I have several believing friends that are “perfectionists”. They believe that Christians, filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit, can eventually attain a level of sanctification in this life that results in perfect Christian character. John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) believed the sanctifying grace of God could accomplish such a feat, and he wrote about it in “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.” If you’re like me, and you are honest and diligent in your own self-examination, you probably hope that Wesley was wrong. If perfection is the evidence of a Spirit filled transformation, if perfect love of God and complete submission to God’s desire for my life is the evidence that I am truly saved, then I am concerned for my own salvation. There are times when it seems like my character and heart are no purer than they were before I even knew Jesus as Savior. Last week my precious, loving, happy-go-lucky corgi, Bailey, revealed yet another aspect of my fallen character.
When I was a young police officer, I used profanity with effortless abandon. I could use particular profane words in nearly every form of the English language; I could use them as nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs. Oh, I was creative, and it never bothered me that such filth was a regular part of my vocabulary; in fact, I celebrated my ability to talk like the other officers and suspects I worked around. I can remember when I became a Christ follower and felt a sudden desire to eliminate such language from my daily use. The same words that I used to speak with flair and pride became a source of embarrassment. I will never forget sitting on the stand in a federal courtroom, waiting for a taped interrogation to be played in front of the jury. I was a new Christian and we were about to listen to a “cop-out” I got from a bank robber about a year before I came to faith. I was horrified within the first 60 seconds of the recording; I was far more profane than the bank robber I interrogated. I cussed and “talked trash” for more than an hour. I sat there on the stand, humiliated by my own profanity for what felt like a week. It was certainly the longest courtroom appearance of my life. There and then I committed to remove all profanity from my language.
So I was rather surprised when my little corgi was able provoke me to use profanity last week. It just slipped right out of my mouth. Effortlessly. I wanted to reach out and grab it, but there was no way to do so. I stopped and stood there looking at this little dog as she smiled innocently. I suddenly realized that my fallen nature was still hiding right below the surface. I would like to think that I’ve come a long way as a Christian but in some ways I haven’t. An innocent corgi pup can still bring out the worst in me. How bad is that? I often tell my kids that you can learn what’s in a mug by simply nudging it, and it was clear that the stuff that’s revealed in me when I am “nudged” is still pretty fallen.
Sometimes it feels like the only difference between my life and behavior on this side of the cross and my life when I was a non-believer is the fact that I feel bad when I do this sort of thing today. As a non-believer I never even gave such behavior a second thought. In fact, I celebrated vulgarity as an evidence of achieved machismo. Today I simply feel ashamed of myself and incredibly uncomfortable. But maybe that’s an important piece of evidence in itself. Sometimes complete transformation in your life is evidence that you are truly a regenerate child of God. I have my limited areas of transformational victory as well. But I hope and pray that the discomfort I feel in those areas where I still struggle is evidence as well, as I move from celebrating my sin to renouncing it. There are times when discomfort and remorse are definite evidence that God is still working in us, reminding us of our daily need for what Jesus did on the cross.