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Saturday, March 31, 2018

“Be Perfect Even as Your Father is Perfect”



One of the greatest controversies that has been a part of the church since its inception is the role that the law plays in the life of a Christian. On the one hand, you have those who believe that the law is everything. In other words, you can do what you need to in order to attain perfection and be “right” with God. This idea found perhaps its greatest proponent in America in the person of Charles Finney. On the other hand, you have the folks who, like the non-lordship salvation proponents, will tell us that the law matters not one wit. As long as you say a prayer and “accept” Jesus you’re golden. Thus, you have people such as Sam Gipp, a King James only proponent, telling us that an individual who rejected his faith and now does his best to destroy the faith of others, is still saved (whatever that means!)

If Charles Finney ever hoped to leave a legacy that would have an influence on Christendom long after his departure from this mortal coil, he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. The sad truth of the matter is that anything that appeals to man’s, and especially Americans’, natural tendency to want to do things to be accepted by God, will sell. In our natural state, we are undoubtedly a religious people. Witness the recent study that determined that children are always, without exception, believers in God, whether they were taught so by their parents or not. With that, we also have a strong tendency to want to have lists that we can fulfill. For a long time, I would have a list of chores that I had to accomplish every day. Unless I did everything that was on the list, I didn’t feel good and would obsess about it the rest of the day (eventually my wife convinced me to give it up and I’m the better for it!).


Thus, whatever presents man with a set of things he can do to be acceptable to God, will have great appeal to him. “Do these things and God will love you” is attractive simply because it gives man what he wants: control over his own destiny. Whereas biblical Christianity teaches us that God is the one that does the work in the heart of the believer (Philippians 2:13 among others), the man-centered system tells man that he can control what happens to him and that he, not God, determines how his life will go and where he will end. Although we certainly have a responsibility for responding to God, it is not what we do of our own accord that determines our salvation, but the work that God, in Christ, did and continues to do for us.
 
The truth of the matter is that none of us can possibly fulfill the ultimate requirements of the law: being perfect as God is perfect. In Matthew 5:48, Jesus told us that very thing. Since the clause is in the imperative, it is not an option or recommendation. Jesus is telling us that we must be perfect. And therein lies the genius of the gospel of Christ. Although we do have to be perfect, God knows that is an impossible goal for us to achieve. If we believe, like Finney, that we have to be completely consecrated and perfect in order to be accepted by God, then we’re all doomed to hell.
Many are of the idea that the Sermon on the Mount is some sort of list that Jesus is telling us we must keep or we’ll be lost. You see that in many of the “systems” that have been formulated by many best sellers about how to please God. “Live by the Golden Rule” or “love your neighbor” and all will be good, or so the thought goes. The big problem that we are faced with, however, is that eventually we’ll find that we just cannot possibly continue to live that way even for a day or two. I can tell you from experience that trying to live that way every second of the day is completely exhausting! If that is what you think you have to do, every second of every day, you’ll find yourself driving yourself into the ground, simply because you can’t do it. At that point, far too many of those who are convinced by the Joel Osteens of the world that they “can do it,” will be disillusioned and fall away never to embrace the Savior they thought they were serving.
In light of the fact that we cannot be perfect as God is perfect, what then is the answer? How can we obey Jesus’ commands since we know that our flesh will lead us away from them every chance it gets? (See Romans 7) “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and thus condemning sin in the flesh; that the righteous requirements of the law may be fulfill in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4) Therein lies the answer. It was by sending Jesus to die in the flesh that God was able to condemn sin in the flesh. Notice that the requirements of the law are fulfilled IN us, not BY us. It is not because we live good lives and keep the commandments that we achieve the salvation that God offers. Rather, it is by appropriating the work that Jesus did on the cross for us.
Remember the encounter between Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 18? After telling the young man that he had to keep the commandments in answer to his question about how to inherit eternal life, Jesus added the one thing that he, and all of us, lacked: he had to give up everything and follow Christ. In other words, it is not enough to be morally upright and do what the law requires, without Christ you’re still lost. If Christ’s sacrifice is not accounted to you, then no amount of doing is going to make up for it. The “New Perspective” idea that Jesus’ sacrifice is only part of our justification and that what we do is the second part, is not only unbiblical, but also dangerous. When we get the idea that we can reach God by our own righteous deeds, our focus will be on self and not on Christ.
In the final analysis, it is imperative for us to remember that our works are the result and not the cause of our salvation. In Ephesians 2:8-10, Paul told his readers that we are saved by grace through faith and then added that we are God’s workmanship created for good works he ordained for us to walk in. Notice the sequence: we are saved by God’s grace through faith; we are God’s workmanship; we are created for good works. Thus, God saves us and we are his workmanship, not our own, in order to do good works. And the good works are those He ordained for us to walk in. Remember that the next time your flesh tries to convince you of your own goodness.

 

 


3 comments:

  1. Thanks for the near perfect post!

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    1. Always appreciate your encouragement. Thanks for reading and keeping up with my musings. Blessings.

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