The process of cooperating with God. People don’t need to “accomplish something”; they only need to get their hearts right. Once their hearts are right, everything else follows in the ordinary course. In any event, life is not the time to enjoy exaltation; that comes later. Life is the time to overcome vanity, pride, and selfishness. It is the time to lose oneself. When one does that, it doesn’t matter that he still has a great gulf between himself and perfection; he is, nonetheless, perfect. Submission is perfect. However, there is still a great work ahead of everyone seeking to attain exaltation. This life’s agenda is very limited, even though the full effort involved will last many lifetimes. Men and women are not here to “get exalted.” They are here to continue progression which began a long time before their current birth. At this moment, they are being “added upon” by what they experience here. At some point, they will have received what they need in this sphere and will be able to move on to the next stage of development. When they have gained everything they need from this life, they will have received “the fullness” from God. It is called “the fullness” because it is all that can be obtained here. It is not possible, however, to inherit everything God ultimately offers while here. For that, it will require a great work “even beyond the grave,” as Joseph put it. Indeed, it isn’t even possible to fully understand God while here in this life.1
Therefore, I would that ye should be perfect, even as I or your Father who is in Heaven is perfect (3 Nephi 5:31). In the Matthew text, Christ unequivocally limited this to His Father (see Matthew 3:26); here, “perfection” is achieved by both Christ and His Father. Assuming the Matthew text is correct, the difference is significant. It is another confirmation that anyone who is mortal, including the Lord, stands in jeopardy every hour (see 1 Corinthians 1:64). He simply could not claim perfection while in mortality because mortality is a time of change, challenge, and temptation. After all, He was tempted while mortal, just as every human soul is tempted (see Hebrews 1:11). Though He chose to give no heed to it, He was nevertheless tempted (see JSH 16:6). While mortal, He looked to the Father in all things (see John 5:5). After concluding His time in mortality and achieving the resurrection of the dead, He was given all power in Heaven and on Earth (see Matthew 13:4). Therefore, if the Matthew text is correct and the differences are accounted for, then the admonition of Christ for one’s own perfection is not just an earthly endeavor. It is an invitation to follow Him and His Father into a loftier state, as well (see Abraham 6:2), one where the final realization will come only as one is able to endure greater glory than a mortal may possess (see Genesis 1:1). It is good to know this commandment is possible to accomplish (see 1 Nephi 1:10). It is hard to conceive of following the Son in this way. Yet it is He who pronounced it and He who has promised to share the throne of His Father with all who will come to Him (see Revelation 1:20).
“A harmonious symmetry of light, majesty, holiness, glory, and power are all around Him who is perfection. When I read the admonition to [be ye therefore] perfect, even as I or your Father who is in Heaven is perfect (3 Nephi 5:31), I can hardly grasp how that gulf between us could be bridged. I understand about the Lord’s atonement. I have certainly been the beneficiary of it and will continue to be so. When I consider the infinite gulf between His and His Father’s perfection, and my own imperfection, I am left completely stupefied at the idea it is even possible. Nevertheless, He gives no command which He does not provide means to obey…. He provides the means, and His Father ordained the laws by which it can be done, and they provide us with free will and the capacity to choose, but we must choose. We must accept. We must press forward holding Their hands in order to arrive at last, after an infinitely long journey, in the courts of Heaven itself, fit to reside there. Be ye therefore perfect. And start on that this moment. For you haven’t another moment to spare.”2
The word “perfect,” as used in the New Testament, comes from the Latin Vulgate perfectus, meaning “complete, finished” and is a translation of the Greek teleios (τέλειος), which means: “having attained the end, complete, perfect, full-grown, mature, initiated into the mystic rites, the initiate, consecrated, having finished the course, etc.”3 and can be interpreted ritually as completing the ascent. “The word perfect (teleios) does not mean perfect digestion, perfect eyesight, perfect memory, and so on; it is a special word meaning keeping the whole law.”4 “In a ritual setting, among the connotations of this word, this term refers to preparing a person to be presented before God ‘in priestly action’…. Early Christians continued to use this word in this way in connection with their sacraments and their ordinances. Hugh Nibley saw that the meaning of the word teleios is namely ‘living up to an agreement or covenant without fault: as the Father keeps the covenants he makes with us…the completely initiated who has both qualified for initiation and completed it is teleios, literally “gone all the way,” fulfilling all requirements, every last provision of God’s command.’”5
1 Eighteen Verses, 282–283.
2 “3 Nephi 12:48,” Oct. 18, 2010, blog post.
3 Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), s.v. “τέλειος,” 816–818. See also Strong’s Concordance, G5046.
4 Hugh Nibley, Approaching Zion, 438.
5 John Welch, The Sermon on the Mount in the Light of the Temple (Farnham, England: Ashgate Publishing, 2009), 118; 118n115.