The Bible is clear on its expectations for humans: perfection. 1 Peter 1:15–16 says, “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” Hebrews 12:14 says to, “strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” 1 Thessalonians 4 says, “to walk and to please God,” (v. 1), that God’s will is that we grow in holiness (v. 3) and that we are called not for impurity, but in holiness (v. 7). God’s desire is clear.
Yet we know none of us meets this standard. None of us walks “holy and blameless before the Lord” no matter how hard we try. Which is what makes the good news of Jesus good news. While we are not holy and blameless on our own, we are presented to God in Christ holy and blameless (Colossians 1:22). Christianity isn’t a matter of law-keeping that leads to life. Rather, it is a gracious gift of life that is meant to lead to law-keeping in the walk of every believer—where the law is summarized as “love for God and neighbor” (Galatians 5:6, Matthew 22:36–40).
Even still, that growth is not perfect. We falter in our steps and stumble on our way. And every so often (and more!), God works, not because of us, but in spite of us. It’s been said that it does no good running backwards when you’ve boarded the wrong train. In that instance, what you need to do is get off the train! But praise God that the opposite is also true. It won’t make much of a difference running backwards when you’ve boarded the right train so long as you don’t jump off! Often times as Christians we find ourselves doing just that: running backwards. And in those moments, God isn’t working because of us, taking us to some destination that we’re eagerly pursuing, but he’s taking us there nonetheless!
This is something I tell myself often, not as an excuse, but as an encouragement in all of life, whether that be ministry, marriage, or fatherhood. For all my failures and shortcomings, God is still at work and his plan isn’t riding on my performance. If you ever wonder if God can use messed up people, read the Bible: the story of Israel is full of mess-ups. And the story of the Church isn’t much different. Yet, God’s plan never jumps the rails! Of course, I’d much rather be a success than a failure, but the good news is I’ve already boarded the right train.
In a world full of broken people—and even worse, broken churches—it’s a helpful reminder that God often works in spite of our worst attempts to make a mess of things! In the words of Amazing Grace:
“T’was grace that brought us safe thus far and grace will lead us home”.