So you must be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:48 (NCV)
How are you doing? Working on that perfection? Absolute consistency, steadfast faith, unending love. No mistakes, no compromises, no slips. How are you doing with all that?
Well, most of us aren’t doing very well, are we? In fact, most of us are struggling. We want to do right, but we still do wrong. We try to stay away from certain things, end certain bad habits, but they continue to draw us in. We aspire to goodness, but still don’t measure up. And, honestly, that makes us feel bad.
But the inconsistent life is normal and we should feel good about ourselves. Think about that for a moment. When, in the church, were you taught to say, “I feel good about myself”? Oh my, that would be a prideful and arrogant statement, wouldn’t it? No one could say that, right? Wrong! I can say it. And so can you.
Now, before I explain what I mean, let me say what I don’t mean. I don’t mean that we should pat ourselves on the back because we are making progress. There is no call for progress in the Christian life. Progress earns us nothing. Just because we are better than we were last year, according to some measurement, does not make us good. That may sound discouraging, but we all know this to be true. We climb up one rung of the ladder and there is always another for us to climb. Always. If we base our motivation on progress we will become discouraged very soon as we realize that our progress will never be enough.
Nor should we feel good about comparisons. We look at others and think we are at least better than they are. While the church has taught progress openly, it has taught comparison secretly. But comparison also earns us nothing. In fact, comparison only brings us further down. It robs us of our brothers and sisters and it causes us either to live in pride or shame. If we can find people who are somehow worse than we are, we can also find people who are somehow better than we are.
And let me take away one more common motivation for believers—future hope. I believe in Heaven and glory and the promise of a wonderful future; but I do not believe that I will be more perfect someday. We were taught that we would have to excuse bad behavior here, that the battle in us between the old nature and the new nature will only end upon our death. But then we will finally be free and clean and perfect. Today we are doomed to live in defeat and discouragement; but then we will be victorious and happy. No, that’s not much encouragement for today.
The real encouragement comes from knowing who you are. Those who belong to Jesus have died and are alive today as new creations who live in Him. He is our life. Our sins, past-present-future, are washed away forever. We are as clean and righteous and holy as He is, because He is our life. This is who we are.
Sin, even something I do today, belongs to who I was. My flesh continues to struggle to be in control of my thoughts and actions, but when it is, that’s not me. I am not brought down by my flesh. I am nothing less because my flesh gets its way once in a while.
Yes, this life looks inconsistent. That’s normal. Every Christian has walked this walk. But we feel good about ourselves because we are already complete in Christ. He is enough in us.
I can hear two objections already. First, what about the call to be perfect? I will answer that and deal with the verse next week. Second, so sinning is okay? No—and I will write about that in two weeks. So hold on.
If the work of Christ is finished (and it is) and the Christian is complete in Him (and we are), then we should feel good about ourselves—even if we see an inconsistent life along the way.