What We Are…What We Should Be
Is the Lord’s church on earth perfect? The obvious answer, by both the teaching of Scripture and personal observation of each congregation, is no. The church is filled with fallible human beings, who struggle against sin and, at times, allow sin to gain an upper hand in one’s life, both in what we believe and what we practice. When you examine the New Testament letters, inspired by God, sent to various congregations of the Lord’s people, it is clear the church is always in the process of overcoming sin and seeking to perfect holiness in the lives of its members (2 Cor. 7:1). Rome, for example, had an issue regarding what to eat, and how that affected those who took differing views (Rom. 14). Corinth has numerous problems, many of which revolved around overcoming worldliness (1 Cor. 3). Philippi had two members who were at odds with each other, which threatened the peace they should have in Christ (Phil. 4). Thessalonica had a misunderstanding regarding the Lord’s return, which caused some to become busybodies (2 Thess. 3). Each congregation Paul mentioned in Scripture had issues to work on.
There are two things we should consider in all this. First, while people aren’t perfect, God’s pattern is. The psalmist wrote, “The entirety of your word is truth, each of your righteous judgments endures forever” (Psa. 119:160). Paul reminds us, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). God gave us His perfect word that we might know how to live, what to seek after in Christian living. We pursue His righteousness, knowing we will fail at times. “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). This is why God is rich in mercy and abundant in His grace. To say we can’t keep God’s will perfectly, therefore there’s no point in trying, is to miss the point. God has given us a goal to live for, and from when we obey the gospel to when we pass from this existence, we should grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, striving to do better each day in crucifying the flesh and being more spiritually focused (Gal. 2:20).
Secondly, even though we are flawed people struggling against sin, it doesn’t mean we aren’t the Lord’s church, and we can’t serve the Lord acceptably. As flawed as the church at Corinth was, Paul still addressed them as those sanctified, called by the gospel to live as saints (1 Cor. 1:2). To the congregations in Galatia, Paul still spoke of the grace and peace they had in Christ, even though they needed to understand the consequences of accepting a gospel other than the true one, which had been preached to them (Gal. 1:3-6). In Rev. 2, the church in Ephesus was close to having its lampstand removed (Rev. 2:5), but the purpose of the Lord’s admonition was to keep that from happening. There is a difference in seeking to overcome sin, and being overcome by it.
God’s people will never be perfected until the time we are gathered together in His presence in eternity, but we keep battling against sin. We keep learning more of His will for us, we keep doing our best to be better today than yesterday in Christian living, and tomorrow to do better than today. Paul could speak of how far he had come from persecuting the church to being persecuted on her behalf, but still say, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).
The body of Christ is comprised of fallible people who struggle against sin, but prayerfully are not content to remain in sin. We determine to do better, and make it our goal to do so. If we fall, however, we know we have a loving Savior and a gracious God who can forgive and restore us (1 John 1:9), who helps us resolve to be more of what we read in Scripture, of what we pray for in our own lives, in what we desire to be true in His kingdom. We will encounter setbacks, but such should just make us more determined to press on. As one person said, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.” Don’t despair because we may at times fall victim to sin and its desires; trust in God and His will, and allow Him to make us all we can be through His Son.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”