Telos is a Greek word that has philosophical roots extending back to Plato and Aristotle. The word refers to an end or a purpose. Plato and Aristotle believed that there were ends or purposes to which all of life was leading. In other words, what happens in the world isn’t accidental. There is a propelling force moving the world to a stated end.
Telos also has biblical roots. Along with its cognates, it is used often in the New Testament and is significant in telling the gospel story.
The first time we see this word in the New Testament is in Matthew 5:48. It occurs in the middle of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount in an extremely troubling statement: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This statement is troubling because we equate perfection with being flawless or not having any defects. We know we can’t be perfect by this standard. If you think otherwise, I encourage you to reread Jesus’s sermon. He made it perfectly clear that flawless perfection is beyond your reach.
You may have avoided adultery and murder, but have you lived free of lust or anger?
Jesus isn’t concerned merely with the letter of the law. He opened the hood and showed us the spirit of the law. At that point, we miss the mark and miss it badly.
Perhaps Jesus had something else in mind. Maybe the point is that Jesus wants us to find completeness in him. One of the definitions for “perfect”—teleios—is “wanting for nothing.” Perfection in this sense is a place of contentment. That is God’s ultimate aim for us—that we find contentment in him.
Adam and Eve were perfectly content in the Garden. They were living out their God-given purpose. They were reflecting to the world the image of their Creator. But then sin entered the picture and knocked them off course. And it knocked us off course as well. It grabbed the chains of control and forced us down another path.
When we are in sin’s grip, we can’t do anything to get back on course. Not even the law can deliver us to this end. You cannot achieve God’s purpose for your life through obedience to the law. It is impossible.
The law will not take you to God’s intended goal for you. If you try to use it that way, you’ll find it to be weak and useless. The law does not have sufficient strength or power to make you perfect. It cannot break sin’s control in your life.
Only God’s grace can do that. What the law was powerless to do, Christ did.
Look at what Christ accomplished for you. Hebrews 10:10 says that you have been made holy through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ once for all. Hebrews 10:14 says that by that one sacrifice he made you perfect forever. Jesus cleansed you, made you holy, and then delivered you smack-dab in the center of God’s will, right where you belong.