Perfection is Unattainable: But Practice Makes Perfect!
I feel like I should begin by addressing the image below. Those shoes. They suggest that I'm still a runner, and running is somehow helpful in today's blog. No. I chose it because it was the best "Practice Righteousness" image I could find! And I looked a while. This episode is not about fitness, running, marathons, or really even goals in the traditional sense. I will follow up and say that I am doing some indoor cycling right now, but that's not important.
If you do visualize running today, make sure to do so only in the spiritual application sense. We are on a journey, running toward the finished line, and longing for the reward that comes after. But I've got news, and it isn't great. You are not the fastest. You will never be the greatest runner, the winning runner, the perfect runner. Nor will I. When it comes to living a life of faithfulness and sinlessness and righteousness, there will be more stumbles than lap records. I've come to a place of peace with that, and you should as well.
Because God never told you to be the perfect runner, or the fastest or the best. (Okay, enough running imagery). God never told you to be the most faithful person in history, or sinless for months at a time, or righteous in every situation. In fact, He explicitly told us this was not possible. For me, this creates an internal struggle. How can I be saved by God, and accepted by God, when I am so imperfect? Why would God give me the crown of life when I have stumbled all along the way? Well, it turns out, the answer is "practice."
How can I feel saved when I am so imperfect? Let's start here. And I want to use the awesome book of First John for the rest of this article. You do not have to be perfect to be saved! John writes about the cleansing power of Jesus. That power is extended to people who confess their sins, not to people who cease sinning! I almost feel like I should repeat that. God expects you to stop sinning and turn to Him, time after time, knowing that there will never be a time when sin stops happening. And yet, the letter ends with the idea of confidence in eternal life. You are saved if Jesus saves you, not by your own greatness.
So, are you saying sin is not a big deal? For the Christian, sin will always be a big deal. We died to sin, how shall we still live in it? We understand that a life with Christ is a life away from sin. Instead of sin not being a big deal, when you become a Christian, sin becomes a HUGE deal, because you sincerely hate that it still exists. But this isn't a time to panic. In fact, real panic should set in if sin stops being a big deal. If we accept sin in our lives, we will stop fleeing it, we will stop confessing it, and we will lose the cleansing power of Christ. It just means we need to evaluate our routines, our daily direction, our practice!
What does "practice" have to do with Christianity? The answer may be "everything." In John's letter, he speaks of two kinds of practice: righteousness and sin. The word practice means what you think it means: to do a thing, keep doing a thing, try to get good at a thing, love and accept that thing, and strive to make it permanent in your life. Now give that italicized sentence a second read before moving forward. Because how you practice spiritual habits will change you; it will begin to shape your character and your life, and God is keeping His eye keenly on that process.
If you practice sin, which John talks at great length about, God cannot save you. How can God save someone who sins, then keeps sinning, then gets good at sinning, loves sinning and accepts sinning, making sin a permanent part of their life? Practice makes perfect, even if it's sin. Practice makes permanent. What you practice becomes who you are.
If you practice righteousness, you will not be righteous all the time. But God can and will save you for your effort to pursue righteousness. How could God not save someone who is righteous, then keeps growing in righteousness, then starts to get good at righteous living, loves righteous living, accepts it, and seeks to make it permanent in their life? Practice makes perfect, especially if it's righteousness! Practice makes permanent. What you practice becomes who you are.
How do I know if God is pleased with my life? Don't ask yourself if you are sinless. Ask yourself if you are accepting sin and getting good at it. Don't ask if you are righteous, none can be. Ask yourself if you are pursuing righteousness, and growing daily in it. The practice of the second will help you push away the first! Listen, everyone sins, even the best of us. And, everyone does something righteous every once in a while, even the worst sinners. But those moments don't define them. It is the practice, the pursuits, the purpose that defines them. Practices makes perfect. If we practice sin, we are perfect to the devil. And if we practice righteous, we are perfected by the grace of God. Sound like an easy choice!
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