The “Perfect” Christian

“Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

 

Perfectionism is the preferred disease of the twenty-first century and it’s killing us.  Ever said or heard one of these?

“I want my wedding day to be perfect.”

“This proposal has to be perfect – dot every “i” and cross every “t.”

“Get this mess cleaned up! Our guests will be here in an hour and this place has to be perfect.”

“I stayed up all night to work on my paper – it has to be perfect if I’m going to get an “A” in this class.” (That would be me.)

Or maybe this one sounds most familiar to you:

“Why did I do that/say that/think that?  I’m a Christian – I’m supposed to be perfect!”

I thought you would recognize the last one – I know I’ve heard it in my own head countless times.  And we have the mandate of Jesus in our key verse to back up that relentless voice.  “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) “Be perfect – be perfect – be perfect.”   Yet we know that only One was perfect – the speaker Himself.  Does that mean He was setting up an unrealistic standard for us?  Not exactly.  When Jesus used the word “perfect” He was not saying be flawless – He was speaking of maturity – the word (in Greek) teleioo and its root telos mean “to reach a goal, to finish or complete.”   Jesus was saying we need to continually strive for maturity as the goal of our faith.

What’s interesting is that while the Bible uses the word “perfect” just forty-two times,  the word “good” appears more than six hundred times.[1]  Like in the creation account when, after completing each day’s creative work, God examined what He had done and “saw that it was good.”  In the original Hebrew this means that God found His work “pleasing, favorable and satisfactory.”  Think about it – if God, at the zenith of His creative work, was content with “good” shouldn’t “good” be good enough for us?

There’s more:  He promised a good land to the Israelites when they escaped Egyptian bondage (Exodus 3:8), Jeremiah told the people to “ask where the good way is and walk in it” (6:16).  Jesus said the Father gives “good gifts” (Matthew 7:11), He proclaimed the soil with the greatest harvest good ((Luke 8:8) and Paul tells us to “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21) – not perfection.[2]  Even the Gospel that saves us is called “the Good News” (Acts 5:42).  Why then, are we trying so hard to be perfect?

God didn’t saddle us with this obsession for perfection – it was the enemy who planted that impossible seed.  But we have watered and nurtured it until it has become a weed of gigantic proportions and, as weeds so often do, it has choked the life out of us and the “good works” we were created to do (Ephesians 2:10).  It’s his way of keeping you distracted, dissatisfied, frustrated – and fruitless.  Perfectionism will drive us to the point of exhaustion as we push ourselves to reach for an unreachable standard.  Or, on the flip side, it will leave us in a state of paralysis, fearful of even attempting anything because we know we’ll never measure up.  I’ve been both – and it’s no way to live.  You and I will never pull off perfection this side of heaven.  And that’s okay.

My friend, only God is perfect and making you perfect is His work alone, through the blood of Jesus and the power of the Spirit.  But you won’t see the perfectly finished product until you stand before Him in heaven.  So hang all your perfectionist tendencies on Him and be free from that burden you were never meant to carry.  Being good is good enough.

Holy Father, You didn’t ask me to measure up to some perfect standard, but it’s what often demand of myself.  Please help me to rest in the knowledge that good is good enough for You.  Amen.

[1] I am using the NIV – New International Version, other translations may have a different word count.

[2] All Scripture emphases were added by me.

Overcoming Evil

img_warrior“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

We are surrounded by evil.  It plays out every evening in the newscasts and in our morning paper.  Evil runs rampant down our streets and through our neighborhoods.  Every act of hate and violence has its roots in evil.  It is a word we need to use again, because it is a reality in this fallen world.  You might want to check out my thoughts on the subject of Evil from a post just a few months ago.  So this morning as I came to my devotional time, my heart was heavy with all the evil we have seen in recent months.  In this nation and all around the world, evil is everywhere.  Who can save us from the presence and power of evil?

The past few weeks I have been doing a personal study of the titles of Jesus in the Bible, and this morning I thought, I need to find a title that reminds me that Jesus is the victor over evil.  When I looked at the next title on the list, I thought, this one is perfect for this evil world:  Jesus is the Son of God.  The Son of God is perfect because it encompasses every facet of Jesus’ character.  It expresses the power of Jesus, the holiness of Jesus, the perfection of Jesus, the eternal nature of Jesus, and the sovereignty of Jesus.  The Son of God fills our need in this evil world, because the Son of God is also the Overcomer.   He declared it to be so saying, “Take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

As the Son of God, Jesus overcame evil when He resisted Satan’s temptations in the desert.  He overcame evil when He stood in the presence of the demons and they had no choice but to acknowledge and obey Him. And above all, He overcame evil by His resurrection from the dead.  He shattered evil’s hold on men, declaring that all who believed in Him would be free from its power.  Evil could not overcome the Son of God.

Jesus overcame evil by divine power.  Paul said, in our key verse, that we can overcome evil by good.  Mind you, not by “being good,” for only Jesus is good.  You and I can never be good enough to overcome evil.  But there is a way, and we find it in the last book of the Bible.  Standing in heaven, watching the end unfold, John heard a “loud voice” proclaim: “They overcame [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the world of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11).  There are only two things that will guarantee our victory over evil and the evil one: the blood of the Lamb, which is salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ and our testimony.  But what testimony overcomes evil?  John knew.  “Who is he that overcomes the world?  Only he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:5).

Jesus, the Son of God, who overcame the world, is our good testimony.  God the Father proclaimed it at Jesus’ baptism, when “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.’ (Matthew 4:17); and again at Jesus’ transfiguration (Matthew 17:5).  The disciples declared it when they saw Jesus and Peter walking on the water, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33). Peter pronounced it in his confession saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  Jesus built His church on that very confession.  Even the Roman centurion exclaimed, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” when the ground quaked the moment Jesus died (Matthew 27:54).  Paul repeatedly preached that Jesus was the Son of God.  The martyrs of the ages past died with the good confession on their lips—“Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

As this world becomes more and more evil, only the good confession of the Son of God will sustain believers.  It has for centuries and it will not fail us in this generation.  We will be branded as fools.  We will be oppressed and persecuted.  It will cost you and me our very lives, but we too will overcome by the declaration that “Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

The world doesn’t need to hear Christians making accusations and pointing fingers.  They don’t need to know our thoughts on current affairs or politics or even morals.  In fact, the world is sick to death of hearing our opinions, however good they may be.  The world needs to hear the Gospel that has been our witness for more than two thousand years:  “Jesus Christ is the Son of God!”  It is the core truth of the Christian faith.  Everything else comes from that good confession.

All evil bows to the divine Name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Will you?

Oh, Lord Jesus, You are the Son of God, the Holy One, the only One who can overcome evil.  I claim the good confession as my own and I will live—and die—by it.  Amen.

Good and Evil

good-vs-evil-two-way-street-sign-thumb17689704“God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).

Do you believe that evil exists?  Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know it does.   While there are still many who insist that “evil” is a make-believe construct of religion, the evidence is all around us.  Mass murders, sexual exploitation of children, terrorism, rampant crime, cities racked by hatred and violence in every form—and you don’t have to look across the globe or in big cities to find it.  Evil is happening right where you live.

What is “evil”? Merriam-Webster defines evil as that which is: “morally reprehensible; arising from actual or imputed bad character or conduct; causing harm or repulsion.”  Pretty straight forward until you ask about the standards of morality or bad character.  There you will find a wide margin of disagreement.   However, when the Bible speaks of evil, it uses one root definition: “whatever is disagreeable or opposed to God.”  Who else is qualified to define evil but One who is perfectly good?

Genesis details for us God’s creation of the world, and when all His work was done, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31), including the two humans.  It is important to know that Adam and Eve were good in God’s eyes at this point—there was no trace of evil in them.  They were not created with a bent for evil, their hearts and minds were pure and innocent, and that is the key to understanding good and evil.

When the Lord God created the Garden in which the first humans would live, He told them that they were free to take from any tree in the Garden, except the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (2:17).  But why?  After all, as the serpent (the Devil) pointed out, “when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:5).  He was appealing to Eve on the basis of wisdom.  But wouldn’t that be a good thing?  Proverbs is full of passages extolling the benefits of wisdom and urging the pursuit of wisdom at all costs.  But that is not how the serpent presented it.  The serpent implied that God was trying to keep Adam and Eve in the dark about something they should know.  Or as we might say today, “God is holding out on you.”

The wisdom that the serpent held up like a luscious piece of fruit is a vain wisdom, a self-serving, worldly wisdom; the kind of wisdom that James warns against. “Such ‘wisdom’ does not come from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. . . [bringing] envy, selfish ambition, disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:15-16).   It is the complete opposite of the wisdom we are told to pursue which is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, sincere and righteous (see James 3:17-18).

Did you catch those two words in the contrasts of “wisdom”—evil and pure?  Remember when I said that the key to understanding good and evil was knowing that Adam and Eve’s minds and hearts were pure and innocent?  The reason God told them not to take the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was because, at this point, they were pure.  In their innocence, they were free from the harmful effects of the knowledge of evil, a knowledge they—and we—are unable to bear.  Corrie ten Boom, the Holocaust survivor and author recalled asking her father about a particular sin.  The wise man replied to his young daughter, “Some knowledge is too heavy for children.”  Yes, God knew that Adam and Eve would have knowledge of things they did not yet know, but it was knowledge that was too heavy for their innocent minds and hearts.  The serpent led them to believe they would be as wise and knowledgeable as God, but he failed to tell them that they did not have the moral capacity to bear that knowledge without disastrous repercussions.  When they were exposed to the knowledge of evil, evil overtook them and buried their innocence under impurity and selfishness and hate.  They had the “knowledge of evil,” but not the power to resist it.

When we witness young children at play, we wistfully comment on how “innocent” they are.  They are oblivious to the evil in the world around them, unencumbered by the heavy weight of horrible things that humans do to each other  How we wish we could keep them in that sweet, untouched state.  That is how Adam and Eve were before the serpent, before the lies, before the sin.  They were not burdened with the knowledge of evil and were free to enjoy every good thing God had provided in their perfect home.

Many who are bound up in addiction of any kind will often say, “I wish I had never taken that first hit, that first drink, or looked at that first website. “  That first taste or glimpse of sin led them into a pit from which they can never recover without the power of Christ.  And even Christians will tell you they continue to battle the images and desires of their sinful past.  Paul expresses it well: “I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (Romans 7:21).  Sin will continue to knock at your door.

When she plucked that piece of tainted fruit Eve got “knowledge” all right, but she also got much more than she bargained for.  She opened herself and the whole of humanity up to the powerful influence of evil.  And as this world races toward the end of time, evil has exploded with an alarming increase.  Evil is the reason there are almost weekly mass shootings.  Evil is behind the perpetrators of sex trafficking.   Evil is the face of immoral laws and leaders who reject the truth.  Evil is real.  But it was not intended to be part of the human equation.  We were created for a good world with our good Creator.

Is that even possible anymore?  I will not leave you without hope:  Jesus Christ is the cure for evil.  Jesus defeated evil when He died for the sins of all mankind.  He defeated the devil when He rose from the dead three days later.   He died for your sins.  He rose again that you might live eternally in a good place with your good Creator—as it was always meant to be.

Beloved, will you allow Jesus Christ to break the power of evil over your life?  Will you receive His good gift of eternal life?  If so, pray this prayer and find the good life you were created for.

Dear God, You created me for a good life with You, but evil and sin took over instead.  I believe that Jesus Christ came to break the power of evil and to set me free from m sin.  I receive Your good gift of eternal life and choose to walk with you for the rest of my days on earth.  Thank you for saving me Lord.  Amen.