“Perfect in Christ.” In one of my favorite passages in the Bible, Colossians 1:28,29 Paul says that his goal is to proclaim Christ, teaching and admonishing everyone so that he can present them “perfect in Christ.” He goes on to say that he works with every bit of the energy God gives him to do that very thing. His words have been inspiration and guidance for me for decades of ministry. But, something new became apparent to me as I prepared to speak about these words last night at The Gathering Church.
As I thought about what Paul could have meant about being ‘perfect’,’ I found myself adjusting some faulty thinking on my part. I knew that the NIV translated the Greek word teleos that has to do with becoming complete, finished, that sort of thing. But, I realized the word and concept triggered in me a default setting that depends on being perfect or complete according to attainment, or performance – my performance that is. Did Paul mean that he was working hard to get everyone to perform the spiritual life perfectly by believing the right things, behaving the right way, living up to all Christian standards? Was he thinking like a coach, working his athletes into peak performance for the championship presentation to God?
Maybe. I like that image of a coach. I like an image that suggests a lot of effort, a target, a goal. I’m a pretty competitive person. Just ask my boys. (Particularly ask them who won our disc golf game a couple of Saturdays ago. It was awesome. When you can get your sons saying among themselves things like, “We can’t get Dad to make a mistake. How are we going to catch up.” Sweet.)
So, I admit it. I can easily embrace a performance-based relationship with Christ. Although, I also admit that it doesn’t seem to bring me much peace or perfection. The best it’s ever done is inflate my pride which seems a pretty obvious disqualifier in respect to what Paul has in mind. Can you imagine Paul willing to go to jail, be stoned, be shipwrecked, flogged and all the other pleasant experiences he had for the sake of his ministry – just to say that he could present pride-filled, achievement-oriented people to Christ. I don’t think so.
I’m convinced that what Paul had in mind had nothing to do with our performance, but with our position in Christ. Our position, in which he is our hope, he is our life, he is our redemption, he is our confidence, he is our Savior. Our position is shaped by a growing ability to trust Christ with everything, especially with our need for growth. Our position is marked by a confidence and an acceptance of a process of growth and development.
It’s interesting that when performance is our default goal, we have to become greater. When trust is our position with Christ, guess who becomes grater. You got it.
Here’s what Paul had in mind. Here’s what I have in mind as a pastor – presenting people to Christ who are growing in their trust, growing in their security, growing in their position with Christ, the Lover of their souls. What a picture!