Illustration: Have you ever rolled two strikes in a row in the sport of bowling? It is a good feeling when that ball squarely hits the “one-three” pocket and all ten pins go flying. But it takes 12 strikes in a row for a perfect game of 300.
Illustration: In 1956 Don Larson went to the mound in the World Series and proceeded to get 27 Dodgers out in a row. No hits, no walks, no errors, not a single Brooklyn hitter getting even 90 feet down the line to first base. That is a perfect game.
Is “perfect” a wonderful word? In the pages of Sports Illustrated, yes. When your child gets a perfect 4.0 and is named valedictorian, yes. When your boss tells you the new web page you designed is perfect, good. When your family gets you a birthday present, and you tell them it’s perfect, good.
Question: Why is perfect a great word except when it comes to religion and spiritual things?
When Jesus says to His disciples, both in the year 31 A.D., and here in the 21st century, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” (Matthew 5:48), we begin to get nervous. We begin to think about words like “Pharisaism” and “perfectionism.” Are we only going to get into heaven if we manage to get our spiritual lives up to the level of “perfect”—a 300 in bowling and a 4.0 at UCLA and 27 straight outs in the Fall Classic?
Question: Should Christians even strive for perfect? Is perfection our goal? Frankly, trying to be perfect gets bad marks in the Christian faith; the challenge of striving to be completely perfect has turned many would-be believers into atheists, or for sure into discouraged Christians.
Rich Young Ruler: A young man asked Jesus: “Excuse me, what good thing do I have to do to get eternal life?” Jesus replies: “Keep the commandments.” “Which ones,” the man asks, maybe thinking that out of the original blueprint, he can get by with just a couple of them. But no — Jesus runs down the whole list. And this wealthy entrepreneur, who bought Yahoo at four, sold PriceLine.com at 126½, and cashed out just before the dot-com bust, says to Jesus, “I’m already doing that. What else?” Jesus tells him: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me”(Matthew 19:21).
Is this what it takes? Complete sacrifice of all that we treasure in life? A life of monasticism?
Reality Check: The Bible tells us flat-out that we are going to be imperfect. That’s fact. We’re told that in the Old Testament, a famous verse: Isaiah 64:6. “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” We’re told the same thing in the New Testament: I John 1:8: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” In The Message: “If we claim that we’re free from sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense.”
Good News: I John 1:8 is exactly one verse away from one of the greatest statements in the entire Word of God. After we’re told that we’re sinners, and that we have sin in us—gutter balls and C’s and D’s on our report cards—Jesus makes us this promise: “If we confess our sins, He [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
1. Though we are not perfect, God has a solution. It is heaven’s plan to graciously lead us toward perfection—as defined by God Himself.
2. Even though we fail, God will still win and share His kingdom’s triumph with us. His plan is called Calvary!
3. Our failings, serious as they are, do not appear in Scripture to be a life-or-death issue, the overriding factor in Game Seven of the World Series.
4. Even though grace is an “amazing” and blessed gift from Jesus, saved Christians still determine to honor God by holy living. Matthew 5:16: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
Trying to Obey: A leading evangelical apologist once spoke on the radio about the issue of keeping the Sabbath. His topic was grace and obedience: the reality that Jesus has paid the price for our sins, and that God is faithful to forgive. But should Christians then endeavor to keep all ten of God’s Commandments: His answer went like this: “Nobody ever has or ever will live in a perfect obedience to it.” Which is true. “Only Jesus Christ.” That is also true. But then he went on to say this: “You don’t, by trying to keep it every day, and I can’t. So . . . I’m not going to TRY.”
WRONG! Seek Obedience and Holiness: Because of the glory of Calvary, the Bible now invites us to walk toward new light, try to be holy and faithful. It is wrong to say, “It doesn’t matter; I’m not even going to try.”
Right Notes: All good piano players (even forgiven ones!) try to hit right notes, not wrong ones. Golfers aim at the pin, not the water hazards. Even weekend bowlers aim for the pins and not the gutter.
Baseball Illustration: In 1988, Christian pitcher Orel Hershiser was nearly “perfect,” breaking Don Drysdale’s so-called unbreakable record with 59 consecutive scoreless innings. Along with a miracle Kirk Gibson homer, his shutout pitching brought the Los Angeles Dodgers the crown in five games against the Oakland A’s. In his baseball book, Men at Work, George Will asked Hershiser: “So what’s your goal when you go to the mound? A no-hitter?” Orel gave this answer, which every Christian should pay attention to. “No,” he said. “A perfect game. If they get a hit, I am throwing a one-hitter. If they get a walk, it’s my last walk. I deal with perfection to the point that is logical to conceive it. History is history, the future is perfect.”
In other words, starting from now, the goal is never IMperfection—it’s always perfection. You go to the mound planning to give up no hits. If someone gets a hit, well, from that point ON, you plan to give up no more hits. You aim for perfection because you love your team and because that’s what a dedicated ballplayer does.
It’s especially gratifying to take that view when you know there’s a Kirk Gibson in the dugout, ready to win the game for you in the bottom of the ninth.
Submitted by David B. Smith. Better Sermons © 2005-2009. Click here for usage guidelines.