In our media-dominated world we are surrounded by images of perfection: body, hair, skin, family, house, meal—whatever it is, there’s an image of it somewhere. And we are led to believe we can have this perfection, if we will only follow these five steps, or buy that product. Then, when we fail to measure up, we have feelings of guilt, shame and anxiety to deal with. But still the aspiration lurks enticingly in the subconscious.
And alongside the visual imagery we have the self-help gurus who insist we can have it all—if we follow their example.
The idea of perfection also features strongly in the realm of employment, only there it’s called 'excellence'. If we will only work harder, faster or smarter we too will make super-employee status with all its benefits. And many of us try, working long hours to achieve targets, only to find, somewhere along the way, the goal posts have moved yet again. And if we are by chance, one of the fortunate few who have measured up for a while, and ticked all the boxes, then we live with the stress of trying to maintain that exalted place. Reproach hangs over the workplace, ready to settle on those found wanting.
And then there’s the guilt which comes from the unfashionable word ‘sin’, which in modern idiom masquerades as bad habits, weaknesses and negative tendencies. Whether we describe it as ‘sin’ or not, our habits of over-eating, bad temper, dishonesty, cheating, one-upmanship, or whatever, bring shame on us, a shame that gnaws at our inner being.
In addition, there’s the guilt which comes from omission—the host of things we think we could have done, or should have done. This guilt can be harder to shift as it is often non-specific, just a general sense of having fallen short.
Jesus came to bridge the gap. He came to show us what it was supposed to be like: a sinless man walking in harmony with a holy God. When He was crucified, He took the judgement for our shortfall, by taking all our guilt and failures on Himself. Dying naked, viewed by disappointed followers, and jeering crowds, He knew all about shame and reproach. And He endured all this so we could be free.
And so we step into rest by acknowledging our state. We have to put down our pride, and admit we have been found wanting, that we can’t do it on our own. This isn’t just something we do to enter the Christian life, then once safely in, we go back to our own efforts at living. This must be our lifestyle from now on: we haven’t got what it takes—and it’s ok!
Acknowledging our state of failure will take us into despair, unless we add the second step: to trust that Jesus bridged the gap through His death on the Cross.
New Testament righteousness is a gift from the Father purchased through Jesus’ sacrifice—which we can do nothing to merit. He took all our failures, so we could have His wholeness.
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