Imperfect People in an Imperfect World


By Scott Yi



God isn’t looking for perfect people. He’s not looking for saints. He’s not looking for the most righteous people to accomplish his goals. He’s looking for tough people, people who are willing to do what it takes to accomplish his mission. Just think about all the types of people God decided to work with throughout biblical history. Abraham, a polygamist. Noah, a drunkard. David, an adulterer. Jonah, a racist. Paul, a terrorist. It’s not a controversial thing to say that God works through sinners. God works through normal, everyday, imperfect people. In fact, in many circumstances, God decides to work through objectively terrible people. That means all of us, every single one of us, has the potential to become great through God’s transcendent grace.


I’ve noticed that a lot of Christians have this misconception. They think that, in order to be effective for Jesus, they’ve got to have everything figured out. They’ve got to look a certain way, and act a certain way, and talk a certain way. They’ve got to have scriptures memorized, they’ve got to be able to pray eloquently, and they’ve got to be socially outgoing. Those are the kinds of Christians that God wants to use, we think to ourselves. But that’s not what we see in Scripture. God uses imperfect people for an imperfect world. Now, it should be noted that we can’t keep living in sin and expect anything to change. God does call us to holiness. But it’s not our holiness that makes us good workers. It’s not our character that will guarantee success. It’s about our willingness to trust in God and dedicate our lives completely to him. So for anyone who is troubled by the mediocre outlook of your spiritual résumé: you don’t need to be a good person to do evangelism. You don’t need to be a good person in order to help other people. You don’t need to be a good person to be a good Christian! Walk alongside God, and he’ll take care of the rest.


Sinners as saints


I’ve been a minister of Jesus for a few years now, and the honest truth is that, as much as I see my words and my vision inspiring other people, there seems to be just as many times that I’m inadvertently upsetting people instead. One of the stories that often comes to mind is Acts 15:36-41. This is imperfect people trying to serve God in an imperfect world. What we see here is the great apostle Paul getting into a fight, a heated argument, with one of his best friends. Paul and Barnabas were the all-star team of the early church. Think Kobe & Shaq. Paul & Barnabas were the very first ones to go out into the Gentile world. They were pioneers.


They were winning entire cities to the Gospel. But in this passage, the all-star team suddenly breaks up. They break up because they have a difference of opinion about Barnabas’ cousin, John Mark. It says in verse 39 that “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.” The Greek word used for “disagreement” is paroxysmos. Paroxysmos has connotations of shouting and losing control of your emotions. So this wasn’t a polite debate, but rather a bad break-up. It’s just like every other ugly conflict you might have seen or experienced in the church. It just goes to show, the apostles were not angels. They were still learning how to be good. They continued to sin, and they continued to mess up. But thank God that it’s not saints who are called to go on mission, but sinners. If I were to list all the ways that I’ve screwed up or failed at doing ministry, I could easily have a book ready to publish. Like Paul, I’ve annoyed people. I’ve made people angry at me. All I’ve ever wanted to be is helpful, but instead I’ve often stepped on other people’s toes and hurt their feelings. After all the mistakes I’ve made, I like to think that I’ve learned how to be better. But sometimes, it just feels like we discover new ways of screwing up. Amazingly, God still uses us, as imperfect as we are. God still calls us to the mission, despite our sinfulness.


It’s about trust, not just “being good”


Now there’s only one reason why this could be. It’s not about being good. It’s not about being successful. It’s all about trust. We are called to be boldly led by our faith, and we trust in God to take care of the rest. So don’t think that serving God is a matter of whether you can do it or not. If you think like that, it can cripple you into never doing anything for Jesus. The point isn’t whether “you can do it.” The point is: “HE can do it in you.”


We know that he can work in us, because that’s exactly what happened to Paul, Barnabas, and Mark. You see, even though we never get the full details, there’s enough bits and pieces in the New Testament that we can figure out where the story goes later in their lives. Paul eventually reconciles with Barnabas and Mark. In his letters, Paul mentions Barnabas, and he always speaks well of him (Colossians 4:10). John Mark, whom Paul thought to be a hopeless case, eventually does work with Paul again (2 Timothy 4:11). John Mark is so trusted by the apostles that his pool of knowledge and relationships enables him to write the very first Gospel. Don’t get caught up in what you think you can or can’t do. Show up for God, and he’ll take care of the rest. God uses imperfect people to reach an imperfect world.



Can God really use anyone?


How imperfect is imperfect? Is it true that God can really use anybody? Is there a line from which nobody can come back? I want to close by sharing a story about an extremely imperfect person. In the 1990s to early 2000s, there was a civil war in Liberia. Liberians fled from their country, causing a major refugee crisis. What happened in Liberia was that all these different tribes and militias were fighting each other for control of the government. The most violent and most feared of these groups was called the Naked Base Commandos. As with many of the other military groups, the Naked Base Commandos were mainly made up of child soldiers. They were led by a man known as General Butt Naked. His name sounds funny in hindsight, but during the civil war, one European newspaper actually called him the most evil man on the planet. That’s because General Butt Naked was a pagan priest, the kind you might find in the Old Testament. He performed child sacrifices to his blood gods before every battle. He often found his victims by wading in waters where children were known to play. He and his army received their colorful names because they were known to fight in the nude, believing it would activate their black magic. Some people even claim that they shot at General Butt Naked, but the bullets just went through him. He raped and pillaged across Liberia, destroying families and brainwashing children. At an inquisition into his war crimes, General Butt Naked admitted that he was responsible for 20,000 deaths.


I told you that God uses sinners, but can God use a sinner as bad as one like this? This murdering warlord had an unexpected encounter with Jesus Christ. General Butt Naked’s real name is Joshua Blahyi. Joshua Blahyi is now an evangelist, and he goes around his country trying to undo the damage that he and the other warlords had caused. Many of the child soldiers who fought in the war now find themselves ostracized and shamed by their community. Their family members don’t want to speak to them, and nobody wants to hire them. So these ex-soldiers wind up homeless, as they turn to drugs to try to numb all the psychological scars of knowing what they did. Joshua spent the first years of his ministry looking for ex-soldiers, hoping to rehabilitate them, give them job training, and ultimately, to bring them into the family of Jesus. At first, a lot of people believed he was faking his conversion to try to avoid punishment, but Joshua was the only warlord to actually turn himself in and put himself at the mercy of the courts. Every so often on his travels, Joshua will meet someone whose life he had ruined, whose father or sibling or son he had killed, and all he can do is beg forgiveness. He asks them how he can make things right, but of course, he’ll never be able to make things right, when you think about the tens of thousands of lives that were destroyed, and how much that all actually costs. It’s a burden that he’s just going to have to live with. For Joshua Blahyi, things will never feel like they’re perfect.


God can move through you no matter what


If God can work through someone like that, then he can work through someone like you. You don’t have to wait to become a better person, you don’t have to wait to have everything all figured out. All you need to do is trust in him. God is not looking for a church full of talented super Christians to carry out his work. It’s not clergy that God prefers to work through. He wants to work through the laypeople, people who have day jobs, people who are going through struggles, the everyday people. The average layperson comes in contact with non-Christians in a way that most paid church workers do not. God has given you a sphere of influence to identify with certain people and be capable of loving certain people in a way that professional ministers never could. So you might be imperfect, but that doesn’t mean God hasn’t given you purpose. If we are going to reach the world for Christ, you are going to be key.



Scott Yi is the lead pastor of International Alliance Church in Providence, Rhode Island, a multicultural congregation dedicated to empowering the powerless. He graduated from Brown University and received his M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with a specialty in Urban Ministry. Scott is also the director of the Youth Collaborative, a nonprofit that equips urban teens for success through entrepreneurial training and community innovation.


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