For more than a decade, pastor and author David Hansen has been helping me close the gap between what I practice and what I preach. (Perhaps it could go without saying, but we all need someone like David in our lives.) Not too long ago I spent some time reading one of his books — it was a book about prayer. In it, David said something like we've got to stop reading the Bible as perfectionists. He suggested that a better way is to read the Bible in the condition we're in, which, as he sees it, is sort of this mashup of sinner and saint, still struggling but on our way. What David said resonated deeply and brought a strange relief. I haven't read the Bible the same way since.
Like many Christ followers, I spent years reading the Bible as a perfectionist. I never thought of it in those terms, but that's what I did, which may explain why the Scriptures often felt heavy and hard — all law and no grace. Through the eyes of a perfectionist, the Bible is a rule book, outlining a rigid code of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. To be sure, the Bible is explicit in explaining what pleases and displeases God, creating a clear contrast between human nature as it is and human nature as it should be. But perhaps it does that to point us beyond ourselves to Someone greater; to reveal that we need help, grace, what author Philip Yancey describes as “radical outside intervention.”
Our moral brokenness and ethical frailty are obvious. We can leave our Bibles on the shelf (but not for long!) and just pick up a newspaper to uncover the depths of human depravity. The list of our offenses is long. The Bible, like the newspaper, never attempts to cover that up. But the Bible, unlike the newspaper, offers a real alternative to what Paul describes as falling short of God's glory (Romans 3:23). His name is Jesus.
So now, when I read the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount, I'm not as frustrated or discouraged when I fail to perfectly obey God's directives. Why? Because Jesus did that for me. It's His perfection, not mine, that secured God's mercy. We have so much to be thankful for!If you think about it, God's grace is amazing because it takes our absolute brokenness and imperfection into account and still offers us a way back into a vital relationship with our Creator (
Ephesians 2:1-10). And it's not because we're flawless, but because we know and believe in One who is. Maybe that's what gave Paul such confidence when he wrote these words: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (
Galatians 2:20). Paul understood the very real human struggle with sin (
Romans 7), but he also embraced the fullness of grace, believing that in Christ we have been set free from the law of sin and death so that we can serve one another in love (