Spiritual growth is serious business. Our Christian calling requires striving for perfection.
Recently I had a conversation with my son who is a pathologist. I expressed my concern about the stress he was under at work. My advice to him was to relax a little and not be so hard on himself. His response was, "Dad, I can't afford to make a mistake. Lives depend on my decisions and thousands of dollars may be squandered if I am wrong." I got the same response from my daughter-in-law who is also a pathologist. As professionals they understand that by signing their name to an examination they put their reputations on the line. It didn't take me long to see the profound truth behind their words, and I was happy to know that there are people like this in such responsible positions.
All of us are concerned about errors and mistakes (or we should be). There are many jobs that demand a high degree of technical expertise: for example, airplane pilots, air traffic controllers, surgeons, truck drivers and others who hold human lives in their hands. They must constantly seek to be at their best so they can perform according to the standards of their respective occupation. If the captain of the Titanic had been more of a perfectionist, hundreds of lives might have been saved. None of us want to have someone who is in a responsible position to say, "Oops, I goofed." That "oops" could prove to be fatal under certain circumstances.
Mistakes are going to happen
It's been said, "If a person is not making any mistakes, he is not breathing." While there is some truth in this statement, we all know the importance of striving for perfection in our daily lives. It is all too easy to slip into sloppy habits at work or to accept a "less than perfect" effort in other areas of our lives. We see it in the way people dress, the crude and careless words that come from their mouths and an attitude of bending the rules. Finding capable and conscientious employees is the single most pressing need facing employers today. Changes in the work ethic, combined with the decline of moral standards, have impacted our society far more than many understand.
Growing up spiritually
In Matthew 5:48 Jesus made an astonishing statement: "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect." Many have not understood the importance of this statement.
The Greek word for "perfect" is teleois, which conveys the idea of goodness. It can also refer to being of full age or mature. What Jesus was pointing out was the need for Christians to be mature in their spiritual life. Becoming a mature Christian means we understand that our actions reflect our spiritual state. But spiritual growth does not come without effort. Constant minute-by-minute monitoring of our words and deeds is essential if we are to become of full age. Jesus went on to say in Matthew 12:36: "But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment." Make no mistake; spiritual growth is serious business. We will not be able to say "oops" when we stand before God. We can all think of things that we wish we had never said. So it is imperative we learn to monitor what we say by constantly being aware of what we are thinking.
Sin and weakness not necessarily the same
A prime example of people lacking spiritual maturity can be found in the apostle Paul's letter to the Corinthians. They had confused being tolerant of human frailties with being tolerant of sinful behavior. As a result, their standards of conduct had fallen dramatically. They had begun to think of sin as mere mistakes. Paul corrected them by pointing out that some sins produce collateral damage within the congregation. "It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles--that a man has his father's wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you...Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1Corinthians 5:1-2, 6-7).
In 2 Corinthians 7:1 Paul taught the difference between being sorry for sin and true repentance. "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." There was little room for the lack of effort towards perfection in Paul's mind. He went on to say, "For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter" (verses 10-11).
Days of Unleavened Bread
The apostle Paul reminded the Corinthian church that each person should examine himself or herself to see whether they were in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). While we should examine ourselves on a continual basis, God set aside seven days known as the Days of Unleavened Bread to reexamine our spiritual lives. During this period of time Christians are instructed to focus on the importance of putting sin out of their lives.
To do so requires an understanding of what sin is. The Bible defines sin as the transgression of God's law: "Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him" (1 John 3:4-6). (For further information, be sure to request your free copy of the booklet Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Keep?)
Sensitivity to sin
All of us sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23 ). But as we grow in grace and knowledge we will become more sensitive to sin in our daily lives. This is the purpose of the Days of Unleavened Bread. Just as we learn from errors in our daily lives, we must learn to discern sin in our spiritual lives. There was a time when people took great pride in their work. In the same way, Christians must learn to honor God by putting their calling first.
The next time you get on an airplane ask yourself how "perfect" do you want the pilot to be? Is it good enough that he has read the flight manual, but has not yet successfully completed his flight training? Of course not! And overcoming sin is something we should not take lightly either--it is a matter of life and death. What should our response to sin be? The answer is obvious. Let's get serious about this life-and-death issue.