My daughters’ math teacher demands that margins are drawn and homework is done in pen. But if your pen wobbles or a mistake is made on problem #13, you can’t cross it out. Correction fluid and erasable pens are forbidden. You must simply pull out a fresh piece of paper and start all over again with problem #1.
More than once, I’ve had a daughter in late-night despair over a smudge or mistake that required a complete redo. The teacher would never collect that less-than-perfect paper and say, “It’s good enough.” He certainly wouldn’t offer to rewrite it for her.
When God says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), we sometimes delude ourselves into thinking he means, “Be good enough.” But when it comes to our sins, even a crooked margin is grounds for condemnation—our selfish prayers, our fair-weather praise, our good works prompted by warped intentions. Our best attempts at doing good are “like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
God’s demand for perfection shouldn’t leave us congratulating ourselves or comparing our grades to someone else’s. It can only leave us in tears, tired, frustrated at our shortcomings, and begging for rescue. Amazingly, God delights in our prayers for mercy. And, unlike certain math teachers, our Father is compassionate and gracious, abounding in love. God himself covers our messes and mistakes with the snow-white record of his Son’s life and innocent death.
When God looks at us, he sees Jesus. And he says, “Perfect.”