Be faithful, not perfect
Paul Shim | JUNE 5, 2019 | 4 MIN READ
I burst into tears as I gave my mother my report card.
How many times had my parents told me to study harder? How many times had I failed at being an “A” student? (A lot. Like every time.) How ashamed and disappointed would they be to have me as their son?
I apologized through my tears and told my mom that I had failed her. I said I would try harder and that I would raise my grades to make her proud of me. I asked her if she could ever forgive me while wondering if that were even possible.
Then she did the strangest thing: My mother smiled at me. She said that she had never told me that I had to get all A’s to be her son and to make her proud. She had only told me to try harder because I was a natural procrastinator, lazy with homework, and not working up to my potential.
My mother told me that it wasn’t perfect grades that would make her love me — she would love me regardless. She simply wanted me to be faithful to how I had been created by God in my giftings, intellect and abilities.
As my mom enveloped her sobbing boy in her loving arms, I remember simultaneously feeling and learning that the love that I received from her was not something that I could earn or accomplish, but that she loved me simply because she loved me. I would trust, obey and grow through her love rather than try to perform and perfectly earn her love for myself.
And yet how much of our faith and salvation do we strive to earn and deserve? Or maybe the better question is this: Is that what Christ calls us to?
Many Christians can articulate that the Gospel is based on the grace — the undeserved, unmerited love of God for us — that God bestows on His people and creation for His glory. But so often, there is a dissonance between the mind (what we seem to know) versus the reality of the lives that we live and what we (truly) believe.
Although we say that we are saved by grace, the truth is that we live shrouded in insecurity as we strive to act, accomplish, and achieve in order to somehow earn or obtain worthiness of the Gospel. We profess to believe in Christ, but in reality, our faith is both in Him and ourselves, just in case, as if Jesus and His promises aren’t enough.
So even in our service of the Kingdom, we think that we have to be at a certain level before we serve or have a certain ability of “holiness” and inspiration before we love, serve, disciple, pour out of ourselves etc. To some degree, we are all that middle-school child holding our report card in tears, trying to earn the love and acceptance of our heavenly Father.
“And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’
And immediately they left their nets and followed Him.” (Mark 1:17-18)
The invitation of Jesus to his first disciples is pretty clear: to follow Him. The command is to walk after Him, to seek Him, to learn in the image of teacher (rabbi) and student (disciple), to walk where He would go, to eat where He eats, to live as He lives, to value as He values and above all things, to love as He loves. Jesus does not call his disciples to be perfect. Instead, the call of Christ and the Gospel is that we would be faithful to the righteousness of Christ and to grow in the very image were created in: His!
This is the reality of who we are in Christ. We ourselves are not and cannot be perfect. The reason Christ came down from His majesty and glory in heaven is because we could not achieve perfection and obedience to the law (Look up Philippians 2:1-11).
So in Christ, the impossible burden of perfect and righteous accomplishment is mercifully taken off of our shoulders and placed on the sovereignty of Jesus. And in this, we are no longer called to be “perfect”, but we are called to be “faithful” in surrendering and submitting to Christ in all that we do for His glory.
In Luke’s account of Jesus calling the first disciples (Luke 5), Jesus, in the early morning, commands Simon Peter and the other exhausted fishermen to push the boats back out to the deep water and cast their nets out again, even though the experienced fishermen had caught nothing all night.
It would have been easy for them to brush aside Jesus’ words. How tired they must have been. How disheartened and broken because they had failed so miserably at doing what they were supposed to: catch fish! How annoyed I would have been if I were among the fishermen because here comes this “holy man” who may give a good speech, but what about what in all creation does He know about fishing?!
But what we witness is Simon Peter responding with an act of faith and following Jesus’ command. “But at Your word, I will let down the nets” (Luke 5:5b). Despite his failures as a fisherman, in his character shortcomings and flaws, in his imperfections, he will trust Jesus in faith and obey!
So the fishermen push back out to deeper water and put down the nets on the other side of the boat and pull in the haul of a lifetime. Then Simon Peter turns to Jesus and professes his acknowledgement and awe at the majesty, sovereignty and perfection of Christ. And once they reach the shore, these men, who witness the power of Jesus Christ, leave everything behind to faithfully follow Him.
The call of the Gospel is not that we would make ourselves perfect or even more worthy of redemption, but the call of the Gospel is to be faithful in trusting the righteous perfection of Jesus Christ - to live by faith and not by sight.
So what does this mean for us?
If we are faithful to the cross and work of Christ, we are free to joyfully live in response to Him in all things in worship, service, and redemption! It means that the presence of God is not only in a specific place or with people of a certain level of Christian maturity, but that God is with all His children, in all crevices of reality and is sovereign over every square inch of creation as His - and that He is enough in spite of and despite our lack and unworthiness! (See 2 Corinthians 12:9)
We can serve according to our gifts, abilities and passions in a growing and surrendered manner because it is God who calls and equips His people and not us who choose and achieve our abilities (just look at any saint in Scripture). We can faithfully seek and surrender to the wisdom, Word and sovereignty of God because no matter the course and history of our lives, He is enough, He is good, He knows and He is perfectly able to call, cover and commit us to His righteousness.
So sibling in Christ, prayerfully and wisely discern. Celebrate the blessings we have and commit the brokenness of who you are to the power of the cross. Be discipled and disciple others in all humility and faithfulness to the sovereignty of God. Go on mission both locally and globally. Be a Bible study teacher and faithfully commit to win the souls of those God has privileged you with to Him! Lift up broken and slightly off-key voices in praise because it is God who accepts and makes the songs of His children beautiful. Be hospitable and generous in love to those that you know and especially to those on the fringe and the “alien” in your land. Rest in the knowledge and covenant that though we are unworthy, Christ makes us children and heirs of heaven. Humbly lead your church in congregational prayer and find out what deacons and elders are called to do and seek to be a servant of the church.
Be active and passionate for the Gospel to shine through the cracks of your brokenness not because you are perfect by any means, but because Christ is! In His perfection, be faithful to respond with joyful worship and obedience and live to please Him and make Him known. By His perfect blood, we are washed clean and made anew into the light of His righteousness, by our faith in Him, not our perfection or works (Ephesians 2:8-10).
So many of us live in quiet desperation where the idol of vanity in our personal pursuit of perfection trumps the freedom and invitation of grace that the cross of Christ actually offers us. The weight of striving to be “perfect,” especially under the false pretense of “being holy” is too much for us! Let us remember, submit and live in the faithful pursuit of Jesus Christ so that His perfection would redeem, restore and reconcile us back to the Father for His glory.
“Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity)
Paul Shim is the pastor of community life and college at All Nations Community Church. . Although he was born in LA, he is a Midwesterner at heart, having grown up in Michigan. He attended Calvin College for undergrad and then Calvin Seminary where he received his Master of Divinity and Master of Arts degrees in pastoral care and counseling and Christian education. Paul is a (sad but persevering) die-hard fan of the Detroit Lions. Recently married, he is learning to be a faithful husband to Charlene and looking forward to all the adventure that God has in store for them.