Do we have to be perfect to be accepted by God?
If a father asked his small son to walk towards him, and his son stood up, took a few steps then fell over, got up again, took a few more steps, fell over again, got up again and finally reached his dad, would you say he disobeyed his father because he fell over a couple of times? Of course not. His father would be pleased with his son for trusting him and trying his hardest. He would regard that trusting and trying as obedience.
Does that mean God is satisfied with anything less than perfect obedience? Not at all. Just because God is pleased with our attempts to put Jesus words into practice, does not mean he approves of everything we do. (Good parents accept their children even though they don't approve of everything they do.) God will not approve of everything we do until we are literally like Christ. He will not be satisfied until he has finished making us. God's acceptance is unconditional; his approval is not.
It is a fundamental mistake to think that we must be perfect before we can be accepted by God. We don't have to be perfect to be accepted by God, we only have to trust him. Abraham was not a perfect man; but he trusted God and God regarded that as righteousness.
It is true that we are slaves to sin and need God's help. We are morally sick and in need of healing. But that does not mean God cannot look upon us until we are perfect. He loves us just as we are. And because he loves us he will save us from sin.
“No man can do yet what he tells him aright--but are you trying? Obedience is not perfection, but trying. You count him a hard master, and will not stir. Do you suppose he ever gave a commandment knowing it was of no use for it could not be done? He tells us a thing knowing that we must do it, or be lost; that not his Father himself could save us but by getting us at length to do everything he commands, for not otherwise can we know life, can we learn the holy secret of divine being. He knows that you can try, and that in your trying and failing he will be able to help you, until at length you shall do the will of God even as he does it himself. He takes the will in the imperfect deed, and makes the deed at last perfect. Correctest notions without obedience are worthless. The doing of the will of God is the way to oneness with God, which alone is salvation. Sitting at the gate of heaven, sitting on the footstool of the throne itself, yea, clasping the knees of the Father, you could not be at peace, except in their every vital movement, in every their smallest point of consciousness, your heart, your soul, your mind, your brain, your body, were one with the living God. If you had one brooding thought that was not a joy in him, you would not be at peace; if you had one desire you could not leave absolutely to his will you would not be at peace; you would not be saved, therefore could not feel saved. God, all and in all, ours to the fulfilling of our very being, is the religion of the perfect, son- hearted Lord Christ.
Well do I know it is faith that saves us--but not faith in any work of God--it is faith in God himself. If I did not believe God as good as the tenderest human heart, the fairest, the purest, the most unselfish human heart could imagine him, yea, an infinitude better, higher than we as the heavens are higher than the earth--believe it, not as a proposition, or even as a thing I was convinced of, but with the responsive condition and being of my whole nature; if I did not feel every fibre of heart and brain and body safe with him because he is the Father who made me that I am--I would not be saved, for this faith is salvation; it is God and the man one. God and man together, the vital energy flowing unchecked from the creator into his creature--that is the salvation of the creature. But the poorest faith in the living God, the God revealed in Christ Jesus, if it be vital, true, that is obedient, is the beginning of the way to know him, and to know him is eternal life." (From the Sermon “The Truth in Jesus” in Unspoken Sermons by George MacDonald).
The Bible is very clear about this. God is pleased with us when we trust and obey him (see here).
We don't have to be perfect to be accepted by God, but because God loves us he will eventually make us as brave, honest, fair and kind as Jesus. Only then will we be all we were meant to be. Only then will we be perfectly free. But we cannot be free without God's help.
"...the greater perfection a soul aspires after, the more dependent it is upon Divine grace."
- Brother Lawrence
"The impossibility of doing what we would as we would, drives us to look for help." - George MacDonald
We cannot become as brave, loving, honest and as kind as Jesus without prayer. (And to deny that we can become perfect with God's help is to deny God. See Philippians 4:13.)
Now some who have read this may be thinking, "But God is just. What about a person's past sins?" To them I would ask the question, "If love keeps no record of wrongs, why should you be worried about your past sins?" Jesus lived, died, and rose from the dead so that men might trust his Father as he did when he walked this earth. God is not interested in punishing sin. He is only interested in destroying it and in so doing, setting people free. When a person begins to trust him, that has begun to happen. (We should not be surprised that so many in the church believe that someone must suffer for sins for justice to be done. Many of the reformers were lawyers. They read into the Bible man's idea of justice. And being lawyers they were able to argue persuasively, hence the wide acceptance of many of the things they taught. No doubt they meant well, but that does not mean they have rightly represented God's character.) God's justice is not like man's justice.
Note: I am not saying that Jesus did not suffer at the hands of sinful men. See Three questions about the atonement. What I am saying is if we love God more than we love church unity, we will do what the Bereans did and examine the scriptures to see if there is scriptural support for this position (see Acts 17:11).