The Spirituality of Imperfection

by Chip Brogden
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, let us as many as are mature, have this mind, in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. (Phl. 3:12-15)

Scripture is filled with paradox. If you want to save your life, Jesus says you have to lose your life. And that’s one of the of the great paradoxes of the spiritual life. I think we found another one here: “The Spirituality of Imperfection.”

And the paradox is this: That we are perfected in love through the spirituality of imperfection. When we talk about Perfection in Love, I’m not talking about you trying to get your act together, you trying to achieve sinless perfection, you trying to live your life so perfectly that you don’t make any mistakes. On the contrary. We are perfected in love, not by trying to be perfect, but by embracing imperfection. Perfection in Love comes through the Spirituality of Imperfection! And this allows us to be transformed (not destroyed) by the Cross.

“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected.” See, that’s the key. So long as you think you’ve already attained, so long as you think you’ve already been perfected, you won’t make any progress. You won’t try to grow. You will assume it’s all finished and complete, when it’s not. Far from it. We’re not talking about yourself salvation. We’re not talking about the finished work of Christ. We’re talking about the unfinished work in you, transforming you, into a king and priest of the Most High God, able to freely give and receive the love of God, able to pray and to work, and to help others to be free and delivered from evil. So Paul says, I haven’t already attained perfection, and I’m not already perfected – but there is the hope, there is the expectation, that he will attain. And we have that same hope as well. But what does he do in the meantime? He says, “I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also lay hold of me…”

Now, embracing imperfection does not mean hanging on to your sin. Let me be very clear. I’m not saying embrace this idea that because we are imperfect, and because we have all of these flaws, and because God’s love is unconditional, then we are free to do whatever we want to do. “Don’t get hung up over your sin! Don’t worry about it, just hang on to it. God loves you anyway!” That’s not the message that I’m bringing. And that is not the message of Scripture. Embracing imperfection doesn’t mean hanging on to your sin. It means rather acknowledging your sin, acknowledging your weakness, as the first step in Perfection in Love. And here’s why: Embracing imperfection means you still love God, and you know God loves you, in spite of all your flaws and failures. If you’re not convinced of that then you think every time you make a mistake that God doesn’t love you anymore, that God is terribly displeased with you. “You’re going to be in so much trouble!” – and that’s just fear and religion talking.

Embracing imperfection assumes (just as Paul assumes) that we haven’t attained perfection yet. We haven’t apprehended everything yet. We’re not spiritually mature yet. But we’re moving in that direction. Embracing imperfection means you still love God, and you know God loves you, no matter what – in spite of all your flaws and failures. In spite of all your mistakes, all your frustrations. “Nothing can separate you from the love of God.”[1] So you keep pressing on, trusting God to perfect you in love. Trusting God to work in you “both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”[2]

And I really love Psalm 13:8. It says, “The Lord will perfect that which concerns me.” The Lord will perfect. It’s not up to you to perfect yourself. The English Standard Version of Psalm 138:8 says, “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me. Your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” What is the work of His hands? You are the work of His hands – that’s the point! The Lord will fulfill his purpose. The Lord will perfect that which concerns you. And He is doing it, and will do it, by Perfection in Love as we embrace our imperfection. And that’s the point. Embracing imperfection in yourself means loving yourself as you are, where you are, knowing that where you are is exactly where you ought to be right now – but that God is bringing you forward, and He will perfect, and He will fulfill, His purpose and His promise in your life.

When you are able to embrace imperfection in yourself, it empowers you to love others as they are, where they are, flaws and all. I love that phrase: Loving as you are, where you are. Loving as they are, where they are. What does that look like? It means love without judgment, without condemnation, without anger, without shaming, without lecturing, without trying to correct or fix everything that you think is wrong with everybody else. You love them where they are, as they are – but you trust that the Lord will perfect that which concerns you and that which concerns them, and that the Lord is fulfilling His purpose.

All of us are in different stages of spiritual growth and maturity. So, what are you going to do? You’re going to love them where they are, you’re going to love them as they are, and leave the rest with God. We get frustrated because other people aren’t doing the right thing, because other people are not where they need to be. And you’re taking on all of this frustration, as though it is up to you to ensure that they are growing and maturing and being all that they are supposed to be! That’s not your job.

And somebody will say, “What about God’s judgment?” [That someone would bring up a question about God’s judgment just now shows that they are not in the right frame of mind.] Well, there’s a few things here. First of all, God is Love. So even God’s judgment is informed by His love. His purpose in His heart is not to destroy, but to save.[3] I would much rather be in His hands when it comes to judgment than to be in somebody else’s hands.[4] We don’t know everything. We don’t see everything. So, we’re not qualified to judge, we’re not qualified to pass sentence, we’re not qualified to condemn. We just aren’t. We’re not God. So leave the judgment with Him. If someone needs to be to be punished, or whatever, leave that with the Lord. It’s not your job to enforce God’s judgments. But His judgments are informed by perfect love; our judgments are informed by our need to be right, by our need to correct, our need to be superior. And so we’re not qualified; we’re not fit to judge. His judgments are righteous and holy and true and perfectly balanced.

So that makes it very simple. We love people without judgment, without condemnation, without anger, without shaming, without lecturing, without trying to correct, trying to fix what’s wrong with them – or what we think is wrong with them. Now, let me define this and make it even more clear. Embracing imperfection means that I can frankly acknowledge my shortcomings without judgment or fear. I can acknowledge this before God, before other people. Why? Because there is a foundation of unfailing, unconditional love. Now, I might not get that from other people. But I know I can get that from the Lord! And you can as well. So you can be as honest as you like with the Lord. What’s the alternative to honesty and truth? The alternative is fear, denial, rationalizing, defending our behavior. Now, where does that get us? Deeper and deeper into bondage. When I’m talking about embracing imperfection, I’m saying, basically, stop rationalizing and defending your sinful behavior. That’s different from saying, “Don’t worry about it. Hang on to your sin!” It’s saying that the key to perfection is embracing our flaws.

Let me give you an example. I can freely confess to you – and do confess to you – that I can become very defensive. If I perceive you to be attacking me, or attacking my teaching, or attacking my character, I can become very defensive. Now, I can make excuses. I can say, “Well, the reason I’m that way is because I’ve been hurt in the past.” And that’s true. “The reason I’m that way is because you’re wrong, or you’ve misunderstood something I’ve said, and I’m right.” And that may be true. Or, I could just whine and moan and complain and talk about how life isn’t fair, and people don’t understand me, and blah, blah, blah. I can make all of these excuses – or, I could just acknowledge my weakness! In other words, acknowledging the weakness, embracing the imperfections – just another way of saying “confess my sin and ask for forgiveness,” giving and receiving forgiveness on a daily basis. By acknowledging this weakness, by embracing this imperfection, I can say, “Lord, I’ve got a problem here. I’ve got a weakness here.”

But the interesting thing is that by doing that, I have exposed the root of this – dealing with it, rather than hiding it, defending it, and justifying it. And in this process, by doing that, I have denied myself. I’ve denied Self in the sense that – and this is very practical – I am denying myself in the sense that I am denying myself the right to persist in this unwanted behavior. And it acknowledges I have not yet attained, but I’m pressing on! “I confess it, Lord!” And I press on, trusting that He is going to perfect me in love. The interesting thing about it is: As soon as we acknowledge it, He begins to correct us and to teach us!

Now, how can you apply this to yourself? If you just take this teaching, and you walk away and say, “Wow, that was a good teaching brother Chip! Yeah, that’s really great!” But if you don’t, if you can’t, right now, look in your life and say, “How does this apply to me? What are my areas of weakness that I’m defending…” It’s not even trying to fix it. It’s just acknowledging it. And all you have to do is acknowledge it. And once you acknowledge it, once you confess it is sin, then Scripture says that God’s power is perfected in our weakness.[5] God gives you the wisdom, the anointing, the strength, the power, whatever it is you need to understand what’s happening in your life and gives you the power to overcome it. This is Perfection in Love.

I encourage you to apply that to yourself. And that is the process. It’s very simple, but very, very effective. Here’s the neat thing about this. The Spirituality of Imperfection is the only option we have for spiritual maturity because none of us are perfect! It’s the only option! We’re not perfect. We haven’t achieved or attained perfection. The Spirituality of Imperfection is the only option. But I think it’s a great option. If we align ourselves with God’s heart, knowing that God is Love, that His character and nature is mercy and compassion, forgiveness, healing, and deliverance, we can go to Him freely and acknowledge our weaknesses. We can pray with all the more confidence, “Give us our daily bread. Forgive us. Deliver us.” Because we’re not trying to persuade God to do something He is reluctant to do; we are rejoicing and cooperating with God in what He is already inclined to do, what He already wants to do. We are gratefully acknowledging, accepting, and acquiescing to Him on behalf of all people – not just for what God wants for us, but what He wants for all. It is this daily practice of giving and receiving love in the form of forgiveness, grace and mercy that lets us experience in a practical way what it really means to be a king, a priest and a child of a God of Love. The cross teaches us not to avoid weakness, but to accept it, and trust in the Lord to bring strength out of weakness.

The article was adapted from an audio series:
The Deeper Work of the Cross
Listen Now »

[1] Rom. 8:38,39.

[2] Phl. 2:13.

[3] Lk. 9:56.

[4] 2 Sam. 24:14.

[5] 2 Cor. 12:9.

About the Author

CHIP BROGDEN is a best-selling author, teacher, and former pastor. His writings and teachings reach more than 135 nations with a simple, consistent, Christ-centered message focusing on relationship, not religion. Learn more »


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