(By Theanna Joyce)
“You, therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
It’s an exhausting thing, trying to be perfect, don’t you think? It’s honestly very draining—and unfortunately, consumes our minds and energy. The constant pressure of self-betterment, the need to be better today than you were yesterday, striving to be better than your peers and coworkers; it’s a tiring, often unfruitful job. All the New Year’s talk about resolutions brought this dilemma to mind. As nearly everyone tries to come up with smart resolutions that will (fingers crossed) last through January, we’re all confronted with the reality that we’re not perfect; we want to be better. I want to lose weight, go to the gym, read more, get out more, make more friends, travel more. I want to spend more time reading and praying this year, get more involved at church, share the gospel with my coworkers, get closer to God. These thoughts often take up a fair bit of time, yet rarely do we see lasting change. But I’m not going to tell you how to bring about changes. For the most part, you probably already know how—you’ve got to do it, put in the time and make the sacrifices. But, that’s not what I want to focus on. Rather, I want to consider the conflict that results from knowing that God wants us to be like His Son but also knowing that we’re human, and as such, in a very practical sense, we’re not perfect. We sin. We try to honor God, but we fail. We try to do it in His strength, and sometimes we succeed, but other times we fail. Yet despite all this, we know that the war has been won. Death and sin are conquered. We know that God is in control; eternal glory is certain. But still, the days come and go, weeks then months, highs and lows, success and failure. Failure. And our hearts are weary. Will this cycle be our lives? Will it repeat day in day out? We know there is hope for eternity, but what about this life? What about right now?
The reality is, we are accepted by God. Although we all sin and fall short of God’s standard, if we have called on the name of Jesus and put our faith in Him, we are accepted by God and will never be rejected. Jesus promised in John 6:37: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” He will not cast you out. And remember who our God is—unchanging and faithful; He does not break His promises. Furthermore, read John 17, the high priestly prayer where Jesus prays to God for you. The Hebrew writer mentions that this is an ongoing practice: “Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25, italics added). Read that last part again: “He always lives to make intercession for them.” The “them” of this sentence is you and me, the ones He has saved. Jesus is always, always before the Father making intercession for us. He is the reason we are acceptable to God the Father, and He’s not going anywhere.
Another point I’d like to address is something that Paul mentions in his letter to the Galatian believers. It’s actually a theme that is found all throughout the New Testament, something we need to grasp and keep a firm grip on, or else we’ll end up deeply entrenched in the above-mentioned cycle of trying, then failing, and then feeling worthless. Paul writes: “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Gal. 2.16). A few verses later he writes it again: “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (3:3). You can almost hear the incredulity in his tone of voice. He has heard what these believers are doing, turning back to circumcision and the law that Christ had freed them from, and he’s telling them No! “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1). We were not accepted because of our works or our frail attempts at perfection, it has always been because of Jesus. Why then, do we think that we must do and work for God’s acceptance? We must rest in the work of Christ. Rest in His acceptance of us. We don’t need to strive for His acceptance because we’ve already been accepted. We are worthy, not because of anything we have done, but because of Jesus. Understanding this is is key to victorious living.
But now I’d like to ask you a question. What kind of perfection are you pursuing? We see in this verse in Matthew 5:48 that we are to be perfect as God is perfect, but this perfection is of a godly sort. It means complete, fully grown; it is righteous, full of the fruits of the Spirit. I think this distinction is really important, because we need to be careful not to seek the glamorous, yet empty idea of perfection that is seen in the world. And, if we really believe that we are completely accepted by God, our motivation should not come from fear of rejection, but rather from an understanding that we are fully loved by God and we love Him in return. Why do we obey Him? Because we love Him. Why do we seek to be Christ-like? Because we love Him. If love is not our motivator, then things might still get done and we might appear to be godly Christians, but really, we’re not bringing glory to God and our heart remains far from Him.
That is our goal, right? Our purpose? To bring glory to God. But when we fail, or sin, or mess up, we need to realize that this is not the end of the line, because Christ wants to use this opportunity to shine through our brokenness. We can rattle off the verse, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” without a second thought, but do we believe it? (2 Cor. 12:9 ESV). And then Paul goes so far as to write that he will boast in his weakness, “So that the power of Christ can work through [him]” (12:9 NLT). This is not boasting in sin, but often when we sin, it can help us to realize our own weakness. And in that we can boast—but only if we let the power of God work through us. My favorite imagery is that of a clay pot, described by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:6-7:
“For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”
We are cracked clay pots, but within us is the greatest treasure this world has ever seen: Jesus. The light. And it is through our brokenness that He chooses to shine out and be a light for the world. So don’t be discouraged when you fail. Remember His plan and purpose. We are called to be like God for His glory! And He gets the glory when we turn our failures over to Him and let His power shine.