The New Testament itself contains Jesus’ directive to “[b]e ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48) (emphasis added). President Hugh B. Brown emphasized that “[w]e take seriously and literally the injunction of the Savior to be perfect” (Conference Report, Oct. 1966, 102).
But what is the perfection that our Heavenly Father expects us to achieve while in mortality?
Today, we often characterize perfection as “sinless” or “flawless,” but there has only been One that truly meets that classification. And yet the scriptures attest that “Noah was a just man and perfect” (Gen. 6:9); Job was “perfect and upright” (Job 1:1); and Seth was “a perfect man” (D&C 107:43). Consequently, the scriptural definition of perfection seems to differ from our modern definition.
There are only 5 words in the Bible that are translated as “perfect”: (Hebrew) 1) shalem (1Kings 8:61; 15:14; 2Kings 20:30); 2) tam (Job 1:1); 3) tammim (Gen. 6:9; 17:1; Duet. 18:13); (Greek) 4) teleios (Matt. 5:48; 19:21; Eph. 4:13; Col. 4:12; James 3:2); and 5) artios (1Tim. 3:17). And yet, none of these words actually mean “sinless.” Instead, each is better depicted as “whole,” “complete,” “undefiled,” “upright,” or “just.”
So, what type of a person is someone who is whole, complete, undefiled, etc., if we are to obtain such a state of being? To help explain this, Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated the following:
“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. Now is the time and the day of your salvation, so if you’re working zealously in this life – though you haven’t fully overcome the world and you haven’t done all you hoped you might do – you’re still going to be saved…
“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 is the probationary estate – you’ll never fall off from it, and, for all practical purposes, your calling and election is made sure” (McConkie, “Probationary Test of Mortality,” p.8) (emphasis added; paragraphing altered).
Accordingly, someone who is whole, complete, upright, and so forth (i.e., “perfect”), is someone who lives as an upright member of the Church and avoids unbalanced, fanatical Church zeal. It is someone who, upon sinning, immediately repents and is once again reconciled to God. In other words, perfection in mortality simply amounts to living our lives by doing those things we know to be right and true, for if we are doing this and we die while in the process, we cannot fall from that path in the world to come.