Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord. Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways.
Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Jesus said that.
And he meant it.
Or so I, and countless Christians, have been told over and over again. We Christians must hold ourselves to a higher standard! How else will the rest of the world know how badly they need to repent and turn their lives back to the Lord?
When I was in college, those statements covered much of what I heard about the church. While classmates were off doing whatever it was they did on the weekends (whether I joined them or not) I was made to feel guilty or ashamed for the choices I was making because, I was told, I would be happier if I was “walking in the law of the Lord.”
The same comments about the church were made while I was in seminary, and I’m sure that for a while in the beginning of my ministry I made the same points.
But they never really made me feel happy, no matter how well behaved I was. I was caught in a conundrum – Either be perfect and unhappy, or let my guard down and feel guilty.
It took me a long time to realize that when Jesus calls his disciples to be perfect as God is perfect, he does so knowing that we won’t be able to do it. That’s kind of the whole point of the gospel – God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
But does that mean we shouldn’t try? Of course not. But if the gospel is only about how we have to constantly do better all the time, then we will walk away from church without the Good News sounding like good news.
Karl Barth put it likes this:
“Basically, the gospel is a very simple thing. The gospel is no system of this or that truth, no theory on life in time and eternity, no metaphysics or the like, but simply the sign that God has blessed the world, this poor world in which we live, with all its difficulties, with all its misery, with this whole ocean of death. And in this world we dare to live in the knowledge that God loves us, but not only us Christians who believe that God loves the whole world. Every person, even the most miserable, even the most evil, is loved by God. This is the privilege: to be commissioned and enabled as a Christian to proclaim that.” (Barth in Conversation – Volume II. Interview with George Casalis on November 7th, 1963.)
It is a rather radical proposition and yet it is precisely what makes the Good News so good.