Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Perfection in an Imperfect World (part 2)

The world is not black and white. But it’s not all hazy gray either. There are lines; there are rules; there are standards. As Christians, we are called to give up our selfish desires and to not lean on our own understandings. We have a higher calling. “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 10:33).

Believers who point out Church teachings or challenge others to follow God’s standards are sometimes called Pharisees or zealots. They are told they are more interested in the letter of the law than the spirit of the law. But the law does have letters. I've said before that those who grew up in a strict environment need to learn about God's grace and those who grew up in a lax environment need to learn God's rules. I'm in the latter, but I sometimes fear preaching what I learn for fear of being seen as unloving.

The Pharisees whom Jesus challenged were chided not for their laws but for their hypocrisy. And we all can be hypocrites at times. We fail to do what we preach is right. But rather than changing what we preach, we should change our actions to match. If the rule is “be perfect” and we are imperfect, it is better to become perfect than to create a rule “be imperfect.”

The first word Jesus uttered once he began his ministry was “repent.” Jesus loves us all. He died for us all. That doesn’t mean he approves of all our choices. We are all welcome, but we must repent and turn from our sin. It would be sinful to withhold the truth from someone because of modern notions of relativism or ecumenism. 

One of the teachings of Jesus that even non-Christians love is “judge not.” When Christians point out ideas or behaviors that contradict Christian morality, they are reminded to not judge. But the secular world telling Christians to not judge really means “Christians, shut up.” They want to be tolerant of religion as long as religion is kept behind closed doors for a couple of hours a week. Displaying or preaching religious ethics is too “judgmental.” And didn’t your God say not to judge? Don’t be a hypocrite. 

The problem, of course, is that Jesus actually said, “Judge not lest ye be judged” (Mt 7:1). It is a call for righteous judgment and an end to hypocrisy, not a call for relativism and complete tolerance for all actions. We cannot judge a person’s soul, his intentions, or his state of grace. We can call out evil actions. We can instruct others to turn from sin. We cannot docilely let evil be tolerated out of fear of being called judgmental hypocrites.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The second part of that sentence is my least favorite part of the Lord’s Prayer. Sure I want God’s forgiveness, but I’m not so sure I want to be forgiven only as much as I’ve forgiven. I’m a sinner and a hypocrite. I should work on that. The best way to not be a judgmental hypocrite isn’t changing the standards but to change myself, to turn away from sin, to work toward perfection. I’ll fail, but I’ll put the work and the trust in. God’s grace will cover the rest of the way. He is perfect; I am imperfect. His rules are perfect; my adherence is imperfect. It isn’t complicated after all.

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