Finding God's Winning Spirit

Unobtainable Perfection

January 19, 2015 | Greg Smith | Focus


In the movie Tin Cup a struggling golf pro named Roy McAvoy (played by Kevin Costner) describes the golf swing to one of his students (Rene Russo) this way, “Pulled into position not by the hands, but by the body which turns away from the target shifting weight to the right side without shifting balance. Tempo is everything; perfection unobtainable…”  Ben Hogan, some say the best ball-striker of all time, once said this about golf, “This is a game of misses. The guy who misses the best is going to win.”

Unobtainable perfection is a troubling term for anyone who believes that self-worth only comes from what is personally accomplished or achieved. The idea that I can one day become perfect, or worse yet that I am already perfect, is a trap and a colossal waste of time and energy – perfection is literally unobtainable.  Roy McAvoy and Ben Hogan would agree that you must love the game for the games sake, not because you will ever master it.

Athletically speaking, perfection is a mirage in the desert.  For the athlete unobtainable perfection means they will have to live on self-forgiveness and perseverance.  My golf coach once told me, “A bad shot tells you what you did wrong and what you need to work on.  If you get obsessed with being perfect you will miss the opportunity to learn from your imperfections”.  The successful athlete grows in the good times and bad knowing that falling short can prepare them for the next contest.  The mature athlete, no matter what has been achieved, is always trying to improve. They pursue perfection knowing that even though it is unobtainable they are maximizing their potential to be the best they can be.

For Christians unobtainable perfection is about “works vs grace” theology. One of the hardest theological concepts to get our heads around is the doctrine of works vs grace.  We are not, and in this life will never be, perfect. Those of us who feel that our salvation hinges on our ability to be perfect are mistaken and inappropriately motivated. Telling ourselves that we can obtain salvation through perfection (works) not only "straps us the wheel" it negates God’s grace and the need for Christ. This subtle pursuit of perfection goes against the theological truth that “no matter what we do we are unworthy and fall short”.

Our charge to “rely Christ and not ourselves” is one of the clearest and most often penned warnings in Scripture. Two passages (which you are familiar with) come to mind here. One is Philippians 3:12-14 which says,” Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect: but I press on, so that t I may lay hold on to that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus”.  The second is Ephesians 2:8-9,” For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast”.

Both of these passages push us away from one thing and toward another – away from our own importance (what we can do) and toward God’s grace (what He has done). In the Christian life, as in sports, perfection can be pursed as long as we know it is unobtainable.   We need to embrace the journey (game) knowing that through the good and bad times two things are true: First, It is through our imperfection that we grow, and secondly, our falling short reminds us of the importance of God’s unconditional love.

Like McAvoy and Hogan we should love living the Christian life even though we cannot perfect it. When you think about it, the good thing about never reaching perfection is that each day provides us with the opportunity to get, and be, better.    

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