Posts Tagged ‘perfection’

Be Perfect

November 15th, 2017

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27)

The only moral standard given in the Bible is one of absolute perfection, the perfection found in God Himself.

Only the righteousness of Christ saves us from sin: Seeking to be perfect in our personal morality has never been God’s path for our salvation. At no time in salvation history do we find an era or a dispensation wherein God accepts us as righteous based merely on our personal performance. The ancients went to God through burnt offerings. From Abel on there was the understanding that only through the shedding of blood could we be saved, could we be acceptable to God. All of the sacrifices of animals pre-figured Christ, who is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

None of us is able to obey perfectly. Our problem is our old Adamic nature, the fallen nature of all humans, that drags us down. Not even the Old Testament Law made us perfect. We may know the commands of God, but we do not live by them all the time. This was God’s plan in sending Christ. We need saving and Christ is God’s Savior for us, as we read: “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2:21 ESV). We are only acceptable through the grace of God in Christ, and not through our personal moral efforts.

Only the pure in heart see God: We would do well in this passage to examine the context and remember that Christ placed this statement in the Sermon on the Mount, which began with the Beatitudes. Among them He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). The Pharisees taught that the heart did not matter, all the mattered was being outwardly obedient. “Better to watch your mouth than your heart” was their thinking. Christ reversed this thinking and said that heart is where life is lived, “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a person (Matt. 15:18).

So the great need we have to be holy is answered not by our personal efforts, but by our heart’s obedience first. Then God calls us to choose to obey Him.

But God still calls us to be perfect: We are given a new way to live in Christ, the way of life in the Spirit. Romans 8 is the great chapter of the Bible that explains this principle.

For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. (Romans 8:5-6 KJV)

These two verses have given rise to many interpretations. I have often sat in the presence of someone seeking to make sense of this – and doing a rather poor job, I might add – by saying such things as “we just need to let go and let God” or “God will do it, we just need to get out of the way.” I suppose on some level those words could make sense, but, more often than not, they tend to lead to a lot of confusion. They suggest that we have no part in this matter, but that God will do it separately from our own choice.

Whatever we may believe about predestination, election, and the foreknowledge of God, whatever position we take in this matter – and there are many to choose from – no place does the Word of God remove from us our responsibility to choose to follow Christ. Repeatedly, the opposite is stressed in scripture, that we are to subject ourselves to the Lordship of Christ. Even the act of surrender is seen as a personal choice. Paul wrote, for example:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2 NIV)

There is no point to “urge” anyone to submit to God if it all happens automatically. And there is likewise no point to speak of testing and approving if all it takes is surrender. Looking back to Romans 8:6, the emphasis is on being “spiritually minded,” meaning that thought, understanding, concentration, emotions, and decisions are placed under the authority of the Spirit of God – not that they are separate from our own choice.

The 1984 NIV chose the words originally “the mind controlled by the Spirit” and later changed the wording to “the mind governed by the Spirit.” “Controlled” seemed to suggest some hypnotic state, where as “governed” put the emphasis on conscience obedience to God’s authority, a translation much truer to the original intent of the passage.

The original Greek, however, is most accurately represented by the King James which just says “spiritually minded” and does not use “controlled” or “governed” or any other word, simply because they were not there in the original. They are added for clarification.

Albert Barnes explained this phrase “spiritually minded” means:

That is, making it the object of the mind, the end and aim of the actions, to cultivate the graces of the Spirit, and to submit to his influence. To be spiritually minded is to seek those feelings and views which the Holy Spirit produces, and to follow his leadings.

I recall a young worship leader a few years ago, who would regularly stumble over these words. He would say things like, “God, I know you are going to do it, but I pray that you would make us holy.” He never could seem to balance this matter in his mind. I found out later that he had a pornography problem, and had simply not taken responsibility for his thoughts and his actions. He somehow thought that holiness would happen in his choices automatically.

Surrender is the word we should use to speak of our commitment to Christ. But once one surrenders he must then choose to obey God, and choose to live his life responsibly.

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The Struggle for Unity

October 6th, 2017

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people here send their greetings. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:11-14 NIV)

If it were not for the Holy Spirit of God I would despair for the unity of the church. We are so different from one another – backgrounds, personalities, cultures, ages, educations, opinions about Scriptures, opinions about priorities and how things ought to be done in church, and these only scratch the surface.

Add on top of these the personal histories we accumulate in life and in church life, the collection of hurts and betrayals we all carry in our souls. Elsewhere we are taught to “bear with one another” (Colossians 3:13). To bear with means to endure despite disappointments and difficulties, despite the things that people say and do that hurt us, despite those pretend smiles that people put on in our presence and then say terrible things behind our backs, despite old wounds of our past, despite fatigue, and despite how manipulative some people are.

Who can do such things? Who of us can forgive everything and start afresh with all people? Who can pretend as if nothing was said, as if no offense was given, as if there is no cause for disappointment or, at least, for distrust, despite the fact that the paint is often not even dry on our painful memories?

Our only hope is to stand daily in the grace and power of God, to surrender our strength and to ask God to fill us with Himself. “Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I,” was the prayer of David (Psalm 61:2). Thank God that we can live in His power! Thank God that there is a way of surrender to Him, to let Him wash over us in grace and to fill us with Himself!

And we should thank God for our challenges also, for the difficult people and circumstances, for they teach us of our need for greater strength – that is if they do not drive us completely crazy first.

Strive for full restoration: Do not stop short of this goal and never be satisfied with anything less that complete transformation or complete restoration of our souls into the image of God. The King James says simply, “be perfect,” but the NIV and the ESV both take the lead from two verses earlier where Paul wrote, “we are praying for your perfection” (2 Cor. 13:9). The NIV and ESV both correctly translate the word “full restoration” and “restoration” though there is nothing wrong with the translation of “perfection.”  This teaches the often emphasized goal of our conversion and transformation to be perfect like God is perfect (Leviticus 19:2 and Matt. 5:48 and 1 Peter 1:15).

Encourage one another: Paul did not have authority to tear them down, only to build them up (2 Cor. 13:10), and we also only have divine authority to build each other up (Eph. 4:29). Rebukes may be needed from time to time, but they should always be given in the context of the greatness of God’s grace. The goal is not to shame only, not to tear them down only, but ultimately to restore and perfect them.

Be of one mind: Agreement can only be found as we worship Christ and submit to His rule in our lives, and as we agree to support and follow our church leadership. We must have both in a church – surrender to the Lord and support for leadership. Being of our mind will never be experienced if everybody just voices his own opinion and demands his own way. There maybe discussions and studies and genuine questions asked, but ultimately, if we will be of one mind, we must agree to go the same direction.

Live in peace: There are a thousand things neighbors can argue about with one another. This morning, for example, I noticed that one of my young neighbors failed to properly sort his garbage – we share the same apartment building garbage containers. I decided that the most God-honoring thing I could do this morning was to simply take big bag of clothing he put in the container for general trash (and thereby using up all the space), and simply dropping it off at the proper disposal place on my way to work this morning – it took about five minutes to do that. If it happens repeatedly, then perhaps I should speak with him.

But to live in peace means to give everyone the benefit of the doubt that they mean well, to look for common interests and common goals, to exercise patience with one another, and, when necessary, to deal with differences in a clear and gracious way.

All of these things are possible only because of the grace of God and the Spirit of God. But we must keep our eyes on the goal of God for our lives and for one another’s lives. That we could desire in us and through us, as individuals and as a family of believers, that God would be glorified is the attitude that we must guard at all times.

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