Grace and the Illusion of Perfection

First, I think you should know some things about this article in the interest of full disclosure.

1. I am a huge fan of an in-state college football team, but my thoughts really aren’t connected to that, or sports, in any way, shape, form or fashion.

2. I actually attended the university where this person worked, but you will find no evidence of an actual connection past May 1988. No bias there.

3. I actually know the person involved. I don’t have a close relationship with him. Our lives touched tangentially almost three decades ago. We played flag football together in college. I coached his girlfriend in flag football. (Incidentally, she was a great quarterback.) Another girl that came looking for him, because he was her only connection at a brand new school in a place far from home, started going to the Baptist Student Union. That girl became my girlfriend. We went on at least one double date with our girlfriends. Those girlfriends became our wives. We graduated, we got married, and we lived separate lives.

4. I have told stories about our time together, mainly because I tell long stories that I hope to get a laugh. I have a lot of stories. 

5. These stories led some dear friends to try their hardest to reunite us, some twenty five years (approximately) removed from our last conversation. We had another conversation. It was less than five minutes long. Someone took a picture of us. We left. No big deal.

I’m talking about Hugh Freeze.

I’m writing about him and his current situation now (early in the morning) so that no one can claim this is a response to some other article or interview. It’s strictly from the heart. 

I have a couple of associated fears about this situation. First, the primary “breaking news” stories have included some mention of his faith. The way it’s mentioned is the way the culture loves to respond when believers experience moral failure. They see it as a means to argue that we’re not quite as perfect as we think they are. I fear we’ll see much more of that over the following weeks and months. 

Second, the church’s (all believers) response may or may not send the message that we as believers actually think we’re perfect. We have a history of shooting our wounded. Our historic responses over similar situations lead to blog battles, wars of words, and theological rhetoric.

I feel compelled to respond in a manner that informs our walk with Christ.

If we actually believe the grace we preach, we must respond with grace. I’m afraid we’ll discuss the sin committed more than the grace available. I’m afraid an inordinate number of Sunday morning sermons will focus more on adultery than forgiveness. We can’t do that. 

There are growing numbers of people my age and younger that believe and teach the concept that once you’re saved, you stop sinning. Many of them believe that not based on the Bible, but because the preacher or theologian they read said it was biblical. That’s also a moral failure. Read your Bible, and show me where it says that. Don’t quote me single verses. Show me context, and read your whole Bible. I think you’ll get the point.

The culture interprets us as saying we’re perfect, and they aren’t. The culture sees our focus on preaching about sin, and that concept is affirmed. They see us seeking political solutions to spiritual problems, and it’s reinforced. They hear us insisting that they should share and adopt our values, and it’s solidified. I think this demonstrates that we have misinterpreted the culture as much as the culture has misinterpreted us.

If we as believers don’t respond with grace, we continue to put the culture we’re supposed to reach with the gospel beyond our reach. We don’t condone moral failure, but we affirm that it happens, and there is grace for the believer. We demonstrate the action of the gospel by acting like we’re not perfect. Our journey with Christ began with a confession that we needed forgiveness of our sins. We still need that forgiveness.

If we preach about Jesus and Peter having a restorative conversation in John 21, and we hear that same Jesus predicting that moral failure, yet telling him in that same context that he didn’t need a full body washing, the message can’t be that we’re perfect. We’re still robed in human flesh, so we won’t be perfect until we see Christ face to face.

If Jesus sought to save the life of an adulterous woman, and He did so by asking a pointed question to those who claimed outrage over her sin, don’t you think He advocates forgiveness. Someone may leave a comment or think in a condescending manner that Jesus told her to go and sin no more. I would point out that he didn’t say go and be perfect. 

Someone might quote that Jesus said that we show our love for Him by obeying His commands. I would respond that He also defined sin in a way that goes beyond mere functional obedience. He defined sin as part of our predisposition to sin, and exposed our inability to live perfectly, as was the point of His detractors. 

If we actually believe in the eternal security of the believer, we can’t say that a believer’s sin isn’t covered by the same grace issued at salvation. We can’t try to quantify one person’s sin, believer or not, as greater or lesser than our own. Jesus’ accusation wasn’t “Let him who has never committed adultery cast the first stone.” He said, “Let him who has no sin cast the first stone.” He also shared a parable on forgiveness that highlighted the need for the one who has been forgiven much to forgive those who sin against him.

I don’t claim this as an exhaustive reference work on grace. I’m sure anyone else could read this and refute my arguments. I don’t claim the status of theologian or biblical scholar. I do claim the status of sinner saved by grace. I claim the status of one who is far from perfect and in great need of the grace offered by Christ. I believe that if I’m called to share a gospel of grace, I have to exercise it in a manner that demonstrates to the world that grace is available, and you can’t be perfect. 

What should our response be to all of this? I can speak for me. I don’t condone what Hugh is accused of doing. I do believe he’s already forgiven. I believe I’m called to live out that forgiveness by not hammering him and adding to the public flogging he is already experiencing. 

I believe we support him in a restorative manner. We call him to repentance if evidence shows he hasn’t, but we accept his testimony of repentance when it comes. I believe it will come soon.

 I think we should have already prayed for him, for Jill, and for his daughters. They need grace and comfort in a dark time. I hope people who love them are already surrounding them with love and support. 

I hope one day he can share how God moved in a restorative manner. I hope all the people with whom he has shared the gospel will see the church and its response to this as redemptive and fully in line with everything they’ve heard about this Jesus, and they’ll follow Him.

I hope we realize that the only hope the church has for transmitting the message of the gospel isn’t only by talking about it. We have to live it.

I don’t know that Hugh will ever read this. Maybe only four or five people will ever read it. I felt compelled to offer an alternative to what I fear might happen. As for me, I feel compelled to live out grace. If you ever read this Hugh, I promise I will be praying for you.

2 thoughts on “Grace and the Illusion of Perfection

  1. And I thought it was about recruiting violations with visions of painful program sanctions!

    My immediate gracious thought goes to wive and daughters! And hope that this family can remain together and grow from the hurt!

    Nutt seems to have gotten the last laugh in this tit-for-tat!

    It takes a spiritual sense of humor to envision Les Miles ending up the winner in all of this!!


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