[e-Devotionals] 1999-09-01 - Perfection or Progression?

Philippians 3:12 (NLT) I don't mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection! But I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be.

A friend stopped by my office the other day. He is what I call a "spiritual tire-kicker." He is kicking the tires of Christianity, wanting to see for himself if the Bible and this person named Jesus are really all we Christians make them out to be. He is a dyed-in-the-wool skeptic, folks, almost cynical about Christianity. He keeps watching Christians around him and trying to figure us out. The reason he stopped by my office was to tell me about a business acquaintance who had recently separated from his wife. Listen carefully to what he said, in his cynical manner: "I thought they were fine, churchgoing Christian people." It took him back when I looked him dead in the eyes and replied, "Christians get divorces just like everyone else, and Christians make mistakes; we are not perfect. We are, however, working on a progression of fewer foul balls and toward living more like Christ."

My friend's attitude is not uncommon among non-believers and the more I am around, the more I see it's not too uncommon among some well-meaning Christians. They equate Christianity with perfection. Paul said it so well in:

Romans 3:23 (NLT) For all have sinned; all fall short of God's glorious standard." I said this phrase a hundred times over the years when teaching Bible studies or talking to people one-on-one: "Christianity is about progression, not perfection.

But I have a confession to make folks; I am a perfectionist to a fault. My perfectionism sometimes paralyzes me with procrastination. I am so terrified of making a mistake or not getting something just right, I sometimes will just do not do a particular task at hand out of fear. A perfectionist attitude also makes it difficult for me to understand God's unconditional love for me. It makes it difficult for me sometimes to even trust God's forgiveness. It makes me think, "How can God forgive someone as fouled up as I am?"

Now watch this; read carefully. Perfectionism is used by the evil one to make me think that it's no use to keep on trying to be more like Christ. I swerve outside the line and the evil one pounces on me over and over, saying "David you aren't 'good' enough to be loved, to be accepted or to be forgiven by God." Some of you believe this lie like I do. Sometimes that lie grips me for days or weeks, and it draws me further and further away from God. But I keep coming back, by His grace. And like a loving Father, God is always waiting to embrace me.

1 John 1:9 (NLT) But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.

So, what's the antidote to this perfectionism? The answer became very clear to me last month when my golf instructor made the comment, "Golf is a game of mistakes; you must learn to manage the mistakes and not let them manage you." "Whoa," I thought, "so is the Christian life. It is a life of mistakes." Like golf, it is not a life of perfection, but rather progression. It is a life of managing our temptations. We simply are trying to progress to being more like Christ, hopefully sinning less today than yesterday, moving toward the example His life set for us.

Now, answer this question for me. Do you hate sin more today than yesterday, more than last month or last year? If you do then you are making progress; if not, it's time for a spiritual check up. I measure my maturity and progression in Christ by how much I hate sin. I will never be sinless, but I do want to sin, less. How about you?

Father, forgive us when we listen to the lies of the evil one telling us we are not good enough. Forgive us when we stop progressing toward a life of less sin. Forgive us for not trusting Your Word that You are faithful and just. Help us to trust You more and understand Your unconditional love for us. In Your Son's name we pray, Amen.

David Massey