4).
"Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ" helps us grow toward perfection because the Savior is the only perfect person who ever lived on this earth. He is the reason why we can make repentance and baptism effective in our lives.
Repentance helps us progress because it helps us to erase our sins and stay clean after we are baptized. Through baptism we become members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has been organized to help us learn and do what Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ want us to do.
Receiving the Holy Ghost helps us grow and progress when we seek and follow His promptings because these promptings will always lead us to right actions.
Perfection is a very individual process. We are all on the same path towards perfection as we strive to become like Jesus Christ, but we are also on different paths because we are individuals with different strengths and weaknesses. We use our strengths and overcome our weakness as we learn the principles of perfection and recognize that each of us will grow and develop in our own times and in our own way. One person may be very faithful in keeping the Word of Wisdom but find it difficult to pay tithing, while another may find it easy to pay tithing but struggle for years to overcome selfishness.
Because perfection is such an individual process, we should never compare ourselves with others. We should never criticize others in their development. Comparisons lead to discouragement, and criticisms are destructive. Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ will not compare us to each other but will evaluate our progress according to our own individual capabilities and efforts.
We should not expect to attain perfection instantly. We can eliminate feelings of failure or being overwhelmed by focusing on only one or two areas at a time for our learning and development. As we improve in individual areas of the gospel, we move toward our ultimate goal of perfection.
The Savior taught, "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13). "Endure to the end" means to stay faithful throughout our lives. Enduring to the end does not mean reaching a certain level of progress and then simply maintaining that level. It means working every day to become a more righteous person.
Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated: "Brothers and sisters, let us do the best we can and try to improve each day. When our imperfections appear, we can keep trying to correct them. We can be more forgiving of flaws in ourselves and among those we love…. We need not be dismayed if our earnest efforts toward perfection now seem so arduous and endless. Perfection … awaits all who love [the Lord] and keep his commandments" (Ensign, Nov. 1995, 88).
While perfection cannot be completely achieved in this life, we are expected to begin the process and make a sincere effort to overcome our sins and to become like Jesus Christ. We must remember that Jesus Christ through His atoning sacrifice made it possible for us to become perfected. We should not become discouraged if perfection seems far away. We must remember that we are a work in progress as we strive to become a perfected individual and that we can move toward perfection by focusing on one or two principles of the gospel at a time.