Do you have a place in your house or apartment where random things seem to collect? Maybe it is by the back door, in the laundry room, or at the end of a hallway. Living with my in-laws these past 5 months, for us it is by the back door at the bottom of the stairs. The boys’ shoes, coats, a fresh basket of laundry. Maybe it’s the dog’s new collar, the latest package from Amazon, or the kitchen trash that waits for the next responsible soul to walk by. Whatever the item and for whatever the reason, it has become Grand Central Station.
My most recent contribution was a pair of pants I needed to return to Target. The pants were too small – clearly, they were mislabeled…But the funny thing about these pants is they had been up in our bedroom for a little over a week. It was not because I had not been to Target – that is a weekly experience in my life. What I realized, is that they will never make it to the return desk at Target unless I get them out of my bedroom. I realized this late one night but instead of procrastinating until the next day, I took the bag and placed it at the bottom of the stairs, next to the door. It stayed there a few more days, then I noticed it again. That’s when I decided to put the bag in the back seat of my car. Finally, after almost a week of driving around with the silent passenger, I found myself at Target and scooped up the bag to make the return.
Through this experience, God taught me a great deal about fighting sin. Sin almost always makes me feel guilty, filled with shame. In a relationship with Jesus, this should not be the case. The Holy Spirit exists, in part, to convict us of our sins, to recall what it is we have been taught. Nonetheless, the guilt and shame are there. In an attempt at atonement, I make grand declaration to pursue perfection. That from this moment forward I will do everything I can to never sin again and maintain a spotless life, free from blemish or blame. Surely, it is this which will make God happy after I truly disappointed Him with my sin.
This line of thinking is a partial truth. Our sin does grieve the Holy Spirit and is abomination against a holy God. What is false about this way of thinking is that Jesus loves us more if we do not make mistakes and when we do make mistakes, that we become instantly perfect – never to sin again.
Consider Matthew 5:48, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This scripture can be proof-texted (taken out of context) to mean that we should live a life that is without mistakes. That we should be perfect. But a further study of the original language that Jesus uses, the concept of being “perfect” is the concept of being made complete. This speaks to a process. Our goal is a commitment to the process of being made like Christ. It is a matter of your heart condition. Jesus would go on to emphasis the priority of heart condition in His Sermon on the Mount.
As a Christ follower matures, he or she will then experience sin differently. Rather than denying sin for the purpose of being without mistakes, a Christ-follower should deny sin for the purpose of glorifying God – of becoming more like Jesus, the one who died for us and saved us from God’s wrath. What does this have to do with returning pants to Target? If you are a man or woman battling a besetting sin – a sin that you simply cannot seem to shake – turn your attention from attempting to be perfect to being in love with your Savior. Sure, it is absolutely best if when I realized I needed to return my pants I went straight away to Target. However, another option is to move the bag closer and closer to Target, until it is finally returned.
God’s grace empowers us to live lives which move further and further away from sin, even if we are unable to kill sin in one fell swoop. Rather than being obsessed with immediate victory over sin, make a daily commitment to resist the Devil and flee temptation. The old saying, “take it one day at a time.” Satan has a way of tempting you to give in to sin, then convincing you that you should be able to overcome sin immediately, if you “really loved Jesus.” Then when you are unable, he tempts you to feel guilty and full of shame – which often leads to more sin.
God’s grace and mercy is so much sweeter than the experience with which Satan tempts us. God longs for us to be made perfect; God’s plan for us does not include sin. So instead of asking yourself, “How can I be without mistakes?” ask yourself, “What is the trajectory of my heart?” Are you shamefully pursuing perfection or are you passionately pursuing God? When we do resolve to fight sin, God delights in filling us with His Spirit so that we can move away from sin, even if it means moving one step at a time. The word “perfect” in Matthew 5:48 is the Greek word, teleios. This word is of the same origin for tetelestai – one of the final words Jesus speaks as He hangs dying on the cross. It is by Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection that it is possible for us to overcome sin. He alone accomplished this victory (tetelestai, perfected, made complete), it is our blessing to experience sanctification (teleios, being made complete) which deepens our relationship with Him. Sin is never to be overlooked or dismissed. But we must never forget it is our heart condition – our heart’s desire to deny sin, our posture before God’s righteousness – that brings God glory during our battles with sin.