Does God Expect You to Be Perfect?

“God doesn’t expect you to be perfect.”

Many Christians say this, but is it true? Their intentions are good. We want to encourage fellow saints who are waging war with sin. We want to acknowledge sin’s reality rather than hiding behind a carefully curated façade. We also want to defuse tension as we talk to unbelievers about our faith, nuancing our approach to avoid a legalistic message.

But when we lower God’s expectations for his people, and de-emphasize the seriousness of his command for holiness, we actually cheapen his grace and lose sight of his spectacular promise.

A Serious Command

In his first letter, Peter writes to believers suffering persecution for following Jesus. He addresses them as “elect exiles of the dispersion,” emphasizing how their temporary world, along with all its trials, will give way to an “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:4).

He details the magnificence of God’s mercy in regenerating them (v. 3), and the protection of God’s power to guard them (v. 5). His words overflow with the reality of divine grace.

But then, rather than assuring us that this gracious God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, Peter challenges us:

As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (vv. 15–16)

This is serious. Peter allows no wiggle-room here. We can’t interpret the verse in a halfhearted way. Holiness defines God’s essence, and since God calls his people to be like him, holiness isn’t optional for us. The Holy One commands his chosen ones to be holy. No exceptions.

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You Don’t Want What You Actually Deserve

When was the last time someone said to you, “You deserve better”? Or when did you last think, I don’t deserve this…?

These are common statements in American culture. We’re told by the media, and by society at large, that we’re entitled to certain outcomes––and we’re easily convinced, for this belief runs in our blood. At the root of everything, from our private discontentment and grumbling to our public complaints, is a sense that we’re good and deserving and can judge our circumstances rightly.

But we aren’t, and we can’t, because sin has corrupted everything. We’re naturally blind to a right estimation of ourselves, and our sense of justice is skewed––which means we don’t actually want what we deserve. We will see that we have far more than we deserve only when we grasp the undeservedness of the gospel; and we will only look at ourselves and our world rightly, through God’s lens, when we respond to his kindness to us in Christ.   

God’s Overwhelming Holiness

To think rightly about what we deserve, we must start with God. Our flesh wants to make everything about us, as if the world revolves around humans, but creation tells a different tale: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). If we pause to consider the grandeur of a starry sky, the delicate beauty of a sunrise, or the diversity of plant and animal life, we must confess that our lives are but a tiny blip in the radar.  

Creation shouts of our eternal God. Everything begins and ends with him (Romans 11:36).

God not only communicates his greatness through creation, he speaks through his Word. When he spoke to Isaiah, the prophet couldn’t stand before his holiness; he trembled before him, calling down curses upon himself (Isaiah 6:5). John, the beloved disciple, dropped as though dead when he saw Jesus in all his glory (Revelation 1:17). When we encounter God’s holiness through Scripture––when he speaks his perfect, true, pure words to us (Psalm 19:7-9)––we have no choice but to respond in a similar way.

The holiness of God will always be overwhelming to unholy sinners.

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Moms, It Is Our Privilege

On hard days of mothering, it’s easy to see it purely as a type of suffering, rather than a blessed privilege. And it is a type of suffering. Motherhood is tough. It requires us to give up our plans in favor of what our kids need most. It demands our preferences for theirs. It’s strenuous on our bodies as we carry babies and hoist toddlers, and it tests our hearts as we soak up tears, discipline in love, and spend ourselves for little immediate return.

Yes, motherhood is a form of suffering. But in the middle of its trials, when we’re exhausted and weary, we can quickly forget what a privilege it is––often at the same time as when it’s hardest.

Pictures of Jesus

As I rocked our infant daughter in the quiet of her room, the day’s trials melted in light of the moment. Wise words from a mentor came to mind: “Remember what a privilege it is to be the picture of Christ to her.”

What a privilege indeed.

Don’t we need to know this truth, mommas, when it seems we can’t catch a break? When our kids are demanding so much from us, and we aren’t sure we can give any more? When our patience runs low because our little one has pushed our buttons and tested our love?

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It Is Well With My Soul

In the middle of suffering, can you say, “It is well with my soul?”

While sick on the couch one week, I read the Shunammite woman’s story in 2 Kings and was immediately helped. I’d been fighting fear because I was terrified that our infant daughter would catch my sickness, and because I had no idea how I would care for her in such a depleted state.

I’m not proud of the fruit I bore that week: frustration, unkindness, negativity, and even more fear and doubt. But God, in his mercy, convicted and helped me through his Word, through the story of the Shunammite woman’s suffering.

The Shunammite Woman’s Suffering

Here’s the short version (see 2 Kings 4:8-37):

A wealthy woman (our Shunammite) knew that Elisha was God’s prophet; so she convinced her husband to make him a small room on their roof, where he could rest when he passed by. Elisha figured she’d want something done for her in return (which she didn’t), so he promised her a son the following year. She conceived according to his word and despite her doubts.

When he’d grown, her God-given son died on her lap. Without hesitation, she saddled up her donkey and went to find Elisha for help:

When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Look, there is the Shunammite. Run at once to meet her and say to her, ‘Is all well with you? Is all well with your husband? Is all well with the child?’” And she answered, “All is well.” (vv. 25-26)

All is well? What?! Didn’t her son, her unexpected gift from God, just die on her lap? How could she say this?

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First Look: An Interview with Gloria Furman, Author of Labor with Hope

Thanks for reading my blog series First Look, where I interview authors about their new books. The goal is to point you to solid, Christ-centered resources by giving you a peek into the author’s mind and heart.

Gloria Furman (MACE, Dallas Theological Seminary) lives in the Middle East where her husband, Dave, serves as the pastor of Redeemer Church of Dubai. She is the author of many books, including Missional MotherhoodTreasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full, and Glimpses of Grace. She is author of Labor with Hope: Gospel Meditations on Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood (Crossway, 2019).

Tell us what your new book is about.

Labor with Hope is a devotional book written for expectant moms to help encourage their spiritual life by pointing them to worship Jesus Christ. The person and work of Jesus is the focus of the book, and I discuss several Scripture passages that utilize the language of birth to point us to spiritual realities. One famous scriptural example of this is when Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be “born again” (John 3).

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A Prayer for When the Pain Returns

Old pains have made new appearances lately. The jaw pain I thought was almost gone is back with a vengeance. I’ve felt discouraged, set back, and weary, unsure how to process this…

Why would God remove certain pains, after much prayer, only to return them? How am I supposed to understand these recurrences? Why does it seem like I can never get ahead of the pain and discomfort?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. I’m at a loss for words when the pain returns and presses upon me with its fearful weight.

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Momma, Jesus Gives What You Do Not Have

I close the bathroom door and breathe a sigh of relief. Thirty seconds of solitude feels like a dream, until knock, knock, knock. “Momma?” The little one comes looking, as thirty seconds shrinks to ten, and I can’t remember what it was like to be alone.   

I imagine the disciples felt this way after a long season of ministry (Mark 6:7-13)—poured out, spent, and ready for solitude. And this is exactly what Jesus suggests: “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (v. 31).   

Scripture tells us that “many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat” (v. 31). Seem familiar? Jesus’s prescription must’ve sounded just right.   

But what happens next is quite the opposite of what these tired men had expected:  

Instead of being alone, they’re swarmed by a great crowd:   

And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. (vv. 32-33) 

Instead of resting, they’re catapulted into ministry:   

When [Jesus] went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. (v. 34) 

And instead of taking a break to eat, they’re the ones doing the feeding:

And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” (vv. 35-36) 

Once again, sound familiar? What you desperately need is solitude, rest, and even a bit of nourishment, but instead you’re given a knock, knock on the bathroom door, a stolen Sabbath as your spouse ends up working, and a virus—another virus—when health and energy would make you parent better. Mind, soul, and body, you simply don’t have what you need.  

Or what you think you need.  

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Don’t Be Introspective. Examine Yourself.

There’s a fine line between self-examination and introspection.

Self-examination is good. Scripture exhorts us to examine and test ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5). So how might this important spiritual discipline take a turn for the worse? Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains:

What’s the difference between examining oneself and becoming introspective? I suggest that we cross the line from self-examination to introspection when, in a sense, we do nothing but examine ourselves, and when such self-examination becomes the main and chief end in our life.

Though self-examination can be rewarding for Christian growth, I’ve often crossed the line—and learned how detrimental introspection can be. It’s unprofitable because it’s an end in itself; it leaves us navel-gazing and discouraged. I’ve hung my head many times in its defeat. Nevertheless, we can look to God’s Word and see how self-examination, rightly deployed, is healthy and effective.

A look at Psalm 139 will help us grasp the power of self-examination as a tool in God’s hands for our growth.

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First Look: An Interview with Elliot Clark, Author of Evangelism as Exiles

Thanks for reading my blog series First Look, where I interview authors about their new books. The goal is to point you to solid, Christ-centered resources by giving you a peek into the author’s mind and heart.

Elliot Clark (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) lived in Central Asia, where he served as a cross-cultural church planter along with his wife and children. He currently works to train local church leaders overseas with Training Leaders International. He is author of Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land (The Gospel Coalition, 2019).

Tell us what your new book is about.

Many of us in North America have been privileged with a history of relative ease. In many cases, evangelicals have been (and still may be) the social and cultural majority. As such, we’re accustomed to doing evangelism from a position of power and influence. And we might even be tempted to think that success, cultural status, and having a “voice” are what make our gospel believable.   

But that’s not the way it’s been throughout church history, and it’s certainly not the norm in much of the world today. The Christian experience is typically one of exile. The Apostle Peter emphasized this as he wrote to first-century Christians facing trials of shame and social exclusion. What’s surprising is not that Christians suffer in this way—even Jesus was a chosen exile—but that our increasing experience of weakness and marginalization actually presents an incredible opportunity for the gospel.

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Moms, You’ve Got One of the Best Jobs

My husband wrote this article in honor of moms. It blessed me a ton, and I’m hoping it will encourage you today whether you’re raising children, have raised them, or are a spiritual mother. 

U.S. News and World Report recently ranked the 100 Best Jobs of 2019. Scan the list and you’ll find jobs in fields like tech, finance, public service, and medicine. According to the report, these jobs made the cut because, “They pay well, challenge us year after year, match our talents and skills, aren’t too stressful, offer room to advance throughout our careers and provide a satisfying work-life balance.” In other words, the best jobs come with great challenge and great reward.

But if that’s true, then why didn’t “mom” make the list? Scroll through the 100 Best Jobs of 2019 and you won’t find “mother” anywhere. Why is that?

Maybe for some “motherhood” isn’t considered a vocation. After all, you can’t really put “full-time mom” on your resume, the role doesn’t come with a benefits package or paid vacation time, and you can’t take “Mommy 101” in undergrad. Maybe it’s because moms work from home with a very small client base.

Whatever the reason, leaving “mom” off the list is a mistake.

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