Struggling with Failure
By Debbie Johnson
“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
My inability to accomplish all I think I should right now reminds me of these words of Jesus. “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matt 5:48).
One of the most obvious things about Jesus teaching is that He expected His followers to live a righteous life, right in God’s eyes. His statement commanding us to be perfect or complete came near the end of the Sermon on the Mount . Perfection, according to Jesus, included power to avoid saying or doing anything in anger against another person, freedom from looking at anyone with lust, ability to stay in marriage, to keep our word, to turn the cheek at evil, to give to those who want to take from us, to truly love everyone, including our enemies (Matthew 5). This perfection went way beyond the letter of the Old Testament laws. In short, being perfect or complete is being like God “who makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (v. 45).
During my teenage years I read this chapter and was tempted to give up on being a Christian. If this is what following Christ is all about, I have no hope,” I thought. I fell far too short of the glory, the standard, the righteousness of God. As the apostle Paul said in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But if I had studied this verse in context, it could have helped me then:
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. That was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26).
In other words, God’s righteousness is revealed in His mercy and love when He freely rescues people from the consequences of their sin by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. There is no distinction between those who try to keep all the rules, those who try to keep all the Old Testament laws, and those do not. We are all sinners, all deserve death under God’s law, but God in His righteousness offers us all life. God justifies us all, makes us all righteous, when we put all our faith in Jesus, not our good works, for our righteousness. We don’t deserve to live forever with God. But it is a free gift. That is the wonder of the message of Christ. He, the only righteous person who ever lived, died for us, so that we could be made righteous before God.
Two years ago Dave and I had been back at our missionary itineration for three months when I realized that we were falling apart. Dave was quite depressed and I was in burnout. Being full of uncertainty during this dark time, I really wasn’t sure God had too much use for us. But I forgot something so important. God made us loved and accepted and forgiven and in right standing with Him, not because of our performance, but because of our faith in what Jesus did for us. Yes, Dave and I had our struggles to work through, and we stayed at it for a full year. But because of God’s great love, our standing with the Lord never changed. He cherished us even though we felt we weren’t much good to Him at the time. He simply loved us. We were always right with Him, complete and accepted because of the testimony of the blood of Jesus Christ on our behalf.
It is so easy to look at our own incompleteness or that of others and judge. We see the same struggles in the disciples. Peter boasted that He would die with Christ and then denied His master before the Romans. The disciples fought over who would be greatest in the kingdom. James and John wanted to kill people with fire from heaven.
But everything changed in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples. Peter stood boldly before great crowds and preached about the resurrected Jesus. We no longer see the apostles fighting and John became the apostle of love.
This outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the key that helps me now. Yes, Jesus wants us to be perfect, complete, lacking nothing as He said in Matthew chapter 5. His vision for His followers is much greater than we have for ourselves. But He never intended we would do it in our own strength. Jesus promised us another “Helper,” the Spirit of Truth to be with us forever who would live with us and be in us and teach us and help us to remember all that Jesus taught (John 14:16-17, 28). The Holy Spirit, the gift of the Father, is the Helper who transforms our lives to be more and more like Jesus’ life.
Where I get caught is when I view the difference between my life what Jesus taught and despair because I know I can’t do it. On one hand, I forget that I am absolutely loved, accepted, forgiven and cleansed by the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice for me and therefore I am right before God, regardless of my performance. On the other hand, since I know God wants His people to be holy I get frustrated, forgetting that God never meant me to become like Jesus on my own. He gave us the Holy Spirit, our constant Companion and Teacher, to give us the grace to live like Christ.
I know what I need to do. I need to humble myself, and instead of taxing my own small resources to the limit, I am slowly learning to depend on the Holy Spirit for guidance, strength and transformation in my work and the details of my life. The Holy Spirit works in me by His love and wisdom so that while I am in this sometimes messy process of becoming complete, I remain in perfect right standing before God because of Jesus’ sacrifice. What amazing grace the Lord offers us every single day!
The Holy Spirit now is my counselor at the beginning of my tasks and my teacher at the end, the One who never leaves me alone to my own resources. If I will only ask Him, He will help me with people, projects, work and even the things I do to enjoy this life He has given me.
I am His new creation, (2 Corinthians 5:17), and as I continue to cooperate with His guidance, He continues sculpting me into His vision for me--someone beautiful for His glory.