Life is messy. Sloppy, really. We like to pretend it isn’t, but it is. We prefer hiding behind whatever mask we’re wearing in the moment that we think hides our messiness and undone-ness from others. But it doesn’t. Not really. Nowhere is this more true than inside the church. It’s there that we refer to life on the ground as sanctification with the incorrect assumption that sanctification means continuous movement toward self-sufficiency. That’s because the message we’ve heard for so many years has been heavy on progress and light on justification. Heavy on behavior modification and light on mercy and grace. The banner of the Christian life has become my (and your) progress. “Am I pulling it off?” has replaced “it is finished!” If it appears you aren’t pulling it off like I think you should be, I morph into fix-it mode which I think gives me permission to put you in a spiritual headlock until you cry “uncle!” and superficially produce the “change” I need to see in you in order for me to be happy. At least, that’s how I remember it.
But God’s acceptance of me in Jesus has nothing to do with my progress or lack thereof. It has nothing to do with whether or not I look a certain way or if I fit someone’s mold of what they think a believer should look like. God isn’t going to abandon me in my failure to perform because his acceptance of me is due to the fact that he has made me righteous apart from anything moral or pleasing in me at all. But that sounds so impersonal. Maybe this sounds better: God loves me so much that he stepped into his creation to rescue me by doing for me what I could never do for myself. Since God’s standard is perfection (Matthew 5:48) and not progress (Matthew 23:27-28), he has, by grace alone, made me perfect apart from progress (Hebrews 10:14) based on the merits of another: Jesus. He has freely given me the perfect record of Jesus, while putting to death my old record in Adam. In Adam, all die; in Jesus, all are made alive (Romans 5:18-19); all of this, apart from my progress or works of any kind. Jesus died the death that I deserved and in so doing, he gave to me his perfect record of righteousness and took upon himself, my bad record in Adam. God loves me because Jesus is my substitute and savior, not because I’m getting better, making progress, or becoming self-sufficient.
This is good news because none of it depends on me! God freely justifies the wicked (Romans 4:5) and when he does, they are made righteous. That righteousness comes from outside of us. Thank God! There is no room for boasting in my progress or fretting over my sloppiness. I’m just as righteous in Jesus on my crappy days, weeks, months, years, or decades as I am in those brief moments where I’ve deceived myself into thinking I’m pulling it off or accomplishing something. My righteousness doesn’t depend on my progress or lack of progress. Life gets sloppy. Life gets dirty. But in the midst of all my sloppiness and undone-ness, Jesus loves me and he wants to be with me not because I’m making progress but because he loves me.
There is amazing freedom in that! I can’t screw this up. I’ve mentioned before that I can’t perform my way into God’s kingdom and once I’m in, I can’t sin my way out of it. The Bible calls that grace. While my life may get messy and sloppy, my justification is perfect and pristine. God loves me, not because I’m making progress or becoming self-sufficient, but because he loves me and gave himself for me and nothing will ever change that. Life gets messy, but Jesus died for messes like me. That’s good news and it sets me free! God’s love is put on full display in my weakness. Those most intimate with their own inadequacies are those most intimate with grace.
Jesus is not repelled by us, no matter how messy we are, regardless of how incomplete we are. – Mike Yaconelli (Messy Spirituality)