An asymptote is a curious thing. For those who might have forgotten their math lessons from years ago, I’ll make an attempt to review it in simple terms. An asymptote is a curved line, which converges ever closer towards another line, which is straight, but never crosses. You can draw an asymptote line by graphing the points when dividing the number 1 by a series of other, ever increasing numbers – as those numbers grow, the result gets closer and closer to zero without ever reaching it. Just as an asymptote draws closer to a straight line but never touches it, the same is true for man in his endeavor to achieve perfection as a carnal human being.
No matter how sinless we may work to become on our own, we are destined to fall short of the perfection God declares. As Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 7:20, “For there is not a just man on earth who does good And does not sin.” If there is something encouraging to extract from this critique of every good person, it is the reminder that we can always do more. It is an important job of a Christian to continue growing to do better and better, even if that ultimate perfection cannot be obtained without becoming a Spirit being. Still, Paul instructs us to continually work to find ways to become more refined and holy in our conduct now. “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). Just as an asymptote line draws continually closer to the straight line right next to it, we must work to continue doing a better job of seeking the perfection achieved by Jesus Christ in our conduct and behavior.
If the pursuit of perfection is an endeavor that we undertake throughout our lives, how can we do it? Repentance is the primary way that we can improve our lives and live a way that is more pleasing to God. The general instruction to repent can be overwhelming though. When faced with a mountain of repentance to do, it helps to have some more practical instruction so we can chip away at the work. I recently read a book about the history of statistics that describes methods designed by W. Edwards Deming for controlling the quality of manufacturing. The advice Mr. Deming proposed to manufacturers was to find places where there is a large variability in production and work to resolve the problems that cause that variability. Then continue again, finding the next largest variability in production, and solve the source of that problem. By continuing the process, the variability and size of problems become smaller and smaller, but it is never assumed that the variability is completely gone.
Realistically, we cannot become perfect until we are changed into Spirit beings. And by extension, it is not realistic to think that we are able to fix everything in our lives and correct every sin. But, we have to start someplace, and what better way to start is there than to take advantage of God’s offer to help us overcome the greatest problem we have? When the largest problem we have to work on is resolved, we look for the next biggest problem, and continue as long as we have the ability to do so. Of course, as we overcome our sins one by one, we must not neglect the “smaller” sins or drift back into sinful habits that we had already thought to have overcome. A key to make this possible is a dedication to pursue perfection, all the while knowing that there is still more that can be improved.
At one time, a rich young ruler approached Jesus Christ expressing a desire to grow and find out what he still lacked. He became discouraged upon hearing what he still had to do. “Jesus said to him, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me’” (Matthew 19:21). The big thing that this man needed to do was overcome his trust in riches and instead submit his life to follow Jesus Christ completely. But, he was unwilling to do so.
The condition that we need to fulfill in order to achieve perfection requires that we submit our lives to God, while constantly working to overcome sin. If we do follow and grow in Jesus Christ’s example of perfect obedience, we will receive God’s promise of ultimate perfection as spirit beings in His Family.