Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Church, God, Grace, Inspiration, Jesus, Prayer, Religion, Sermon, Spirituality
I must have been about 10 years old when I had my very first crisis of faith. It was and is still the most serious crisis of faith that I have encountered. At 10 years old I realized that I would not be perfect. Now that may be obvious for anyone here who has been given the opportunity to know me well, but for a young child this was a shattering revelation. I did not know what to do with this new information. It filled me with an immense fear, a fear of my potential and a fear of whether God could ever accept such a disobedient child.
A little background is in order. Sanctification is the theological term that was used quite liberally in my childhood to describe the state of spiritual growth that I should expect after I made that decision to ask Jesus into my heart. We were always showed some sort of graph that moved from a low degenerate point to total regeneration. Although perfection was never mentioned it was said that over time we would be perfecting our faith over time. There was a promise that we would improve, become much closer to the perfection that Jesus Christ represented.
As a ten year old I was convinced that I was destined for hell. I looked around at the problems in my world; in my family and in my own mind determining that there was no way that I would ever move toward perfecting my faith. I had done everything right. I read my Bible constantly, until its red cover was worn and falling apart. I reverently memorized scripture. I prayed ecstatically. Most of all I tried my hardest to be a good boy.
So, when the realization hit me that I would never be perfect it shattered my faith like a broken mirror. At first my response was that I would merely try harder to be a good boy. I am almost ashamed to admit that I kept trying for the next ten years. Putting my shoulder to the grindstone and attempting to please everyone that I met. I thought that being liked was the closest that I would get to become perfect. So, I spent my time trying to make others happy. Yet, in my mind I was still a failure. I could still be petty, angry, selfish, jealous and controlling. For some reason my faith was telling me that I was dirty and damnable. For too long I wallowed in the realization that the good that I wished to do I did not do.
Finally I gave up. Really I just gave in. I gave up on my perfectionist dreams, gave up on being a good Christian, gave up on being acceptable to God, gave up on ever living up to my own definition of a good boy. What I gave in to was cynicism, low self esteem and a terrible sinking feeling of nihilism that any of my faith would make any difference in the end.
I had to wait until my 30’s to actually hear the hope that is contained in Paul’s stunning confession of failed faith. The fact that Paul went from participating in the persecution and death of prominent disciples of Christ into being blinded by the presence of Jesus on a road to Damascus is usually where we end our biography of the church’s first and most prominent theologian. Yet, as the book of Acts indicates this Missionary was a complex and complicated human. He broke off with those he couldn’t work with, went against the will of the spiritual leadership of the church by traveling into Asia Minor, used offensive language in the book of Galatians to describe those Christ followers who wanted the Gentile converts to get circumcised to name only a few of the ways that he was imperfect.
So, with such an imperfect example it is refreshing to find such humility coming from such an important church teacher. The good that I wish to do I did not do. Isn’t that more refreshing than the self-help schlock that we are told to embrace in the church. The secret isn’t that if we positively vision things happen that our lives will improve exponentially and we will be successful, rich, self actualized Jesus’, the plain truth is that we live mistake riddled, uncertain and sometimes tragic lives. We get angry when we should be calm, jealous when we should be supportive, petty when we should be magnanimous, in denial when we should be brutally truthful, insensitive when we should care yet when it comes to being a Christ follower we want to believe that somehow these will all go away and we will become good boys and girls.
Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but Christ loves the imperfection in you. If you were perfect Christ would have nothing to do with you. He proclaims that he has come for the sick not the righteous. Look at all the people that he surrounded himself with during his very short ministry on earth. They are a motley crew of prostitutes, alcoholics, thieves, revenuers, mental patients, people with disgusting diseases, rotting corpses, the poor, religious misfits and on and on it goes.
The real significance of the placement of this passage is not only the admission by Paul that he is a troubled, sinful soul. The real significance is that it is in the center of a book that is extolling the free grace of God on us imperfect beings as being the most radical notion of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. It is a grace that by its very definition cannot be earned or deserved. It is a grace that is total anarchy in its implications toward our own human freedom. It is a grace that flows from our creator’s overflowing love. So, this is the context for Paul’s great admission of imperfection, his admission that he will never be a good boy. We should not keep sinning because we are dead to sin. Yet, we know that we will still sin, disappoint and fall short of the glory of God. In the end God’s grace is sufficient for all of our needs, even if that means accepting that we will never achieve perfection.
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