Does God Really Expect Perfection?

Are you good enough for God? Have you ever wondered if you were?

Just how good do you need to be in order for God to accept you? Surely He has given some indication of His standard of measurement so we can know for sure. In fact, God HAS declared a standard of measurement for those who will enter the kingdom of heaven.

Sometimes people think God was really strict in the Old Testament but in the New Testament He relaxes His standards so we can actually achieve salvation. Isn’t that what grace is all about? Doesn’t God give us an easier time today than He gave the Jews?

I don’t deny that we live in a better time and under a better covenant, but Jesus did not come to relax God’s standards! In fact, He clarified God’s moral standards, raising them in the eyes of a people who had been lowering them and stripping them of their power and righteousness. Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5.19).

At the end of Matthew 5, Jesus states, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” How exactly is our heavenly Father perfect? Is He just kind of  perfect? Maybe “perfect” doesn’t actually mean perfect in the way we normally think of it. As people sometimes ask, “What does the Greek say?” The word (τέλειός) is translated through the New Testament as perfect, complete, mature. Oh good. I can see how I can be “mature” and not be totally “perfect,” so maybe I can relax the standard just a bit. Maybe God isn’t seeking full and total perfection (because, ha ha, who can achieve that standard?); maybe He just wants someone who’s “pretty good” (an admittedly fuzzy definition). But…whatever word we want to plug in there, it says to be perfect/mature/complete AS GOD Himself is perfect/mature/complete. That seems fairly unattainable!

Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1.15, “As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” Again, Peter compares us to God Himself–we are to be the same kind of holy as He is! How do we adjust this so we can actually meet the standard?

We are not supposed to adjust anything! What God said, God meant, and we have no business trying to wiggle around until we feel comfortable. We ought to understand that God demands nothing short of complete perfection.

But I’m not perfect.

I’m betting you’re not, either.

What are we do do?!

Some theorize that we can become so mature in Christ that we can go for hours, days, perhaps even weeks without sinning. Really? And what do those theoretical pockets of perfection buy for you? Are you hoping Christ returns during one of your perfect hours? That sounds tenuous at best, and most of us haven’t yet come close to that theoretical perfection. I say “theoretical” because what these folks actually do is decided on a level of comfort they call “perfection,” and they lie to themselves thinking they have gone without sinning, when, in fact, God has said, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1.8).

God tells us not to sin; then He says if we say we have no sin we are liars. It’s a no-win situation. We might as well give up, throw in the towel, go home and cry. Not! This is the GOSPEL message! God wants us to understand this–come to the end of ourselves–feel totally powerless and vulnerable, because only then will we give up on ourselves and cling fully and completely to Jesus Christ.

Jesus walked perfectly without sin (Heb. 4.15). He endured the cross for our sake (2 Cor. 5.14-15), and through Him God reconciles us back to Himself (2 Cor. 5.18)! How did He bring us back into relationship with Himself? He made Christ to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5.21)! He no longer counts our sins against us (2 Cor. 5.19), because He laid all our sins on the back of His Son, Jesus. Jesus swapped places with us–the righteous for the sinner–so God now looks at men and women who are in Christ as being righteous, holy, perfect.

But I’m not perfect. That’s right! Christ is. And God counts the perfect righteousness of Christ to my account and imputes all my sin to Christ’s account. Glory be to God! He didn’t have to do it, but He did, freely. And so I am completely saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Praise God today if you are in Christ because He has taken all your sins and counts you now as holy!

If you’re not in Christ, it’s of utmost importance that you come to Him! I pray He draws you and shows you the path to true reconciliation and freedom. Please let me know if I can help you on your journey.

It’s My Body!

“It’s my body; I can do with it what I want!”

How many times have we heard this justification for the right of a woman to abort her baby?

But it’s not just pregnant women who justify themselves this way.

In the context of sex within marriage, Paul bluntly writes, “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Cor. 7.4). At this level we understand the husband owns his wife and the wife owns her husband. We don’t have a right to do whatever we want with our own bodies.

But even single men and women don’t own their bodies, because we all have an owner. Backing up just a couple of verses to the previous chapter of 1 Corinthians, we read:

“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin  a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6.18-20)

Brothers and sisters, God owns us–all of us–including our bodies. We do not have a right to do whatever we want with our bodies.

Think about this in context of fornication. Do we have a right to do whatever we want with our bodies?

Think about this in context of masturbation. “But it’s my body!” we insist.

Think about this in context of eating and drinking to excess. God labeled those gluttony and drunkenness, both of which He strongly condemns.

Think about this in context of looking upon a woman to lust after her. “But these are my eyes, and I’m not harming anyone!” Jesus thinks differently, and He commanded, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away…And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away…” (Matt. 7.27-30).

If you think about each of these sins (and many others), they hold in common a desire to please ourselves, to indulge our bodies, to cater to our fleshly appetites. Selfishness and sensuality rule. But what if we understand we are not our own–God owns us, and He has the authority to tell us what to do with our bodies because He purchased them with the blood of Jesus? Doesn’t that change our perspective?

Whenever we justify ourselves by claiming, “It’s my body!” we stand in rebellion against our Creator who made our bodies and who explains how we should use them. Instead, as the bride of Christ, we should present ourselves to Him pure and holy, keeping ourselves from defilements of the flesh. The world reminds us of all the things we’re missing, all the fun passing us by. But when we stand back and look at all the world’s broken relationships, STDs, and drug addictions, we realize how lovely God’s ways really are!

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Cor. 7.1)

What God Wants You To Do Today

So many stumble through life with no sense of purpose. I sometimes look back on my day, week, or month and wonder exactly what have I been doing. What worthwhile thing have I accomplished? Have I made a difference to my family, to my friends, or to my community?

Thinking about purpose, consider the following info-graphic on suicide statistics in the state of Louisiana:

 

According to the same website, in the United States an average of 121 people commit suicide each day. That’s 44,165 per year!

Why so many suicides? Individuals take their own lives when they feel their physical or emotional pain is overwhelming and they cannot see past it. They don’t have a reason to live. Life no longer holds purpose or meaning.

I wonder what the rates of DEPRESSION in the United States might be. We distinguish between clinical depression and emotional depression, because the two are not synonymous. But how many are depressed because of their life situation, because their life holds no significant meaning in their own estimation?

Many of us, failing to understand God’s ordained purpose for our lives, fall into unhealthy and destructive cycles of selfishness in which we cease to care about others and focus almost entirely on our own needs, desires, and comforts. Have you fallen into such a cycle? Think about the following verses which show God’s plan for your life, and compare your actual life with God’s vision:

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6.8)

Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.
Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good;
Seek justice,
Rebuke the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1.16-17)

But if a man is just
And does what is lawful and right;
If he has not eaten on the mountains,
Nor lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel,
Nor defiled his neighbor’s wife,
Nor approached a woman during her impurity;
If he has not oppressed anyone,
But has restored to the debtor his pledge;
Has robbed no one by violence,
But has given his bread to the hungry
And covered the naked with clothing;
If he has not exacted usury
Nor taken any increase,
But has withdrawn his hand from iniquity
And executed true judgment between man and man;
If he has walked in My statutes—
And kept My judgments faithfully—
He is just;
He shall surely live!”
Says the Lord GOD. (Ezekiel 18.5-9)

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2.3-4)

“Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’
“And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” (Matthew 25.34-40)

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. (James 1.27)

We could add so many verses, but these suffice to show God’s intent for His people. He wants us taking care of others, treating others as more important than ourselves. The work He gives us to do is so simple! Amazingly, when we submit to God’s vision for our lives and give ourselves for others, we find great purpose. Only a truly wicked and selfish person feels miserable after helping his neighbor! As Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

So what is my purpose for today? I should be helping someone, doing for someone, pouring myself out for someone. If I go day after day only serving myself (what do I want to eat; what do I want to do; when can I get back to my hobby?), life will fade into meaninglessness. But the more I submit myself to others’ needs, desires, and comforts, the less I think of myself, and the greater my own sense of blessedness, joy, and overall enjoyment of life becomes!

If you feel miserable and depressed, listless and aimless, try doing something for another. It’s exactly what God would have you do today. May God bless you as you labor in His kingdom.

Can You Really Control Yourself?

With God, all things are possible.

Can you control yourself? God commanded self-control, and what God commands He also enables His children to accomplish. If you are a Christian, walking with Christ, walking according to the Spirit, God has already given you the power to overcome the flesh!

Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Rom. 6.4-7)

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Rom. 6.12-14)

We can excuse ourselves: “I just cannot conquer this sin.” We allow it to fester and hang around in our lives without challenge.

Notice God did not say, “Let me control you,” but “Control yourself.” We reign over our own bodies, hearts, and minds. He certainly helps and empowers us in our self-control, as we see from the the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

To Titus Paul wrote that older men should be “temperate,” that older women should not be “enslaved to much wine,” that younger women be “subject to their own husbands,” and that Titus himself should “be an example of good deeds.” All of those traits have self-control in their base. Paul uses another term with the older men, younger women, and younger women: they should be “sensible.” Many translations express this word as “self-controlled.” Thus, God expects self-control at all stages of a Christian’s life from the aged down to the youth.

Remember teenage Joseph, handsome in form and appearance, solidly refused Potiphar’s wife’s advances, saying, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Gen. 39.9). She pressed him hard, one day grabbing him and trying to drag him into her bed, but “he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house” (Gen. 39.12). What a courageous young man, who saw sin so clearly, and who refused to cross a line God had drawn!

With God’s help we can all have this kind of self-control!

I do not say that a worldly-minded, fleshly-thinking person can have this control–for he allows his flesh to control him. But God bestows great grace upon us, His children, that we might flee youthful lusts and get out of the house!

Let us bring our children up in the Lord in such a way that they might know Him and the freedom from sin He grants through Jesus Christ. And let us also take hold of His grace, knowing that God’s grace brings salvation for all people and trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions. God’s grace empowers us to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age (Titus 2.11-12).

Walk in the light, dear brothers and sisters!

God Revealed to Me…

I cannot tell  how many times I have heard religious folks say,

  • “The Lord spoke to me…”
  • “God revealed to me…”
  • “I felt led by God to…”
  • “The Holy Spirit guided me…”

And many other such phrases, indicating that God somehow directly communicates with them and does so on a regular basis.

Honestly, my first thought is usually “God has never spoken to me like that–am I not His child, too?”

But then I take it to Scripture, and I want to ask, “Exactly how has God spoken to you, and in what way is He leading you?” If they define what they mean in a biblical way, perhaps we are no so far apart.

For instance, if they mean they searched Scripture diligently and discovered what God wanted them to do, I totally understand walking in God’s wisdom and following the guidance of the Holy Spirit in that way. Or if they mean they sought godly counsel from wise Christians who gave them biblical advice, I understand that, too. But if they mean that God actually spoke words and sentences to them, communicating through a dream or a vision, that is outside my realm of Christian experience. I will not insist they didn’t hear those words or see those visions, but I will remind them that God Himself instructs us:

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4.1)

One major test (perhaps THE major test) is to check what you hear against what God has already revealed in Scripture. In that way, God’s revealed and tested word continues to stand as the basis for every other word or message we receive in life. No external message (from someone claiming to speak for God) or internal message (from a feeling, a heart-tug, or a word coming into our mind) can stand above and supersede God’s already revealed word.

Ezekiel 13 powerfully exposes the rampant false teaching among the Jews just before Nebuchadnezzar leveled the city in 586 BC. God describes those false prophets as those who…

  • “prophecy from their own hearts” (13.2)
  • “follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!” (13.2)
  • “have seen false visions and lying divinations” (13.6)
  • “say, ‘Declares the Lord,’ when the Lord has not sent them” (13.6)
  • “have mislead My people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace” (13.10)

Our deceptive hearts can fool even ourselves, and we can think that a certain strong feeling to do something is the word of the Lord. Let us be careful not to blindly trust in our feelings one way or the other. God has certainly planted a conscience within each of us which either condemns us when we do something wrong or commends us when we do something right, but that’s not the same thing as God speaking to us directly.

Examine the Scriptures and find how God spoke to prophets. He did not leave them with feelings; He always spoke clearly, directly, to the point. That’s how God communicates. If you tell me that God told you to do something, please don’t be offended when I ask how you received that word. I’m testing the spirits, and maybe I can help teach you how to test the spirits, as well.

How tragic to lean on our own hearts and our own spirits for guidance! How terrible it will be for those who follow their feelings to stand before Jesus and say, “But it felt so real!” and to have Jesus respond, “But I never said that. That wasn’t Me speaking.”

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
and He will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3.5)