I am not okay. I don’t have everything together. As much as I long for perfection, I’m most assuredly not. I can safely and accurately declare right along with the apostle Paul, that I’m a sinner, just like everyone else (Rom. 3:10–12), and of sinners, I’m probably the king. (1 Tim. 1:15) I like to fool myself; I like to pretend that all is well with my soul. After all, this makes me look good for others. They see me and see only the outward façade of piety and religion. But this is not the truth; this is not the reality. The truth of the matter is my heart’s filthy and sinful, “desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9 KJV) No matter how hard I try, I never live up to expectations; I never feel complete; I never get everything together.
And there’s the rub . . .
The Exhaustion of Put-Together-Ness
Trying to put my life together and make sense of everything on my own is likely the most futile expedition ever attempted. And yet, there are scores of Christ-followers around the globe (this guy included) embarking on such a quest — to understand everything and be everything and do everything in order to have “your best life now.” We strive and work and try and exert loads of effort, blood, sweat, and tears, all in the hopes of “making it,” of “achieving victory,” of living a fuller life. We are longing, yearning, striving for acceptance, for approval. And, in all our human logic, we deem this acceptance won’t come without accomplishment. For how else should it come without achieving something? How else are we to measure success and failure without accomplishing or quitting?
So, then, we strive more, work harder, exert more. We try to fabricate our own goodness, and we fail to realize we’ve already been given a better “goodness,” a perfect “goodness” in the One who is Perfect. All this striving, all this working, all this trying is in vain. For we know, in the depths of our hearts, that no one is perfect — no one has it all together, right? Nevertheless, despite our knowledge of these impossible expectations on life, that doesn’t stop us from holding these expectations on anyone and everyone, and ourselves. We neglect (or forget, or even worse, ignore) the fact that, “impossible conditions ultimately produce exhaustion, bitterness, and shame” (Tchividjian, One Way, 30) — not success, satisfaction, contentment, glory, or prestige. But this doesn’t stop us. We keep on striving, keep on working, keep on exerting everything in order to achieve something, everything.
And then . . . something happens.
Recalling Your Redemption
The cliché “light” goes on in your head, and you remember. You recall. You look back, and relive. You recognize that you’re not okay, and that’s okay. That you’re a work-in-progress, in the middle of your own sanctification, and that’s precisely where Jesus wants you. That “perfectionism” is a deceit of the devil and a scheme of man — it doesn’t originate from God! The devil will always bring confusion and leave no clarity; he always brings disease, but gives no remedy. He wants you to be thoroughly torn with regret and wasted on remorse. If he can, he will devour you (or you will devour yourself) with your incessant “looking back.” Impossible expectations, for life and yourself, only result in one end: fatigue and failure.
But where Satan throws confusion, there Jesus provides illumination. Where Satan attacks with disease, Jesus gives the remedy, for he himself is the Remedy, the Light of the World, and the Hope of the Nations. When regret and remorse creep in to drag you down and stop your pursuit of God, there Christ allows repentance. (Ps. 25:7) Where we see guilt, Jesus shows us the cross!
If you are a follower of Christ, don’t neglect the convicting presence of the Spirit within you — for it’s glorious and wonderful to experience the conviction of Christ. We must recall the oft-forgotten truth that love is discipline: “Do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Heb. 12:5–6) Love is not always beautiful, nor the gospel always bright. The gospel of Jesus Christ is dangerous, it’s “way more radical, offensive, liberating, shocking, and counterintuitive than any of us realize . . . Like Aslan in C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, the gospel is good but not safe.” (Tchividjian, Jesus + Nothing, 11) This same gospel is that which says, “Stop trying to earn My favor, you already have it.” It says, “Don’t do more to get more, you already have everything you need in Me!”
In this gospel, under the grace of Jesus, acceptance is given before accomplishment. There is no amount of achieving or striving or working or doing that can win the favor and approval of Jesus — you already have it! “Your approval before God is woven into the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.” (Chandler, 28) It is Jesus, only Jesus — Jesus plus nothing! It is the gospel of Jesus’s grace given to you and me free of charge. It comes with no restrictions, no regulations, no strings attached! “Jesus puts acceptance before change,” declares J. D. Greear, “because he knew we’d never have the power to change if we never had the power of acceptance. God’s acceptance is the power that liberates us from sin; it’s not the reward for having liberated ourselves.” This goes against our natural inclinations — how could something so wonderful, so freeing, so miraculous be so free? “This is too good to be true,” we determine. For it would be “logical,” it would make sense to us, if our performance is the basis upon which we are judged. Then our striving would matter; then our achieving and our working and all our efforts would be validated. It would be easy, in a sense — to get more, do more; to get favor, do more; to get grace, do more, etc.
But the gospel of Jesus and his grace isn’t easy; it’s not beautiful; it’s not clean. The gospel doesn’t make sense; it’s “illogical,” in terms of human understanding. “The very idea of grace is strange, and, we may say, unnatural to man.” (Bonar, 277) The gospel frustrates us because it disregards our comprehension — “it defies logic. It has nothing to do with earning, merit, or deservedness. It is opposed to what is owed . . . [The gospel of] grace is unconditional acceptance given to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver. It is one-way love.” (Tchividjian, One Way, 33) It is only when we recognize how ineffective our efforts are at impressing God that we realize our desperate need for and the overwhelming power of the gospel of Jesus’s grace.
Okay With Not Okay
The majority of Christ-followers don’t like this. We like things clean and tidy, everything under control, no loose ends. These are the same people that build for themselves grand “religious-fronts,” façades of piety, the side of us everyone sees during Sunday morning worship — not the you on Friday night. If this is you, you’re no better than “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matt. 23:27–28) I long to have an honest view of myself, one that doesn’t pretend to be better than it is and that doesn’t put up religious-fronts to impress people. I pray that we would all have honest and accurate views of our lives! This is the only way to cultivate growth!
You can’t progress anywhere if you’re fooling yourself into thinking you’ve already arrived. To be caught up in pursuing things, chasing success, reaching for “God-and” — to be constantly striving and working and doing — is to be caught in an endless cycle of futility and exhaustion, where the only outcome is failure. Christian, rejoice in your weakness! It’s what makes you strong! “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9–10) The great writer and “grace-addict” Tullian Tchividjian sums up our quandary with his typical expertise:
Jesus came to liberate us from the weight of having to make it on our own, from the demand to measure up. He came to emancipate us from the burden to get it all right, from the obligation to fix ourselves, find ourselves, and free ourselves. Jesus came to release us from the slavish need to be right, rewarded, regarded, and respected. Because Jesus came to set the captives free, life does not have to be a tireless effort to establish ourselves, justify ourselves, and validate ourselves . . . The Gospel of Jesus Christ announces that because Jesus was strong for you, you’re free to be weak. Because Jesus won for you, you’re free to lose. Because Jesus was Someone, you’re free to be no one. Because Jesus was extraordinary, you’re free to be ordinary. Because Jesus succeeded for you, you’re free to fail. (One Way, 36)
This is the power of Jesus in you. This is the power of the gospel. This is the power of grace. You’re free to fail. You’re free to struggle, you’re not struggling to be free. You’re free to not be okay . . . and that’s okay.
Horatius Bonar, Family Sermons (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1954).
Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and Eric Geiger, Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2012).
Tullian Tchividjian, Jesus + Nothing = Everything (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011).
Tullian Tchividjian, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2013).