Thursday, February 10, 2022

Leave Your Imperfections with God: How Remaining Sin Inspires Holiness

Leave Your Imperfections with God

For a forgiven people, we can still be terribly bad at coping with our imperfection. I can be terribly bad at coping with the fact that, though redeemed, I am still deeply and pervasively imperfect.

My remaining imperfections regularly, even daily, disrupt and corrupt my thoughts, decisions, and conversations. How do you respond when you’re forced to see those same sins in the mirror again — the ones you have confessed, fought, and even overcome — only to have to rise, confess, and fight again? As God mapped out our narrow paths to glory, he chose that imperfection would be our constant (and unwanted) companion.

When I say imperfection, I’m not talking about unrepentant sin. “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil. . . . No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:8–9). Unrepentant sin should disturb us until we genuinely repent and receive mercy. It should unnerve us enough to keep us awake at night. It should ruin our mental health. God will not abide in any soul where sin still reigns.

He does, however, live in souls where sin remains. In fact, every person he chooses is still darkened by some imperfection. Our remaining sin is forgiven and expiring — the day we die will be the last day we sin — but our remaining sin is still very real, and powerful, and ugly. Almost unbearably ugly at times. How could this selfishness, or impatience, or lust, or laziness, or envy possibly still entangle me?

Because God has chosen, for now, that the forgiven still be imperfect.

Well Acquainted with Imperfection

So what does a godly life of imperfection look like?

The apostle Paul was aware of his own imperfection. “Not that I have already obtained this” — the resurrection of his glorified body — “or am already perfect. . . ” (Philippians 3:12). Even as an apostle, he was acutely aware of just how not-yet he was. He knew he was an unconditionally elected, irresistibly loved, blood-bought, Spirit-filled work-in-process. An unfinished apostle. Paul was fully aware that he was not yet what he would soon be.

He was aware of his imperfections, but not paralyzed by them. “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12). He didn’t just sit back and wait for his resurrection to come, but pressed on to make it his own, from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). Knowing that God would one day make him fully righteous at the resurrection, he was all the more hungry to grow in righteousness until that day. He worked out his salvation — he really, diligently worked, with fear and trembling — for he knew that God was at work — really at work — in him (Philippians 2:12–13).

Forgiveness, for Paul, was not an excuse to make peace with sin, but drove him further into war against sin. He didn’t see his imperfection as a reason to settle for less righteousness; he saw his imperfection as motivation for more righteousness — for more of Christ. And so he pressed on to have it, to have him.

Ambitious Imperfection

In the next two verses, the apostle draws us further into his earnest, focused, and imperfect pursuit of holiness:

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. [I am not the glorified man I want to be.] But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13–14)

What does he do in the face of all his many imperfections? He presses on. “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on.” This is a picture of godly and ambitious imperfection in Christ — not clinging to a sense of self-righteousness or wallowing in the pit of self-pity, but pressing on to know more of Christ, to enjoy more of Christ, to live more like Christ.

To press on is unavoidably uncomfortable. It means meeting and overcoming resistance. The same word is used (in the same chapter) for persecution (Philippians 3:6). This pursuit of holiness is a steady, and at times aggressive, pursuit, a resilient pursuit, a determined pursuit. It’s not surprised by opposition or undone by setbacks. It’s a straining forward, he says. It keeps taking the next step toward godliness, even when the steps sometimes feel small or slow or sideways.

This resolve to press on is clarified and intensified by three life-changing mindsets — a disciplined forgetfulness, a focused longing, and an ambitious sense of security.

Disciplined Forgetfulness

We don’t often associate forgetfulness with faithfulness. Yet Paul says he presses on, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” The word for forgetting is the same word used in Matthew 16, when the disciples forgot to bring bread on one of their trips with Jesus (Matthew 16:5). Paul’s forgetting, however, is no accident; it’s deliberate.

So what does Paul deliberately forget? Earlier in the chapter, he catalogues his proud attempts at self-righteousness, the ways he mocked God by trying to please God on his own (Philippians 3:5–6). He knows how sinful he once was: “I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” (1 Timothy 1:13). But grace broke through his hardness, interrupted his defiance, and led him to Jesus (1 Timothy 1:13–15). So what would he do now with the evil he had done? He consciously leaves it behind.

Everyone forgiven by God carries the memories of awful, shameful sin. Our past apart from Christ, whatever past we have, is dark enough to make any of us despair. And Satan fights hard to see that it does. He’s an accuser by vocation (Revelation 12:10). He wants us to forget all that would lift and satisfy our souls — and to remember anything that makes us question God’s love for us. And we each give him plenty to work with.

To defy him, we have to learn to forget what God has forgiven — like the loaves of bread the disciples left behind. We can’t let the sins of our past, or even the sins we’re presently battling, keep us from stepping forward, by the Spirit, into greater obedience and faithfulness today.

Focused Longing

One way to forget the regrets that would undo us is to focus on what God has promised to those he has forgiven in Christ. “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

What does lie ahead for the imperfect but forgiven? What is the prize of the upward call of God? The not-yet perfect apostle tells us earlier in the chapter, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). Knowing Jesus is the blazing fire under Paul’s persistent pursuit of holiness. Every other prize pales next to having him. Christ himself is the prize of the Christian life, the one reward worth all our obedience and sacrifice, our pearl of great price. The strength to endure imperfection comes from treasuring the one who died for our imperfection.

Can we not bear imperfection a little longer, and keep battling our remaining sin a little longer, if we know that at the end of our short, hard race here on earth is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11) — a wreath that will always satisfy and never perish (1 Corinthians 9:24–25)?

Christ Made You His Own

A third life-changing mindset, and the most crucial, is hiding in verse 14: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Two verses earlier, he says, “I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” The redeemed life of imperfection is a captured life of imperfection.

We can keep striving to lay hold of holiness only because we know that Holiness himself has laid hold of us — and he will never let go. If you belong to him, your imperfections are imperfections purchased and cleansed by the blood of Jesus. Any not-yet-ness you find in yourself is an opportunity to remember what he paid to make you his own — as you are, sins and all — and to remember that everything ugly about you, your sins and all, will one day be made whiter than snow and brighter than the sun.

In the next verse, verse 15, the apostle writes, “Let those of us who are mature” — or “perfect,” same root word as in verse 12: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect” — “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you” (Philippians 3:15). In other words, let those of you who are complete in Christ know you are incomplete. Let those of you who are mature know you are imperfect — and chosen, and bought, and captured, and loved. To be sure, you are not what you will be, but even as you are, Christ has made you his own.

So press through your imperfections into holiness, forgetting what lies behind and pressing forward toward all that lies ahead, so that you might experience and enjoy more of Jesus.

from Desiring God
via DG