A few years ago, a friend and I were having one of those joking, teasing conversations that all good friends get involved in at some point. I said something that was funny (I thought) and my friend responded by asking if that was something a good Christian would be expected to say. My response was to tell her that I had never claimed to be a good Christian.
I was a bit surprised at her response because it changed the nature of our conversation. She thought a bit and agreed that I had never claimed to be a good Christian–and made a comment to the effect that she appreciated that because I was honest. Now, that could have her way of pointing out a failure in my faith but I don’t think so. I had baptized her, prayed with her during some difficult times and often found myself engaged in spiritual discussions with her. I think the real point behind here comment was that I wasn’t claiming to be something I wasn’t.
I know that I am not perfect. I am a believer, I follow Christ, I have accepted the love and grace that God has offered in Jesus Christ–and at the same time, I regularly do and think things that go against the faith I claim. Like many believers, I am mostly a respectable sinner, that is a person whose sins are generally confined to the acceptable range of sins that we overlook unless we need some ammunition to use against the person. Because I am a pastor, that acceptable range is a bit narrower than it is for some people but I can live with that most of the time.
I have learned that I cannot hide this reality–I can’t claim to be a “good” Christian who always does the right thing because inevitably, the wrong will come out. As Jesus reminds us in Luke 8.17, “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” (NIV) When I make the claim to be good all the time, the less good side will come out.
My approach is to admit my lack of perfection–I have a problem with anger at times, I can get lazy, I drive too fast, I struggle with authority, I deal with many of the same internal issues and temptations that almost everyone else deals with. In those rare moments when I allow myself to forget my imperfection, there is always someone around to remind me of them. When our children were living at home, they were often God’s chosen instruments for this task.
So, I am not perfect–I know it, others know it and I freely admit it. But I am also a pastor, a believer and a witness, all things that would seem to be at odds with being imperfect. But this is the reality that I and every other believer lives with. And our understanding of our witness must begin with this reality. We are not witnesses because of our perfection–we are called to be witnesses to God in the reality of our imperfection.
Part of dealing with that lack of perfection as witnesses is to have a clear understanding of what we are giving witness to. We are not giving witness to ourselves–we are giving witness to what God has done in and for us and what he will do in and for others. What God has done for us is to offer us the fullness of his love and grace in spite of our imperfection and sin. He didn’t promise to love us if we stopped sinning–he loved us while we were wrong and offered to forgive us and keep forgiving us no matter what.
We are witnesses to the love of God in Christ Jesus, a love that isn’t deterred by our lack of imperfection. No matter what I do, God loves me. Whether my sins are respectable or the worst things ever, God’s love for me will not change. This is the witness that I take to the world–that the unlimited and unrestricted love that God has for me is there for everyone else as well.
The goal of our witness is not to make perfect people–the goal of our witnessing is to show the love that God has for us. That love is shown much more clearly when I am honest about who and what I really am than it does when I try to convince myself and others how good I have become because of God’s love, given the reality that I am not that good. God loves me the way I am–just as he loves everyone the way they are.
May the peace of God be with you.