In the not so distant past, it used to be that people expected their pastors to be perfect. The pastor had to exemplify the best. Unfailing morality. Upstanding ethics. Uncompromising convictions. Unquestionable theology. Unwrinkled clothing. But all that did was create a bunch of pastors who had to act fake around everyone else.
Maybe you feel a similar pressure. Everyone expects you to be perfect. The perfect mom. The perfect dad. The perfect grandparent. The perfect child. The perfect student. The perfect…you name it. The list goes on and on. The expectations that surround us are enough to smother us.
Yet Jesus said, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” [Matt 5:48 (ESV)]. Then the next day comes. You wake up. And the next thing you know, you’ve already messed up. Another perfect day marred by your imperfection. Be perfect. Yeah, right. A noble goal. But why even try? We know we’ll fail.
There is another path. It seems sort of crazy. This path is harder to travel but way more satisfying. It’s to be real yet still strive for perfection, knowing that we will not attain it on this side of the grave, but never giving up. It’s to try to achieve an ideal that we know we cannot attain. Irrational, yes. Liberating, completely.
John wrote, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” [1 John 1:8-9 (ESV)]. Sin is imperfection. It’s missing the mark. And we are all sinners. And we will remain sinners. Nothing we can do will stop us from sinning. Unless, of course, we want to deceive ourselves and be fake. But that’s not the path for us.
We don’t need to be perfect. That’s where grace comes in. Sometimes the people around us forget grace. Unfortunately, sometimes the church forgets grace. But the Bible never forgets grace. God never forgets grace. John went on, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” [1 John 1:7 (ESV)]. The blood of Jesus. It’s seems a little archaic. But it’s still as powerful today even if we are so far removed from understanding a culture that required blood sacrifices. Jesus’ sacrifice cleanses us from all of our imperfections. Everyone of them. Even that one that you’re ashamed to acknowledge to yourself. All of them, removed by Jesus. The beautiful thing in that statement is that we no longer have to live a fake life. We’re free. Truly free. We can have fellowship with one another. That’s just churchy-speak for saying that we can really, truly, be real and be friends with one another.
We need to be that. A breath of realness in a town of fakeness. A light in the darkness. Because even when we have tried to act like we are perfect and don’t need grace, God has never stopped offering us grace.
Grace is so often misunderstood. Some use it as a license to sin. Others view grace as a weakness to rely on. But living right in the center of God’s grace is where we can take off our mask, throw away all false pretenses, and be ourselves. There, when we are real, we can encounter God. The wonderful, forgiving, awe-inspiring, God. So great that He’s the creator of the universe. Yet so close that He loves the real you and me. A God that freely gives us grace so that when we fail, we won’t give up. A God so loving, that when we are down, we are constantly reminded that we can get back up and give it another shot. A God, who, through grace, encourages us to be whom He has destined for us to be, with our faults and all. A real God for real people like you and me.