Good afternoon, readers! Today I’m home sick, so I thought it would be a good time to share a blog post I’ve been considering for the last few weeks or so. I hope you enjoy!
As I’ve been acclimating to new life stages—marriage, living independently, full-time work—God has impressed a key truth into my heart. Christians can often be really hard on ourselves in the idea we have of the “ideal Christian.” At times, our expectations of ourselves can be quite different than what’s in Scripture. To expand on this, let me delve into my personal tendency in this area.
In America’s self-help culture, it’s easy to believe your ideal self is completely put together. I can imagine the ideal Hannah: she balances all her meals, exercises three to four times a week, surpasses work goals, gains social media followers, has seven quiet times a week, does the laundry on schedule, and cooks flawless meals for the husband. If there’s anything keeping me from perfection (i.e. mental health struggles, fatigue, self-doubt, or irritability) it’s clearly a flaw that I must extract to reach the ideal me.
As Christians, we can adapt our image of the ideal Christian into this self-help mold: If we suffer from weakness, it’s because (and I’ve heard the following so many times it’s not funny):
- We don’t have enough faith for our weaknesses to be taken away.
- We aren’t dedicated or devoted enough to the Lord.
These make sense IF we interpret the ideal Christian as someone perfect, able to walk around never being tempted, wearing flawless makeup and getting everyone’s take-out orders perfect 100 % of the time. There’s a fundamental problem with this ideal, though—a problem that often crushes our spirits because we’re holding ourselves to a standard that simply isn’t Biblical.
Weakness is Part and Parcel of the Christian Walk
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
If there’s any Christian role model (sans Jesus Himself) whom we’d expect to have “perfected” the faith walk, it’s probably Paul. The man was bitten by a snake and in faith rebuked any poisonous after-effects in Jesus’s name. He was jailed, beaten, and killed, without ever losing his devotion to Christ. And yet here, we see him not only relegated to but taking joy in weakness. How can the ideal Christian be a flawless superhero if, here, we see Paul boasting in weakness?
The image of the ideal Christian we so often espouse is, ironically, flawed. Jesus doesn’t call us to be Jesus. He calls us to be dependent on Him, reminded that this life is all about Him. Jesus’s victory is both a “now and not yet” affair—we experience victory in this moment because Christ has freed us from slavery to sin and death. But we experience victory in a “not yet” sense because we live in a fallen world. And yes, God’s plan does involve the elimination of weakness—just not completely at this time.
The emphasis shifts from how great of a Christ-follower I am—an oxymoronic idea that dates back to James and John trying to pick out thrones next to Jesus—to how great a Savior Jesus is. How unconditionally He loves us.
Jesus Himself Bore Our Weaknesses
The strongest argument for embracing this weakness is Jesus Christ. He bled. He thirsted. He hungered. He felt anger, sorrow, frustration, grief, and shared with those closest to him in Gethsemane that “my soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38).
If Jesus wasn’t above weakness—if He’s our example, the “firstborn of the dead,” (Revelation 1:4)—then it has to be part of the Christian experience in this world. It’s not something we look down upon in others; it’s our badge of joy because it magnifies our God.
So what is the “Christian Ideal?”
If the ideal Christian isn’t a perfected version of you and me, then how do we know when we’re making progress as Christ followers? The answer is somewhat in the question. Jesus calls us in John 15 to a specific course, one I believe encapsulates our responsibility as Christians:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (v 1-5).
My tendency reading those verses is still to pull out my Excel spreadsheet and fretfully add up the number of fruits I’ve produced so that I can verify my membership status. But that’s not what Jesus is requiring at all!
According to Jesus, it’s not our responsibility to produce the fruit. Our responsibility, our ideal, isn’t a matter of doing. It’s a matter of being with Jesus. He causes everything else to follow.
We are not called to be perfect, but to abide with the Perfect One.
So no matter your present weakness: temptation, depression, anxiety, exhaustion, bitterness, grief, impatience, lack of love, hardheartedness, laziness, ignorance, violence, dishonesty….we all have them. Jesus Christ doesn’t promise a perfect life on this earth, so please don’t put pressure on your own shoulders to create one. Jesus promises He’ll never leave us. Jesus promises that the victory is ours and will be ours, in Him. Jesus promises rest, and acceptance, no matter what, because none of it is dependent on us.
The story of grace is that we believe in Jesus Christ as Lord, and He does the rest. This is counterintuitive to our culture’s entire mindset. Maybe it’s high time we reset our thinking…I encourage you to spend some time talking with your Creator and Savior today, and let him ease your heart, mind, and spirit.
What do you think about this subject of an “ideal Christian?” Is there an ideal? What can we learn from Jesus’s life? Share your take in the comments!