Does God Expect Me to Be Perfect?
by Pastor Dan Delzell
Nobody is perfect. So why even try to be? It is a hopeless pursuit, right? Yes and no. Here are a few thoughts about perfection which might surprise you, or at least give you a new perspective on yourself and God.
God is the ultimate “perfectionist.” Until you understand that fact, you might not see the beauty of the Gospel message, as well as the beauty of God’s perfect Law.
When we think of a perfectionist, we imagine someone who is so obsessed with perfection that he micromanages other people and every situation. Such a person obviously misses the big picture in life. God approaches it differently. God never misses the big picture, and He has given us the free will to manage our own thought life and our own decisions.
God’s Law is perfect. And His standards are completely righteous. So what is God to do with man, who comes along and brings his imperfections into the equation? How is God supposed to respond to these flaws in man?
God responds the only way a perfect and holy God can respond. He addresses man’s imperfections in a manner which is perfect in justice. This calls for punishment. Otherwise, God would not be perfect. He would condone imperfection. This would make God far less than perfect.
Here is where Jesus comes into the picture. He literally bore the punishment you and I deserve to pay. (see Isaiah 53:5) That is what the cross accomplished. But there was more than justice going on at the cross. There was also deep and abiding love. (see John 3:16) The righteous One taking the punishment of the imperfect ones. Love and justice. Mercy and punishment. Sin and grace. The innocent Lamb being sacrificed on the “altar” of the cross.
In order to get into God’s family, not to mention heaven as well, one must indeed be perfect in God’s eyes. This can only happen by having God look at you through the “lens of Jesus” so to speak. This occurs when a person trusts Jesus as Savior. When you accept the fact that Jesus bore the sentence you deserve to be given, your sin is completely washed away. Without that washing away of sin, no one is even close to perfect in God’s eyes.
So are you completely perfect in the Father’s eyes today, or completely sinful? Those are the only two options.
But then we move into the Christian life, and this question comes up again. “Does God expect me as a Christian to live perfectly?” The Word of God tells believers, “Aim for perfection.” (2 Cor. 13:11) So how in the world am I supposed to do that without becoming a perfectionist, and without constantly getting weighed down with guilt and feelings of inadequacy?
The only way to properly “aim for perfection” as a Christian is to forget about yourself. It’s not about you. When you fall short, which you will, simply recognize that you are not perfect but God still loves you just the same. His love for you is not based on your performance. Instead, His unconditional love for you was demonstrated in the death of His Son. This transformational truth can liberate your heart, soul and mind to “aim for perfection” without “beating yourself up” every time you miss the mark. The Christian life is not about criticizing yourself or praising yourself. Both of those distractions will mess with your mind and upset your peace in Christ.
Aiming for perfection involves keeping our eyes on Jesus, and remaining under the constant waterfall of God’s grace. As we continually flow in the love which He has for us, we are motivated to “aim high” and to “find out what pleases the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:10) That’s what you do when you love someone. You want to do things which please that person. The more we love Christ, the higher we will aim.
Likewise, the more I love myself, the harder it will be for me to “aim high.” Self-love is a major threat to holy living. It is only love for Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit which sets us free to aim high, while also pressing on even when we have failed to be all that we can be for our Lord.
So does God expect me to be perfect? Or is God willing to “lower the bar” in my case, especially since He already knows how difficult it is for me to live at a high level of Christian discipleship? Here is what God knows. None of us have an ounce of power on our own to “be like Jesus.” It is only “Jesus in us” which produces a Christlike life. This begins to happen the moment a person is converted. “Self” gets dethroned. Jesus becomes the King of your heart and life. And His attributes begin to show up in your life.
“But I am not perfect. And I never will be.” True. So you might as well embrace that fact as you celebrate the good news that the perfect One died for you and even lives in you. That is, if you have received Christ as your Savior. Well, have you? Or are you still living under the delusion that you are good enough on your own merits to get into God’s family, and even into heaven? That is the biggest lie Satan ever told, and millions of people still buy it hook, line and sinker.
In contrast, God has never told a lie. His words are always perfect. So is it possible as a Christian to “aim for perfection” without becoming a perfectionist? Not only is it possible, but there are actually millions of believers “livin’ the dream” right now. That is to say, they are not only “at peace with God,” (see Romans 5:1) but they are also at peace in knowing their “high aim” is not the basis of God’s acceptance of them.
Instead, they aim high because they are flowing in a mighty stream of God’s living water. They are compelled to aim high by the power of God. And if you have not yet experienced the power of that mighty river, you can begin asking God everyday to keep you not only “in the know,” but also “in the flow.”
Why do you think a former persecutor of Christians like the apostle Paul would constantly aim so high in his Christian life? It wasn’t because of a renewed self-image. Nor was it because he was guilt-driven. Just the opposite. Paul was compelled by God’s love for him in the Person of Jesus Christ. The sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross is what led Paul to do everything possible for Christ. It was love, pure and simple. And as long as we don’t complicate it with our human tendency to prop up “self,” we just might discover the secret which the apostle Paul learned from experience.
Paul wrote, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” (Philippians 4:12) And every time Paul fell short, (see Romans 7:14-25) he nevertheless pressed on. Paul wasn’t bogged down by a self-induced pressure to maintain a healthy self-image. For Paul, it was all about Christ. He wrote, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal.” (Phil. 3: 13,14) This is how Paul continually aimed high and kept his eye on the prize. It was God’s grace in Paul’s life which spurred on this holy pursuit.
Many Christians over the centuries have learned Paul’s “secret.” Would you like to learn it as well? This is a new day for you believer. This is a new moment. So go for it.
Jesus sure went for it. And the Perfect One inspires His imperfect followers to “find out what pleases the Lord.” (Eph. 5:10)