Once, while I was at the Snyders’ home, I heard one of them say a sentence I would later hear repeated often: People are more important than things. That one small sentence summarizes many Scriptural principles about love for others and many warnings about greed and pride. I’ve since used it to encourage my children about how to love others more than the physical objects around them, and I’ve used it to rebuke myself about how to love others more than my own ideas or opinions.
These kinds of short statements can be great ways to preach to ourselves in times of temptation. Another sentence I’ve found helpful, especially when I or my children feel discouraged is this:
Life is not about being perfect. It’s about being forgiven.
I know that little mantra doesn’t carry all of the depths or nuances of the gospel—God’s good news has so many beautiful parts!—but for me, it’s a short paraphrase of what David says in Psalm 32:1–2:
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
I have to tell you, I’m so glad that this psalm doesn’t start by saying, “Blessed is the one who is perfect, who hasn’t done anything wrong. Blessed is the person who has never done anything against the LORD, who has never told a lie.”
That kind of person is certainly blessed, but that person is certainly not me. I’m thankful for the actual wording of the psalm, which focuses on forgiveness and sins being covered and not counted! Praise the Lord that we can sing this psalm, and that it can apply to even a sinner like me.
Life is not about being perfect. It’s about being forgiven.
I have to remind myself of this, because sometimes, I get these switched around. I can even feel upset that God hasn’t already brought me into perfection. A nagging voice whispers, If God were really helping you, if the Spirit were really guiding you, would you really still struggle with this? Why doesn’t He just give you enough grace to combat this problem?
Maybe we all ask this question, or questions like it, at some point. A while ago, I was counselling a small child in my family who had this same kind of question. Even though she was just 5 years old, she was frustrated and even angry about her sin. She told me, “But I’ve prayed about this, and God didn’t help me. I don’t want to do this, but He’s not changing me.”
I was shocked by this statement coming from such a young person. It’s logic that I don’t remember having at that age: Prayer is supposed to be powerful; God doesn’t want me to sin. I want to stop doing this, so why doesn’t He make me perfect and take it all away?
But as I was talking to her, I remembered Psalm 32 and said, Life is not about being perfect. It’s about being forgiven.
Sometimes, what we really mean when we voice the same kinds of frustrations is, “I don’t want to fight this battle anymore,” or maybe, “It’s just too difficult.” Our church right now is working on a Bible study in the topic of Spiritual Warfare. I’m constantly being reminded that this is a battle. God has given me the armor and the strategy, and He is leading the battle, but it’s war. God, in His wisdom, has chosen to keep us on this earth after our salvation and have us fight these things. Having been forgiven, we must be willing to fight and not just wait for rescue.
Our path to sanctification is an active one, not a passive one. If we imagine that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7) is a kind of passive calm, we are mistaken. It is a peace that comes from actively casting our anxieties on Him. It is the end of hostility with God and the beginning of putting “on the whole armor of God” so that we can “stand against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). This accompanies the hard work of a soldier, following the Commander into battle.
On the other hand, sometimes, when we voice these frustrations, what we really want is to be satisfied with our own perfection. When we aren’t relying on His grace, we may rather be perfect than be forgiven. Needing forgiveness is humbling, even humiliating. Being right and good feels nice.
As Christians, none of us would deny our need for Christ’s gracious sacrifice to pay for our sins; however, as we live out our Christian life, the need for ongoing confession can be frustrating. In order to avoid the nearly constant realization that we are still failing to live out God’s truth, we may prefer to try to balance out our sin with good works, or justify sinful behavior, or ignore our sin.
If we try to balance out our sin by “doing better next time” (rather than confessing and acknowledging sin), we are trying to live out a kind of works salvation. If we justify our sinful behavior or cover it up, we are lying to ourselves, to others, and to God. And we if we ignore our sin, we are living as if God didn’t exist. In Psalm 32, David also talks about some of the personal consequences of this kind of behavior:
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah (Psalm 32:3–4)
He then describes how confession brings forgiveness, peace, and joy:
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. (Psalm 32:5)
Too often, too much of my time is spent agonizing over my failures and sin. I don’t want to minimize my sin, but God gives joy and strength to those who confess their sin to Him and live in the reality of His forgiveness. In my pursuit of God, in my pursuit of holiness, I must live in the truth of the gospel. My Christian life began with confession and repentance, and confession and repentance are a part of my normal ongoing Christian life.
Rather than despairing because of our lack of perfection, we must strengthen ourselves for spiritual warfare by acknowledging our sin, confessing to God and to others as appropriate, and recognizing that Life is not about being perfect. It’s about being forgiven.