Has this ever happened to you? You really want to have a relationship with God. But all of the rules and regulations made it seem impossible. And like many other people you have just about given up. After all the list of things you can’t do in order to be a perfect Christian is longer than the rules for filing your income tax return with the IRS. And as you scan the lives of people in your church not a single person is living up to that long list of rules. Why should you even try to be perfect?
We have this idea that in order to be the perfect Christian we must do all of the following: read the Bible, pray, love others including your enemies, give money to the church, don’t do all of the things that I like to do, attend church every Sunday, have a ministry in the church, have pure motives, listen to Christian music, read Christian literature, watch Christian movies, avoid anything that the church might find controversial, and eat broccoli. And this is only an abbreviated list!
But I have discovered you can be a perfect Christian without being perfect. Even as I type these words there is a sense of joyous freedom that comes over me! The key is to focus on the meaning of the word “perfect”.
To be “perfect” in the biblical sense does not mean to live without flaws or mistakes. In the Greek “perfect” is the word “telos” from which we get our word “purpose” or “goal.” So to be a “perfect Christian” does not mean you are without flaws or that every word, thought, and deed are in perfect harmony with the rule book. What it means is that you live out the purpose for which God created you.
The Jews of the New Testament had literally hundreds of rules by which to live. For them to be perfect meant to perfectly live out each of these rules. But Jesus redefined what it meant to be perfect. He pointed out that if you love God and love others as yourself, you have fulfilled the Old Testament Law. This is your over all purpose in life. To say it another way, if you love God and others as yourself, you are a perfect Christian.
As a young child I begged my parents to let me have a puppy. I used all of my 7 year old charms and ended up with Blaze, an outside dog. Since he was my dog I was required to care for him. Every day I had to feed and water him, In the winter this meant breaking the ice in his water dish. I did it but only because my parents forced me to. Later, as a teen, I got another dog. Sheba was a big old St. Bernard who required even a greater level of care than Blaze. But I cared for the dog without complaint, even going the extra mile. What was the difference? I loved Sheba! Love summed up all of the commandments my parents laid on me regarding dog care.
How do you become the perfect Christian? Not by trying to keep all the rules. You become the perfect Christian by loving God and loving others as yourself. And in those moments when you cannot seem to love you keep on trying. Rob Bell, whatever you might think of him and his theology, was right: “Love Wins!”
What is the hardest part for you about loving others?
Talked to a new guy at work about spiritual things. When I asked him about it, he said: “Oh, I’m a Christian.” When I pressed him a little further, he pulled the “hypocrite card”. ( he wasn’t talking about me, but Christians in general in the church) He said his wife and daughters go to church, but… I don’t supposed you ever heard this one before?
Oh, really good post. I remember your dogs, and your sorrow when blaze got run over by a car. Very sad.
Excellent post and questions! Thomas Merton said, “If we are too anxious to find absolute perfection in created things we cease to look for perfection where alone it can be found: in God. The secret of the imperfection of all things, of their inconstancy, their fragility, their falling into nothingness, is that they are only a shadowy expression of the one Being from Whom they receive their being. If they were absolutely perfect and changeless in themselves, they would fail in their vocation, which is to give glory to God by their contingency.”
The more I grow to know God, the more I realize how powerful love is. The hardest part for me to love others is their flaws. It bothers me to see someone say they are a disciple, and then post on Facebook their disgust for Obama or any other political agenda and put a nice big Christian sticker on it. It also troubles me to see someone teach people something that I disagree with as it has caused trouble for me in the past (oh what prideful man I am!). That said, I know I need to love others for who and what they are, not the reflection of myself in them.