It’s difficult for me to put into words the joy I feel when I put a check mark next to a task on my to-do list.
Each day, I keep a running tally of what I need to do and what I’ve actually done. Go to work. Buy groceries. Make dinner. Do my devotional. Go to the gym. Order that wedding gift. Clean the bathroom. The list goes on.
As I drive home, I take inventory, weighing out the success of my day based on how many check marks I see. If I started out with 10 tasks on my list and only completed six of them, I got a ‘D’ in life that day. The six things that I accomplished don’t matter nearly as much as the four that I didn’t because those undone tasks register as failure.
Maybe you can relate.
But here’s what I’ve realized. Allowing myself to operate under this work-equals-worth mindset will lead me down a very slippery slope. And the only things that wait at the bottom of it are self-doubt, disappointment, emptiness, exhaustion and separation from God.
1 Peter 1:15 sets the bar high: “But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.”
I don’t know about you, but this list-writing, check mark-wielding perfectionist definitely feels the weight of failure after reading this verse. In all of your conduct. That means a perfect 10 on the checklist. Six out of 10 won’t cut it—and the stakes are much higher than not having fresh sheets for the bed or lunch meats in the fridge.
As Christians, we know that God does not expect perfection from us because Christ has already lived the perfect life and died for our sins. But if that’s truly the case—and I believe that it is—we need to be able to confidently answer this very important question.
What’s the point of struggling to live a God-honoring life when we know for a fact that we will fall short?
Before I continue, I feel compelled to acknowledge that believers from different theological backgrounds might have different approaches to answering this question.
If we were in a first grade Sunday school class and the kids yelled “Jesus!” in answer to this question, they would be on the right track. Jesus is where our freedom from sin begins and is therefore where my answer to this question begins. Romans 3:23-25 reads: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.”
A speaker at the local Bible study that I attend summarized the message of this passage in a way that made perfect sense to me: “God requires 100 percent righteousness, which can only be achieved through the free gift of salvation through faith in Jesus.”
Salvation in Jesus is the free gift that atones for every moment of sin in our lives. Every shortcoming, evil thought and poor decision is covered by the blood of Jesus. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Through Jesus, we are fully reconciled to God. His perfection pays the price for our imperfection. That is the great exchange.
When we truly accept this reality, our posture toward God shifts.
In attempting to follow His law, we’re no longer grabbing at straws to prove our own worth or earn our salvation through good deeds. On the contrary, we are humbled by the certain facts of both our own insufficiency and Jesus’ total sufficiency.
Out of this humility comes an earnest desire to lead lives that honor the selfless sacrifice of Jesus. Our actions become an outpouring of our gratitude for this saving grace, which both frees us from the debt of our sin and binds us in perfect unity with God.
Beyond our infinite gratitude, Paul gives another really great reason to honor God with our lives in light of Jesus’ saving grace: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”
Accepting Christ as our Savior constitutes a core change in our identity. We are no longer slaves to sin, so why would we still act like we are? There’s no doubt that we will make mistakes—that’s the whole reason Jesus had to come in the first place. But through the strength of the Holy Spirit, our active decision to resist our sinful nature is a testament to the power of Jesus in our lives.
The end goal of everything we do in life is to draw closer to God. The second we lose sight of that and think of our actions as the end in themselves, we’ve missed the point entirely.
Today, I challenge you to reflect on what motivates you to strive towards a God-honoring life. If it’s anything other than gratitude rooted in faith, be still. Remember the free gift you’ve received.