What’s So Hot About Perfection?

May 31, 2010


“God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it.”  I heard that at church yesterday morning.  It’s actually a quote from the bishop of the N. C. Conference, Al Gwinn.  I like this.   It’s good to know that no matter how bad I screw up, God still loves me.  Because , I screw up plenty.  On a daily basis, as a matter of fact.  No matter how hard I try, it still happens.  But, fortunately for me, that’s okay.  As Steve Brown said in  his book A Scandalous Freedom, “”The only people who get better are people that know that, if they never get better, GOD WILL LOVE THEM ANYWAY… God will not only love you if you don’t get better, He’ll teach you that getting better isn’t the issue; His love is the issue.”  And, yes, I know that seems an odd quote, coming from a Methodist.  I mean, we’re supposed to be moving toward Christian perfection, right?

The term Christian perfection is, I think, oftentimes confused with “sinless perfection”.  That’s the idea that no one who is truly born of God (also called saved or born again) will sin.  If they do, then they were never really saved to begin with and they need to go back  repeat the steps they took to salvation (baptism, etc).  Which I disagree with wholeheartedly.  How many times have you heard people outside the Church say that could never be a Christian because they couldn’t be good enough?  Where did they get this idea that being a Christian means you’re perfect and never do anything wrong?  From us, that’s where.  We’re all so scared to admit that sometimes we’re the worst of the worst, we walk around pretending our shit doesn’t stink.  That’s a lie which drives people away from God, and that’s worse than any of the stuff we’re scared to talk about.   Come out of the closet and admit that you screw up, too.  You’ll feel better for it. 

 There’s no way I can adequately explain Wesley’s idea of Christian perfection in this space; there’s just not enough room.  Here’s what said about it; it is found in “purity of intention, dedicating all the life to God” and “the mind which was in Christ, enabling us to walk as Christ walked.”  And,”loving God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves.”  And, his idea of perfection was not that we’d never sin again, he realized that involuntary transgressions would still occur.  Nor did he say that we could do this by ourselves.  Perfection, for Wesley, was a function of grace.  Which is a good thing, because I’d be screwed otherwise.  Some folks may be further along this path than I am, but I can’t even get past not committing the voluntary sins.  All to often, I give vent to my anger over something ridiculous or indulge in a vengeance.  Doesn’t matter how hard I try, it still happens.  Which brings to another quote from A Scandalous Freedom (I really like this book and highly recommend it), “I’m getting better by not trying so hard to be better… when I stopped working so hard at being better and turned to Jesus, that’s when, almost without noticing it, I started getting just a little bit better. So, I have decided to get as close as I can to Jesus, who will always love me, even if I don’t get any better.”  I’ve been trying this and I think it’s working. 

Okay, I’m about to commit an act of Methodist heresy, so brace yourself: Wesley wasn’t perfect and he didn’t have all the answers.  He was human and, as we all know, a perfect human is an oxymoron.  Thinking Wesley had everything figured out is kind of arrogant.  Because if Wesley had all the answers, we, his followers, have those answers.  And, I’m honest enough, to admit that I’ve barely scratched the surface on that front.  However, I do believe he was onto something.  Can we ever attain perfection?  I don’t know.  But I do know that the pursuit of that perfection is a worthy act.  Because, in pursuing it, we get closer to God.  And, that’s always a good thing.

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