Progress Over Perfection

How abiding in Christ as one’s perfect righteousness empowers pastors (and everyone else) to abandon perfection while pursuing progress.

Dr. McKay Caston
4 min readFeb 7, 2024

Cross-Tethered Preaching is devoted to helping pastors preach the fullness of God’s grace in Jesus. Subscribe for free, weekly preaching helps.

I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity when I transitioned from church pastor to full-time seminary professor.

But a low-grade anxiety lurked below the surface.

I think it was a residual and besetting fear of failure that has plagued me all my life.

If I understand my personality/temperament “wiring” correctly, one of my fears is lacking competency in areas I want to excel. I don’t care much about being known as a fisherman, carpenter, musician (as much as I admire those folks), or anything else — just fill in the blank.

I’ve wanted to be a good leader, preacher, and pastor.

Criticize my hack guitar skills. No biggie. Point out a flaw in a sermon and I’m likely to beat myself up mentally for the homiletical defect, obsessing over the exposure of imperfection until I prove myself competent and worthy of praise in the next sermon. Of course, this makes preaching more about me than Jesus. My glory, not his. Ugh.

The truth is my leadership, preaching, and pastoring have been criticized at different times to varying degrees.

And rightly so. I am tragically imperfect in every way, not just as a pastor or professor but as a human.

What makes me think I will not be as imperfect in my new context with the seminary? Thankfully, Metro Atlanta Seminary is strong on grace, and while encouraging faculty and staff to make progress, they do not demand nor expect perfection. There is a big difference.

Progress versus perfection.

What an important distinction for the disciple of Jesus. Yes, the law of God demands moral perfection. That is the bad news. The good news is Jesus, with perfect obedience to the law, achieved moral perfection, which now is credited to those who believe upon Jesus as Justifier, whereby a sinner is forgiven of all failure and receives Jesus’ moral record as their own before heaven.

Remember, in the gospel, we do not achieve perfection. We receive it.

Now, without the pressure of perfection to attain, we may pursue progress.

Theologically, we call this progressive sanctification — a moving forward in conformity to loving as Jesus loves as we progressively surrender the flesh to the will and wisdom of King Jesus. Sometimes, the process moves very slowly. Sometimes, two steps forward and a step back. Sometimes, three steps back. Or more.

Nevertheless, over time, we progress as we learn greater dependency on God’s grace not only to save us but to sustain and change us. As someone said, “I’m not where I was ten years ago and not where I’ll be in ten years.”

If Jesus is committed enough to work for me, he will be faithful to work in me, too.

This is why abiding in him as my perfect righteousness is critical, regardless of my role. This cannot be overstated: abiding is the most important part of every believer’s experience, regardless of our distinctive vocational callings. After all, Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

Indeed, for the believer, all is grace.

As I rest in the justifying merits of Christ, new desires bubble to the surface of my heart. I begin to desire progress, not from guilt or fear but in response to love. If the declaration of justification can be understood as definitive sanctification (where we stand in grace positionally), our forward movement is called progressive sanctification (where we walk in grace experientially). As we walk by grace, abiding in Jesus’ perfect gift-righteousness, the indwelling Holy Spirit empowers a disciple’s life from the inside out, rewiring our motives and granting new abilities.

And wonder of wonders, we begin to see progress! He enables us to love like Jesus, experience peace, manifest kindness, repent and forgive… and write helpful doctoral curricula, effectively lead seminars, mentor students, teach, etc. Or whatever it is he has called you to do.

So, what about you? What is it that you feel the pressure to perfect?

In Jesus, we have been set free.

One benefit of this glorious freedom is that you and I may confidently abandon self-righteous dreams of perfection and freely pursue progress.

I wonder how believing that would affect my internal struggles with my anxious fear of incompetency, failure, and imperfection.

Probably a lot — and for the better.

Now, we are making progress.

Cross-Tethered Preaching is devoted to helping pastors preach the fullness of God’s grace in Jesus. Subscribe for free, weekly preaching helps.

When you’re ready, feel free to check out my full preaching course here.



Dr. McKay Caston

I create resources to help folks tether their lives to the cross of the risen and reigning Jesus |