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Musings of an Imperfect Perfectionist

For years, friends and sometimes even acquaintances have nick-named me “Sweet Sam” — sometimes “Sweet Samantha Swanson” because the alliteration is just too good. I like to think the nickname rings true to my general demeanor. But man, there are days when I’m anything but sweet. I feel like some sort of internal switch goes off and suddenly “Sweet Sam” is replaced by “Sarcastic, Snappy Sam,” and I become absolutely unrecognizable, even to myself. 

Sometimes, I don’t put a finger on the pride, entitlement, or bitterness growing within me until it spills out in a stream of uncalled for accusations or sarcastic remarks. I always know I have a heart problem going on by the words that come out of my mouth. 

Recently, the perfectionist in me has been more frustrated than usual by my (many) imperfections—my sin. 

Sin is invasive and relentless. It’s destructive and addictive. The possibility of sin is all around us and within us. I understand that we’re human and we simply can’t escape it fully on this side of eternity. But this got me thinking, if sin is such a big problem, why do we as the Church talk so little about it? 

I think there are many reasons, but that’s too much to go into for one post. For today, let’s keep it simple: 

One reason we don’t talk about sin? We’ve confused our call. 

We as Christians are called to be holy. In fear of becoming legalistic, however, we’ve made out “holy” to be a bad word—a word stark full of negative connotations. We associate “holy” with “stuck-up, hypocritical, and fake.” 

Truth is, we should be wary of legalism. So many have been hurt because of it. We as Christians often carry a negative reputation because we set up all these rules for what it looks like to be saved (and we present ourselves as if we’re following every one of these rules to a T) while simultaneously failing to address our heart issues that remain alive and well behind closed doors. This is not what we’ve been called to. This facade is a far cry from true holiness. 

We often fail to mention that sin hurts. It hurts us individually, it hurts those around us, it hurts the very heart of God. It’s something we’ve got to address. So while it may feel more comfortable to avoid the conversation altogether, my hope is that we can step back and look at this biblical call to holiness from a healthier, more accurate point of view. 

In the book of Ephesians, you’ll find a long list of sins in chapter five (Ephesians 5:1-20). As a rule-following perfectionist, I read lists like these and find it easy to slip into legalistic thinking. What rules can I set in place so I don’t miss the mark? I, however, happen to be an “imperfect perfectionist.” I can set up all the right rules and still — I’m bound to fall short. It’s easy for me to forget that this kind of legalistic approach isn’t actually what this passage is about.

That said, to determine what this passage is actually about, we’ve got to read it in the context of the entire book.

Earlier in his letter, Paul establishes a very important truth: He tells the believers of Ephesus (in paraphrase): You used to be dead in your sin, now you are alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-10).

Their entire world flipped upside down with their decision to follow Christ. That’s what the first half of Paul’s letter is all about. They are alive! They’re no longer stuck in a downward-spiraling cycle of sin. 

And that’s the key. By the time Paul gets to listing off acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, his goal is not to give them a big long checklist for “how to be a good Christian.” Rather, he’s saying: You are already God’s children—saved, redeemed, forgiven. Now live like that’s true. (Ephesians 1:1-14).

Your identity has already changed; your life must follow suit. 

This identity change doesn’t make us less human—we will still sin. But the book of Ephesians helps us shift our approach to sin. We don’t need to fall into the trap of legalism. Neither must we remain stuck in or overwhelmed by guilt and shame. (Remember that new identity? Saved, redeemed, forgiven. See Ephesians 1:1-14.)

We can approach the Christian’s call to holiness not as a burden, but as an invitation to live as children of God—as people who are alive in Christ.

Samantha fell in love with the Bible's storyline of redemption as a 19-year-old college freshman. Now, she writes to help women deepen their faith and find hope through this story. She loves following winding mountain trails, curling up with a good book, and laughing so hard her face hurts. :)

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