When your religion is perfectionism Part 4

Take time to read Romans 4 again and meditate upon it today. Today’s article is the final one on the religion of perfectionism. In other words, a religion of perfectionism is having a religion that is dependent upon me being flawless and sinless.

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
(Romans 4:1-8)

The person “who does not work” here in Romans 4 means the person who did not work everything perfectly under the law. Paul is not saying you don’t have to obey God. Grace is not a license to sin and live how we please (Read Romans 6). What he is saying is that David sought to live by God’s law, and it was clear he loved God’s law (Psalm 119). However, David found himself in need of grace because of his breaking of God’s law. He could not “work” his way to salvation. David was in a wretched and broken state before God (Psalm 32 and 51). So when God said to David, “Your sins are forgiven,” (2 Samuel 12:13), David could praise God with the knowledge of how blessed he was to be forgiven by God. David, even in the Old Testament, was saved by grace through faith, not by perfectly keeping the Law of Moses. David and Abraham were “counted” as “righteous” because they trusted in God. Their righteousness was from God, not from their flawless adherence to the Law.

Think of how this heart of living under grace and walking in trust of a loving Father will transform how you see everything. If you are walking by grace through faith, knowing God shelters you with His mercy as you seek to walk beside Him, how will you then begin to see others in your life? How then will you see your spouse? What will that do for how you parent your children? Will this change how you see your brothers and sisters in your congregation? Does this living under grace and walking by trusting a merciful and kind Father transform how you deal with people at work? You see, it changes everything. Our whole beings are transformed by grace, and only then can we truly love and accept the people around us (Romans 15:7).

Here is one final passage:

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.
(Titus 3:1-8)

When your religion is perfectionism Part 3

Take time to read Romans 4 again and meditate upon it today. We are continuing our focus on the religion of perfectionism. In other words, a religion of perfectionism is having a religion that is dependent upon me being flawless and sinless.

So for today, consider a few questions:

Think about it, do you really believe that Jesus went through all that agony at the cross so that you could live your life in constant uncertainty and spiritual torment?  Our Lord did not suffer so that you and I would live a life without hope, joy and peace. Jesus did not present Himself flawless before God so that we could drive ourselves and others mad trying to be flawless.

When you think of God and the Judgment Day, what comes to mind? Think of that day when you will see God face to face. What thoughts come to your head? If all you have is fear and anxiety about that, then please consider how your thinking about God (and yourself) needs to change. “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). God wants His people to have confidence, peace and no fear regarding the day of judgment. 1 John 4 is very plain about that.

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.
(1 John 4:15-19)

What is your motivation for your works for God? Two Christians can do the very same deeds and works, but have two very different motivations for them. One does them out of gratitude for God’s grace, and another is trying not to get zapped so he can “somehow” make it to heaven. Striving to be holy like God should be a motivation borne out of deep love for God. This motivation is nothing like working to be flawless to “earn” salvation from God (Titus 2:11-15; 1 Peter 1:13-25).

One final article on this to come tomorrow, Lord willing.

When your religion is perfectionism Part 2

Take time to read Romans 4 again and meditate upon it today. We are continuing our focus on the religion of perfectionism. In other words, a religion of perfectionism is having a religion that is dependent upon me being flawless and sinless.

God is holy and just. He demands obedience. The Bible is plain on that. I think many of us know that very well. But that is not the whole picture of the Bible. The God of the Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, is also a God of grace, mercy and lovingkindness. Here are some passages to help us remember other aspects of God’s nature and how it is connected to our salvation, joy and peace.

It is His goodness/kindness that should also lead us to repentance.

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
(Romans 2:4)

It is His grace that teaches us to live godly lives and do good works for God.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
(Titus 2:11-15)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
(Ephesians 2:8-10)

It is the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses you from all sin today, not the list of good deeds you were able to check off today. It is the blood of Jesus that brings you near to God, not your ability to do it all by the book.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
(1 John 1:7)

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
(Ephesians 2:13)

It is Jesus’ righteousness, not yours, that will save you.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
(Romans 5:18-19)

…and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith (Philippians 3:9)

It is the peace of Jesus Christ freely given to you at the cross. In Jesus is the peace, not in your perfect law-keeping.

for He himself is our peace… (Ephesians 2:14) 

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
(John 16:33)

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
(Romans 5:1-2)

More to come tomorrow, Lord willing.

When your religion is perfectionism Part 1

Take time to read Romans 4. Meditate upon it today. We are going to focus for a few days on the religion of perfectionism. In other words, a religion of perfectionism is having a religion that is dependent upon me being flawless and sinless.

In order to please God with a religion of perfectionism, you have to be completely perfect. Flawless. Sinless. Perfection. And if you are able to pull that off (which you won’t), then God owes you a debt. It is no longer salvation by grace through faith. When your religion is perfectionism, it affects every aspect of your being, including your relationships.

To whom do you turn when you have a theology of perfectionism? Well, you will turn to God, but how do you see Him? Is He always angry at you? Are you trying constantly to apologize to keep Him from punishing you in His wrath because you will never be good enough?

You could turn to religion, doing all kinds of great works, but why are you doing them? Are you doing these works out of a response to God’s grace, or are you trying to earn God’s favor? Are you doing these works to evoke positive responses from people so you can feel approved and accepted?

This might hit home for you. I know a lot of people, including myself, who  struggle with this. If that is the case for you, you need to rethink your theology. This kind of religion is a soul-crushing, burdensome, suffocating, anxiety-causing form of Phariseeism. That’s not what the Bible teaches at all. That’s not the God of the Bible, Old Testament or New Testament!

The apostle Paul had the law, and his heart’s desire was to keep it. But in what condition did he find himself? Broken, wretched and in need of deliverance. Why? Because he could not have peace with God (nor with himself) by keeping the law flawlessly. The moment you mess up once you have ruined your chances. The deliverance and freedom from condemnation came through Jesus, not through Paul.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 7:21 – 8:4)

Yes, we are commanded to keep God’s commandments (John 14:15). Yes, God demands holiness (1 Peter 1:16-17), there is no doubt. And yes, we do work to please God out of reverence and godly fear (Hebrews 12:28-29), but that is not all! That is not the complete picture!

More to come tomorrow, Lord willing.

My “Perfect” Life

Happy Anniversary – My “Perfect” Life

All you married couples, have you ever felt the pressure? You know what pressure I mean, the pressure for a “perfect” relationship. And “perfect” is defined in many different ways by many different sources. It starts when we are very young, watching all the Disney movies where the characters find their “one true love” and live “happily ever after”. Every young girl grows up looking for her knight in shining armor to sweep her off her feet. The pressure continues to be applied by romance novels, romantic comedies, TV sitcoms, reality TV like the Bachelor, and every other form of media you can think of.

By the time we are young adults we’ve been convinced that there is one true “soulmate” out there for us and like Jerry Maguire we want the one person that “completes us”. Once we meet that special someone our attention turns to the “perfect” proposal (captured on video and spread over all forms of social media), the “perfect” wedding with the “perfect” dress, etc., etc., etc. As newlyweds we expect every day to be filled with romance and excitement and adventure and passion. As we live our lives and experience the reality of hardships and struggles, the “perfect” relationship continues to be thrown in our face by all our friends on Facebook who have better houses, better vacations, better kids, better cars, better, better, better.

We live our lives buying into this illusion of the “perfect” relationship, wondering what is wrong with us or with our spouse. We might even start playing the game ourselves, presenting our own relationship as some fairy tale story where every day is better than the last. Unfortunately reality will eventually overwhelm the illusion and that is when many people quit, get divorced, and start looking for someone else…their new true soulmate that actually completes them…this time…not like last time…it will be different…you’ll see.

19 years ago, on August 2, 1997, Kristine and I were married in Livonia, MI. Over the last 19 years I’ve learned a great deal about the “perfect” relationship and I’d like to share my insights. Let me start with a little transparency, at the risk of TMI, and shed some light on Kristine’s knight in shining armor.

  • I’m pretty disgusting. For example, I can go for a long run in 90 degree heat with 65% humidity and be perfectly content not showering for the rest of the day. I know some of you gagged when you read that.
  • I’m pretty sure I’ve got ADHD. At any given moment I’ll have 5 or 6 projects going that I’m “really, really excited about” and I’ll usually complete at least two of them. Kristine is constantly putting up with my “passion of the week”. I’m like a squirrel on crack.
  • I sure can be a big moody baby. I’ll be going along all happy go lucky and one thing won’t go my way and I can turn into a little spoiled brat.
  • I’m a bit of a control freak. And when I say “a bit” I mean I really, really, really like to be in control. You can all imagine how much fun that is to live with.

Now I could go on and on, but you get the picture. I could also list just as many of Kristine’s more “charming” characteristics that are such a joy to live with (sarcasm intended), but I’ve already told you I’ve been married 19 years so I’m not stupid enough to do that. In addition to listing some difficult personality traits, I could tell of fights and arguments and struggles and sin and selfishness and bitterness and all the other experiences that make up a marriage with any mileage behind it. But with all that being said, we still have the “perfect” relationship and let me define that for you.

Our relationship is perfect because no matter how bad the fight or how big the disagreement, I know that even if we have to walk away for a bit that we will come back together and work through it. It is perfect, not because every day is warm and fuzzy but because every day is filled with the little sacrifices that demonstrate love.

I see perfection when Kristine takes a deep sigh and cleans my crumbs off the counter even though she’s asked me a thousand times to clean up after myself. I notice perfection when she’s had a rough and chaotic day and I stop what I’m doing to do the dishes and sweep the floor because I know that those two things will bring a sense of order back to her life. The perfect relationship is when we laugh during the mundane routines of life and we turn a trip to the grocery store with no kids into a “romantic” date night.

Our relationship is perfect because we are learning to let go of ridiculous expectations and show each other grace. Our relationship is perfect because when I look back over 19 years I see failure and sorrow and disappointment and frustration, but most of all I see growth. Our relationship is perfect because Kristine loves God more than she loves me. Our relationship is perfect because I love God more than I love her. Our relationship is perfect because we are committed to Christ and to each other no matter what comes our way.