Early on in life we are told we should have a growth mindset, be lifelong learners, and better ourselves in mind, body, and spirit. All of these are good aspirations, but is Jesus calling us to something different? Does he call us to grow until we have no faults? Does he demand that we get everything right? And when Jesus says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” what exactly does he mean? (Matthew 5:48).
It is often hard to discern the difference between striving for sanctification and living under the weight of trying to be perfect. In the Bible, we see this tension exemplified in the life of Saul and who he was after Christ saved him and transformed him into Paul.
Saul had a desire to obey the law of Moses and to prove his righteousness. He was a man who was, “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless” (Philippians 3:5). Saul was also a man who persecuted the church of Christ because he believed the law demanded this obedience. It wasn’t until Jesus met him on the road to Damascus that Saul began to see not only his sin in opposing God, but also the perfection that dwelt in Jesus alone.
In stark contrast, Post-conversion Paul obeys out of love for his Savior and the security that he has already been made righteous. Paul sings quite a different tune about his days of chasing after perfection by the law: “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8).
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