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Holiness - How to be perfect and the dangers of trying to be

By: Rick Thomas - RickThomas.net

  • Have you ever tried to be perfect?
  • How many times have you come to the new year resolving to do better? How long did your “doing better” last?

Perhaps you have given up on being perfect. Maybe you haven’t given up because you’re a striving perfectionist. The kind of obedience the LORD desires from us is complete obedience, which is more than external conformity to religious rules.

The so-called holy people in the New Testament were the Pharisees. They had holiness down to a system. Then Jesus came along and blew up their externalism by calling them out. (Read Matthew 23) It was clear that their hearts were not connected to their behaviors (Matthew 23:27-28).

Jesus says our obedience must go deeper than the Pharisees. He’s talking about an obedience that transforms the heart.

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:20 (ESV)

How much easier would it be if we could only act holy rather than be holy, which is why we must careful with our critiques and observations about the Pharisees. To critique them as though we’re different from them would be misguided. The Pharisees are one of the best reflections in biblical history of who we are and how we struggle.

We can certainly learn from them, while hoping not to fall into the traps that had caught them. Here are four of those things we can learn.

1. Listen to the Word of the LORD

Our first call to action to keep from falling into the trap of the Pharisees is to listen to the Word of the LORD. There is so much noise in our world that we can be so easily distracted. It takes a lot of intentionality and practice to hear the Word of the LORD.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.

But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. – Hebrews 5:12-14

Without the daily heavy lifting of biblical exercise our powers of discernment do not become trained to distinguish between good and evil. Social media is one of the current distractions that keeps us from this kind of exercise.

  1. Are you a student of God’s Word? What does your study of God look like during any given week?
  2. Are you being mastered by God’s Word, which is a different question from studying God’s Word? (The Pharisees were students of God’s Word, but it was apparent they were not mastered by it.)
  3. What specific areas of your life is being re-shaped by God’s Word?

2. Know the repercussions of disobedience

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. – Romans 1:18 (ESV)

Without unalterable laws our world would be totally chaotic. We see that in our culture today. The anti-God presuppositions of our culture says we can do anything we want to do and you cannot judge me for my actions.

We will never be free as long as we pick and choose how we want to live. None of us can live outside the LORD’s teaching and expect no negative consequences for our transgressions.

Here are three examples:

  1. The angry parent cannot continue to press God’s truth out of his life and not expect long-term negative consequences on his family.
  2. The disrespectful wife cannot continue to press God’s truth out of her life and not expect long-term negative consequences on her marriage.
  3. The rebellious child cannot continue to press God’s truth out of his life and not expect long-term negative consequences on his life.

3. Guard from selective obedience

If we truly understand how we’re no different from the next person when it comes to being imperfect—none of us have arrived—then our hearts should be softened to pity other people rather than comparing ourselves to them as though we’re better than them.

This kind of broken dad, who struggles with anger, will be quicker to address his anger with his son, rather than immediately jumping on his child.

The frustrated wife, who is self-righteously comparing herself to her husband, will first repent of her failures—the first step in resolving their marriage problems (James 2:10).

It is a backward process to disregard your own faults (Matthew 7:3-5), while attempting to help restore another person with faults (Galatians 6:1). Self-aware broken people are the most effective when it comes to restoring other broken people (Luke 18:11).

The filter through which the humble person sees others is through the growing reality that he is the foremost sinner (1 Timothy 1:15). Do you own your faults or blame them on others?

4. Trust the one who is perfect

Maybe you have read this far and thought, “Oh my…perfection is hard. I fail in so many areas. I’m discouraged. I can never do this.”

If that is how you’re thinking then you’re in a very good place. But if you are thinking you need to work harder, then you have a ways to go before you arrive at the starting blocks of sanctification. The Pharisees never learned the impossible-ness of perfection. They always tried harder.

We will never be perfect in this life. There are two dangerous ditches you can fall into:

  1. Perfectionism: striving to be perfect on your own.
  2. Passivity: giving up on your pursuit of holiness.

We live in relationship with the LORD, which means we have a role to play; we’re not fatalistic robots. That role is somewhere between (1) I will never be perfect while living in this body of death and (2) I must cooperate with the LORD as He transforms me into Christlikeness.

There was a man who was able to do better than Saul, better than the Pharisees, better than me, and better than you. His name is Jesus. He was the only person who perfectly obeyed the Father in all ways (Mark 1:11).

Jesus chose to do these things for us because none of us are able to do these things for ourselves.

Our striving for holiness comes after we have gained access to the Father through the works of Christ, not before, as though our works are a means to gain access to God.

Call to action

  1. How are you doing at listening to the Word of the LORD?
  2. How are you doing at obeying the LORD?
  3. How are you doing at owning your faults?
  4. How are you doing at trusting the LORD?

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