Church’s approval rating has never been this low. I believe one of the primary reasons for this is that many (especially non-believers) perceive the Church as a clan of cynic pretenders. People hate to see religious individuals living in denial – publicly professing to be flawless but secretly struggling more or less like everybody else.
Believers love to think that Church is an exclusive club of superhumans. Christians (especially we, the “born-again” believers) pride ourselves as a clan of the chosen elite and our leaders (Pastors, Bishops, Prophets etc.) as moral champions – a selection of flawless, got-it-all-together individuals. Apart from creating enormous internal pressure, this unrealistic expectation brings frustration and resentment as we increasingly realise that all of us – regardless of our creed or titles – are imperfect humans after all.
The truth is that Church is anything but a congregation of perfect individuals. The Church is more or less like a University Hospital – a place where the spiritually and morally ‘sick’ come to get healing as they learn how to heal others. It’s a campus where all of us are potential patients, trainees, practitioners and consultants. Being a believer does not necessarily mean being perfect. Objective studies of scripture tell us one can be anointed and still have character issues that need sorting out.
Everyone is naturally stronger in at least one aspect of life and weaker in others. For example, one might be free financially but struggle in other areas such as health or relationships. As the Bible says, every one of us struggles with some ‘sin’ that easily trips us up (Hebrews 12:1).
Even early believers – including the very students of Jesus – struggled with moral issues despite Jesus Christ Himself being their Pastor. Most of them attended Jesus’ Church but still struggled with sickness, hatred, immorality, idol worship and other moral issues.
A chilling example (as if we need reminding) is that of Judas. Despite being one of the top ministry leaders handpicked by Jesus himself, Judas struggled with many issues, including financial irregularities. As a Financial Director, he stole money from the Ministry Accounts. He later took a bribe to get his boss crucified.
Peter himself was still struggling with some issues at the time Jesus promised to give him the kingdom keys. At this time, Peter had a shaky faith, struggled with emotions and suffered from seriously low self-esteem. No wonder soon afterwards, Jesus called him ‘satan’. Just a few days after confessing Jesus as the Lord, Peter went on to deny Jesus – three times! By Christ’s grace Peter, not only repented and recovered from his failure but also became the first Bishop of the Church.
Mainstream Christian religion claims that once one confesses Jesus as the Lord, immediately one becomes perfect. All bad attitudes and habits miraculously vanish instantly. But scripture tells us that perfection (to be born again) does not happen overnight; it takes a thorough, time-consuming learning process. The nature and duration of the ‘salvation’ process depend mainly on how severe one’s problem is and cooperation with the teacher’s Spirit.
God’s love for us is unconditional. He loves us even while we are imperfect. As C.S. Lewis once said, God doesn’t love us because we are good, but He will make us good because He loves us. Jesus called His followers “students” for a reason. He expected them to learn from Him (and later from the Holy Spirit).
Repentance (confessing Jesus as Lord) is like an admission requirement. Repentance makes us the disciples (students) of The Kingdom University under professor Holy Spirit. Simply put, Grace is the name of our spiritual Tutor, not a spiritual status. When one repents, one gets admitted into a mental rehabilitation program in the Kingdom Hospital under Dr Holy Spirit. That one has been enrolled in the rehabilitation program does not mean that one has already graduated. Just as one does not get well just by being in the hospital ward, one does not get “saved” just by repenting. It takes a series of real-life experiences coordinated by the Spirit to get our minds and behaviours sorted.
As I said earlier, perfection is a process – it happens in succession. We learn one character at a time. Once we have mastered one character, we move on to learning the next one. The Spirit decides which character one has to start learning first and which one should be the next.
Over the years, I’ve learned a few things. When I see myself (or others) struggle with specific issues, I’m more forgiving because my expectations aren’t that high anymore. I don’t expect people to be perfect because none are out there. For me, the key is humility – accepting that we are all sinners that need God’s grace. On the occasion that we find ourselves to be better than others in certain aspects, it is only wisdom to acknowledge that who we have been, who we are and who we shall become is the manifestation of God’s grace.
It is easy to brag about our achievements and blame others for their predicaments. Too often, we Christians have allowed arrogance and pride to rule our hearts. Instead of helping them, we tend to condemn those struggling with the issues that God healed us from. It is difficult to love and serve people you criticise. Our responsibility as Christians is to help people live a good life. Jesus commanded His disciples to go and dispense life to all creatures everywhere. By this, He meant to care for all people regardless of their religious, sexual or social-economic background.
We are being saved to save others. The very reason we are being healed is that we’re meant to heal others. Jesus told Simon Peter, “… I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers”. (Luke 22:32)
King David committed one of the most horrendous crimes. He had an affair with one of his soldier’s wives – Bathsheba. David killed Uriah, his lover’s husband, to cover his crime by putting him on the battlefront. Understandably God was livid. Although he eventually married Bathsheba, David’s integrity was terminally diminished, and he ultimately lost his leadership position. To make the situation even worse, David’s son, born as a consequence of that one-night stand, died shortly after birth. Nevertheless, out of this terrible mess, something incredible happened.
Before this atrocity, David nursed a lifelong desire to build a fabulous temple for his God. Because his hands were too blooded from the many battles he fought, God promised David that He would raise a son for him to carry out his ambitious project. In due time, God gave David the son -Solomon – who also happened to be the most handsome, wise, rich and famous king of Israel. Of all the women, God chose Bathsheba to mother Solomon!
The point I am making is that we can achieve great success in life despite our failures. God’s perfect plan for us took our mistakes into account. I am confident that He, fuelled with unfailing love, is working with us to perfect us. Successful people know that mistakes are a part of the success process; all of them, without exception, believe that no one can succeed without struggling at some stage. That is why they are neither terrified nor discouraged by temporal failures.
Am I encouraging sin or mistakes? Of course not; I’m saying that making a mistake does not make one a mistake. Costly as they might be, errors can be working material for greatness in God’s hands.
We do not drown by falling in the water but by staying in the water. If you have suffered a setback, don’t beat yourself, thinking it’s the end of your dream. Instead, pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes and move on – with God. You are closer to the shore than you think. Whatever you do, don’t give up. Don’t drown in shallow waters. Keep swimming. As you do that, please know that God, His hosts and I love you all the way.
Meet you at the shore!
Maturlu, N.D.,(2015, p 67-69). Strength for living. ShieldCrest Publishing. United Kingdom