Part one of my article ended this way:
When we die with Christ, we put to death all of our usual sources of happiness and security: being accepted by our community, the need to be right, legalistic righteousness, and even sinless perfection.
Instead, we understand that knowing Christ is more important than temporary relationships (Matthew 10:34-39), being known by God is better than knowing things about God (1 Corinthians 8:1-3), imputed righteousness is far superior than anything we think we can earn (Romans 4:1-8), and acknowledging that we make mistakes frees us from guilt associated with those mistakes (1 John 1:6-10).Daniel Rogers (“Thoughts on Resurrection” 11-10-2020)
So far, we’ve discusses the need to crucify ourselves to our community, the need to be right, and our own righteousness in order to have life in Christ. Today, we will be talking about how giving up the goal of sinless perfection is a necessary step in realizing the life we have.
The only person the Bible says lived a perfect life is Jesus:
“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”Hebrews 4:15
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.2 Corinthians 5:21
For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.(1 Peter 2:21–24, NASB95)
Despite living with no sin, the world rejected Him. When we demand perfection, we tend to compare ourselves with others and this leads to jealousy which leads to violence. But it was necessary for the Law to demand this for a time to show the inadequacy of trying to approach God in this way. As a way of reminder, Adam and Eve, though naked, were accepted by God. It was only when they became conscious of their nakedness that they were separated from God. This is why Thomas Keating said, “The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separated from God.”
For example. let’s notice the rich young ruler:
And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Then he said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER; YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY; YOU SHALL NOT STEAL; YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS; HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”Matthew 19:16–21
Why didn’t Jesus tell him to simply have faith? God meets us where we are at. This man’s question was all wrong: “what good thing shall I do…?” There is nothing for us to do but accept the gift. Christ has already done everything that needs to be done (Romans 8:3-4).
So, Jesus tells him to keep the commandments.
After hearing the list, the young man points out that he had done all of those, but it was his riches that kept him from entering life. Well, it wasn’t specifically his riches, but rather what his riches taught him about life. If you say the right things, get the right deals, and move money in the right way, then you can have riches. His view of God was the same: if he could just trade the right stocks, know the right people, and be at the right place at the right time, he could enter life.
The very system that he presupposed was the very thing that kept him from entering life. In order to see that, he needed to realize that even his riches were a gift, but he was blind to that fact because he relied on sinless perfection, in a sense.
Another passage that teaches us about the futility of trying to be perfect is Matthew 20:
For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; and to those he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ And so they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day long?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.’ When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’ But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? ‘Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. ‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’ “So the last shall be first, and the first last.Matthew 20:1–16
Some of the people were there early in the morning while others showed up late. But the time of their arrival didn’t matter. God gives to all equally regardless of when they show up to the party, so to speak. Jesus, in this parable, shows that the Pharisees, who had been righteous probably their whole life, were no different in God’s eyes than those, like the thief on the cross, who gave their life to God later in life after a life of sin.
Finally, we turn to 1 John 1:
If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.1 John 1:6–10
There is a difference in walking in light and sinless perfection. Walking in light (which is another word for life; cf. John 1:4) is simply putting all your faith in God and living for Him out of a response to the love He has shown towards you. In fact, walking in the light carries with it freely admitting that we sin, but we do so knowing that He forgives us of all sins we commit. This is why Paul says,
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.Romans 8:1
In some fellowships, people believe that if they were to say a curse word or take the Lord’s name in vain moments before dying in a car crash, they would be lost because one sin can keep someone out of Heaven. This is a misunderstanding of 1 John 1:9.
1 John 1:9 isn’t teaching that we keep an itemized list of all of our sins, but that we freely admit that we are imperfect.
This frees us from any long-term guilt associated with our mistakes because we know that we are already forgiven. It also helps us to forgive ourselves.
This takes away the thought that we are separated from God which removes the illusion that we are. Since separation from God is death, giving up the need to be perfect through our own abilities is a step into abundant life.
To end, I want to share a few passages from a book on prayer and psychology I’m reading called Invitation to Love:
As soon as you regret your fault and say, “My God, forgive me,” you should forget it. Guilt feelings that last longer than half a minute are neurotic. Pervasive, prolonged, and paralyzing guilt is the result of the superego at work. It is an emotional judgment about right and wrong, not a true judgment of conscience. Neurotic pride says, “Look what you’ve done! You’re just no good!” It accuses us not only of having done wrong in a particular instance, but of being totally worthless. When we do not measure up to our self-images, pride brings down the verdict of guilty, and we mistakenly project that judgment onto God. Meanwhile, God is saying, “There’s nothing seriously wrong with you. Everybody makes mistakes. Forget it.” Or, “I forgive you. Why don’t you forgive yourself?”Keating, Thomas. Invitation to Love: The Way of Christian Contemplation. Page 43
In our time an important aspect of the beatitude of the merciful is to practice compassion toward ourselves. Many people come to self-consciousness with a low self-image and suffer from varying degrees of self-hatred. This disposition is pride in reverse. Instead of reaching out for self-aggrandizement, these people demean themselves because they do not measure up to the idealized image of perfection that their self-image demands. When they fail to meet this impossible standard, pride, not God, says, “You’re no good!” They then feel shame for failing to measure up to the grandiose expectations of themselves that their upbringing, culture, or drive to overachieve created.Keating, Thomas. Invitation to Love: The Way of Christian Contemplation. Page 128