I recently read a blog entry by Rachel Held Evans on the woman caught in adultery. Read it. It is good.
But it got me thinking: Jesus told the woman to “sin no more.” Did he say that with the hopes that she might actually avoid sin for the remainder of her earthly life? I am reminded of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5 when he tells listeners to “be perfect, as the Father in Heaven is perfect.”
Perfection?! Jesus, that is a tall order sir. Surely you mean, “As long as you’re trying…” or maybe, “Give it your best shot, but it is alright if you fail once or twice.”
What did Jesus actually mean when he gave us this goal of perfection?
John Wesley also understood the barriers he faced when preaching on Christian perfection. He writes:
There is scarcely any expression in Holy Writ which has given more offense than this. The word ‘perfect’ is what many cannot bear; the very sound of it is an abomination to them. And whoever preaches perfection (as the phrase is) that is, asserts that is is attainable in this life, runs great hazard of being counted by them worse than a heathen man or publican.
Wesley goes on to qualify his idea of Christian perfection, pointing out that in this imperfect world, we have imperfections from which we cannot escape. Ignorance, error, infirmity and temptation will always hinder our relationships with each other and with God. Wesley rightly points out that these maladies will be a thorn in our flesh until the new creation.
However, Wesley goes on to encourage Christians to perfection in spite of these hurdles. Rightly pointing out that we are “crucified with Christ” and now serve as Jesus’ dwelling place, the extent to which we allow Him control over our lives is the extent to which we remain perfect. Our minds are rene
wed and we no longer plot evil. Our spirits are restored and we no longer desire wickedness. We have become a new creation.
The defeatism preached in our faith frustrates me. We teach that we need to give up, that we can do nothing good on our own. All we can do is come to the alter and cry a bit. For all of us are wretched sinners, deserving of death.
Do not call me a sinner, for that is no longer my label. Yes, I still suffer from the imperfections Wesley lists, but I am a saint!
I no longer wake up and desire to do wickedness. I do not plot evil willingly against my neighbor. I do not wish my neighbor harm or desire to steal his property.
And in the times where my infirmities, ignorance, or error would offend my neighbor, my heart is already moving toward repentance and reconciliation. This is not the life of a sinner. These are not the desires of a wicked heart.
Instead, and by the grace of God, through His Son, I am a new creation that has the potential to be perfect!