This time of year, you hear it all the time: “Do you want to go do such-and-such fun thing tonight?” “No, sorry, I’m writing a thesis.” “Let’s have lunch sometime!” “No, sorry, I’m writing a thesis.” “Are you ever going to do your laundry?” “No, sorry, I’m writing a thesis.” And yet, if other thesis writers are anything like me (and I think they are—human nature can’t be that divergent), there must be legions of seniors out there, theses open in the back window of their laptops, reading xkcd and summaries of movies on Wikipedia. We’ve completely cleared our schedules to take care of the one big thing in our lives right now, but we can’t bring ourselves to work on it.
I wouldn’t be surprised if our moral lives are very similar. “Could you be a little kinder to your roommate?” “No, sorry, I have to be perfect as my Father in heaven is perfect.” We let the enormity of what we have been called to do paralyze us, so that in the end we can’t do anything. We think we have to convert a million people, so we never mention to anyone that we’re Christian; we think we have to be absolutely pure in our thoughts, so we don’t even try to stop telling off-color jokes; we think we have to feel the presence of God every second of every day, so we don’t set aside time to pray. Our small efforts are tiny compared to what we need, and so we don’t even try.
I have good news for you, and I have bad news. The bad news is that realizing that nothing we can do can make us perfect doesn’t let us off the hook. We really do have to share the Gospel whenever possible, and be absolutely pure, and pray constantly. Christ’s death and resurrection wasn’t just a get-out-of-jail-free card, so that it doesn’t matter any more that we can’t live up to his standard. We can’t just try our best with what we have and rest assured that our best is good enough for God. We have called to be perfect, and God means what he says.
The good news is that God has promised that he will make us perfect. It is actually a terribly weak view of the cross that the point of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection was to forgive us our sins. Of course that was part of what he did. Of course without that forgiveness—both for our past sins and for our present failings—we wouldn’t be able to do anything to please God. But that’s only the tiniest part of what Christ did for us. After forgiveness, he gave us a new birth, a new life. He made us citizens of his kingdom, and sent his Spirit to us so that we can live as true inhabitants of that land. The Holy Spirit is powerful, and is with us always—and we are gravely mistaken if we think that all he can do is give us some vague inspiration to live a better life. The Holy Spirit will give us the strength and courage actually to be perfect—if we ask him to, and the live as though we trust him to carry out his promises.
I’m not there yet. I don’t think any of us are. But the way to let the Spirit make us perfect—make us those citizens of the Kingdom of God that we were created to be—is not to ask him to instantaneously change us into spiritual heroes. Instead, it is to take those tasks that have been given to us in the here and now—the kind word to the roommate, the time for prayer at the end of the day, the conversation about Christ in the dining hall—and ask him for strength to carry those few things out. That won’t be the end of it, of course; but when start with those small things that have been given to us, the impossible will, with God’s help, become possible.