I’m a Christian, not a Perfectionist
I recently had the displeasure of observing a heated conversation online between a number of my fellow seminarians. The conversation centered around other students who were acting “hateful” and treating others poorly. While the thought of any Christian, especially those preparing for some capacity of ministry, having poor behavior is heartbreaking, I find the judgmental attitude of those who condemn them even more disturbing, especially in the public light of social media.
A statement was mentioned by one student that “people shouldn’t be in seminary if they’re not Christ-like and don’t have the Holy Spirit.” I’m not sure if I was more angered or more hurt by such an accusation against my fellow brothers and sisters. I don’t even know the people this person was accusing, but to judge someone to not have the Holy Spirit when they confess Christ as Lord and have clearly trusted God enough to come to seminary is appalling.
What does it even mean to be “Christ-like”? This person insinuated that to be Christ-like meant to not have any sin in your life. They literally used language like “if you have any active sin in your life, than you’re not Christ-like and shouldn’t be in seminary.” Well, if that’s the criteria of being a seminary student, I better pack my bags. Moreover, if that’s the criteria for being a Christian, then I’m surely going to hell!
Being Christ-like clearly does not mean that you maintain the perfect sinlessness of Christ. The entire epistle to the Romans speaks of this: how we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (chapter 3); how we are now free from sin and slaves of righteousness instead (chapter 6); how, still, we struggle to do right and abstain from the evil of the flesh (chapter 7); which culminates in the glorious declaration of freedom from condemnation:
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.”
The freedom we have in Christ from sin is not a declaration that we must be perfect, fully sanctified and holy to be a Christian (or a seminary student)! No, it is that through the freedom we have in Christ that the Holy Spirit, over the course of our lives, continually grows us through the process of sanctification. This expectation of perfection is a slavery to the law, and this person who judges and condemns others because of their sins is in grave error and hurting others.
Of course, there should be no hatred or malice or contempt with anyone living a Christian life. We strive to be like Christ, yet to be sure, we fall short in every way. While one man may speak hateful things against another, their sin does not discount them as being qualified for seminary. Further, just because someone sins does not mean “they don’t have the Holy Spirit.” Dear God, such inappropriate teaching must be rebuked!
I know that I struggle with sin every day in my life: negative thoughts about myself and others, covetous desires, inappropriate anger, pride, selfishness… I am a wretch myself – how could I ever judge or condemn another for their sin and brokenness just because it may be different than my own? I think it is important to be aware of your sin, acknowledge that it is sin, seek forgiveness from those you’ve sinned against, and repent from that sin. But that is the Holy Spirit’s job, and that is part of the sanctification process.
Everyone is broken in their own way. Everyone has sin in their life – if you think you don’t, then you don’t need a savior because you’ve fulfilled the law of God on your own, as the Pharisees believed. I hope I’ve driven this point home: Christianity is not about being perfect! It is about being a sinner saved by grace, growing in sanctification by the power of the Holy Spirit, through a relationship with the risen Christ, to the glory of God the Father. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him (Rom 14:1)
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother?
For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God (Rom 14:10)
Then let us no more pass judgement on one another, but rather decide
never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother (Rom 14:13)
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak,
and not to please ourselves (Rom 15:1)
About the Author
Kevin Cook is a 4th year student at Asbury Theological Seminary and an Aspirant for Ordination in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). After graduating, Kevin hopes to plant a contemporary three-streams Anglican Church. He and his wife Nicole attend Wilmore Anglican Church in Kentucky.
Kevin holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Master of Business Administration from Florida State University. Kevin enjoys playing music and leading worship, reading fiction and spiritual classics, drinking coffee, and spending time with family and friends.
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