And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. — Genesis 17:1
We have heard it said, “Nobody’s perfect. After all, we’re only human.” One bumper sticker makes a joke of perfection, saying, “If you think you’re perfect, try walking on water!” Yet, God told Abram to be perfect. Was He requiring the impossible? Of course not! The secret to understanding God’s command is found in an accurate definition of the word perfect. In the original language, the word means “entire, whole, complete, or without blemish.”
In the physical sense, perfection relates to being at the proper stage of development. Consider a newborn baby being presented to delighted grandparents for the first time. In all likelihood, they inspect the tiny feet, unwrap the fingers that instinctively grasp theirs, smooth the wisps of hair, remark on the shape of the nose and chin, and proclaim, “He (or she) is perfect!” Ten years down the line, those grandparents would not expect to see their grandchild still wrapped in a blanket, crying when he or she needed to be fed, and unable to sit up or speak. However much they might love the child, they would know that development had not progressed as it should. One expects a “perfect” newborn to possess certain characteristics, but the expectations are very different for a ten-year-old.
In the spiritual realm, God does not want us to think that we are finished or completed, with no possible room for improvement. Perfection in our Christian lives begins with receiving forgiveness for our sins through justification, and then dealing with our carnal nature through the experience of entire sanctification, which brings heart purity. Even after receiving these experiences, we will need to grow and mature as Christians. As long as we are on this earth, God will be working with us. He may ask us to do some difficult things, such as forgive someone who has wronged us, or He may simply ask us to live for Him through the small affairs of everyday life. As we serve Him faithfully from the heart and to the best of our abilities, we are perfect in His eyes.
Some people confuse Christian, or moral, perfection with absolute perfection. Absolute perfection is to be perfect as God is perfect, and no human achieves that level of perfection. However, we can achieve the level of perfection that God demands, which is dependent upon the condition of our hearts. A heart that is continually yielded and completely obedient to Him is perfect in His eyes.
For Abram, perfection was walking in continual obedience and complete devotion to God. In return, God promised to bless Abram and his descendants in bountiful ways. God’s requirement is the same today. When we meet that requirement and completely yield our hearts to Him, we can be assured that we are “perfect” in our Father’s eyes!
Twice before, God had discussed His covenant (solemn agreement) with Abram (Genesis 12 and 15). In those instances, fulfillment was not to be for some time, and Abram had to wait in faithful trust. In verses 1-8 of today’s text, thirteen years after the Lord’s last recorded appearance to Abram, God promised Abram that (1) he would have many descendants, (2) many nations would spring from these descendants, (3) God’s covenant would continue to apply to these descendants, and (4) the descendants would occupy the land of Canaan. Jesus Christ, the Savior of all mankind, came from these descendants.
Abram’s part of this covenant was to be perfect before the Lord. He was also to initiate the ordinance of circumcision upon all the males in his extended family, including himself (verses 9-14). Circumcision was to be the sign that Abram and his descendants were God’s people, set apart from other nations. At this time, God changed Abram and Sarai’s names to Abraham (meaning “the father of a great multitude”) and Sarah (meaning “princess”).
In verses 15-22, God promised that in the course of time, Sarah would give birth to their long-awaited son. Abraham laughed when he was told that Sarah was to give birth to a baby in her old age. Though this was a seeming impossibility, the writer of Romans tells us that Abraham “staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded, that what he had promised, he was able also to perform” (Romans 4:20-21). God did not forget Ishmael; although the covenant was not to be established through Abraham’s son by Hagar (an Egyptian servant), God indicated that Ishmael would be the ancestor of twelve princes, and the father of a great nation.
Abraham did not waver when told by God to circumcise those of his household. Verses 23-27 indicate that he immediately put into effect God’s commandment. There were no class distinctions in this commandment: the servants of the household were circumcised just as the free men were.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
II. The early history of the chosen race
9. The reaffirmation of the covenant (17:1-27)
a. The promise of fulfilling the covenant (17:1-8)
b. The sign of faith in God’s covenant (17:9-14)
c. The avenue of fulfilling the covenant (17:15-21)
d. The exercise of faith in God’s covenant (17:22-27)
God never requires the impossible. Perfection in His sight is possible by the help and grace that He promises to provide.