The first church I was involved in as an adult talked about something I didn’t have much experience with—perfection. It confused me. I asked questions and respectfully challenged the logic.
The big word often used was sanctification, which made sense when defined with words such as set apart, purposed, and holy, but then that other word popped up again: perfect. In all fairness, another translation of the Bible uses mature instead. Okay, I could get behind that. But perfection, as in free from sin? As in, no wrong? Like, not even in thought or attitude? That made no sense to me.
It came up every now and then, and I remember being told by one person that those who believe God has perfected them have to narrow their definition of sin so tightly so that they can stay within their lines of what perfection must be. That didn’t help. I didn’t buy it. I loved many of those people, but they were most definitely not sinless. They were real. Well, except when they pretended to be perfect.
At the time, I was getting to know God better. He was more real to me than he’d been in my life up to that point. I was open to a lot of new stuff, but I didn’t understand or even accept it all. I might not have known much, and perhaps it wasn’t the most popular approach, but I once pointed out that it seemed the sentence structure was revealing an ongoing process of trials→faith→endurance→growth and development→completion, which could also be called maturity or perfection or whatever. But I’m pretty sure that completion doesn’t happen on earth. I mean, unless it’s at the moment I die. Because if I am breathing, there is improvement to be made in my faith and life. There is purpose to be fulfilled. Am I becoming more, better, mature, every step of the way? I sure hope so. Perfect? Nope. Endurance is a lifelong deal.
Why bring this up from decades ago? It’s not because I have any bad feelings about that church. I’m glad there were some tough issues I had to deal with. Wrestling through them developed some good habits of doing life with others who were somewhere in the middle of their journeys, too, and learning from them but learning most by filtering everything through what God says. I’ve appreciated many teachers through the years, but it all has to be filtered through what God says and who he is. And I’ve taught many times, and I know I’ve gotten it wrong. If you’ve followed this blog for long, you already know that! But I trust God does a lot of filtering and helps people receive his truth more than my presentation of his truth.
Again, why bring this up? First, because Christians are often seen as people who think they’re perfect. Honestly, that first small group of people (and not even all of them) were the only people I’ve encountered who truly believed in their own perfection, and I knew it was more semantics than anything else. Well, maybe I’ve encountered a handle more, but I think their perfection issues have more to do with personality tendencies than spiritual misconceptions. Most Christians definitely know they are not perfect. They are often humble, compassionate, and genuine.
Second, just because one person or small group of people declare a belief doesn’t mean it’s truth, even if they attached God’s name to it. They might misunderstand just as each of us misunderstand some of the things we come in contact with. Also, for people who don’t know or trust God, just because someone attaches God’s name to something doesn’t make it untrue.
Third, there is no substitute for putting in the time and effort to pursue truth through our own personal relationship with God. That endurance part of the verse? Yes, it’s difficult and unending. It’s exhausting. And very rewarding and productive. It will be the end of my life when I will reach the “need nothing” part of that verse, but in the meantime, I know God provides everything else, and I’ve learned perseverance in faith is well worth the pursuit.