Arminian Today

A Jesus-Centered Arminian Blog

Confessions of a Perfectionist

Note: This post is not intended to teach that we can abide in sin.  This is not my point.  I want to make that clear before I start.  The Bible is clear that we should forsake our sins (1 John 2:1).  Paul told the Corinthians to “stop sinning” (1 Corinthians 15:34).  In 2 Corinthians 12:21-13:5, Paul the Apostle rebukes those in the Corinthian church who have not repented of their past sinning.  In fact, the New Testament is clear that we are to pursue holiness (Hebrews 12:14), to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16), to be slaves of righteousness and not slaves to sin (Romans 6:1-23) and that to be slaves of sin shows we are not Christ’s (John 8:34-35).  John the Beloved wrote in 1 John 3:7 that he who practices righteousness is righteous.  It is not merely enough to claim “imputed righteousness” and go on sinning.  I don’t deny that we are righteous in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21) but I do deny that this gives us a license to abuse God’s grace and continue in a life of sin (Jude 4; cf. Hebrews 10:26-31).

Perfectionism is a dangerous thing.  I once aimed with all that was in me for perfection.  I strove to overcome sin by my power and I thought it was merely a choice of my will to overcome sin.  I paid little attention to abiding in Christ and strove in my strength to overcome sin.  And the more I strove, the more I struggled with sin.  I would overcome one sin only to find another sin had taken its place.

The true danger of perfectionism is pride.  I had pride in me.  Oh I would have claimed Christ and would have said that I was seeking to overcome sin because of Christ and His victory on the cross but I was only paying lip service to Him.  After all, what Christian would deny that Jesus was really the One that they were striving to obey?  In reality, I was nothing more than a hypocrite and a Pharisee all at the same time.  I was nothing more than a white washed tomb (Matthew 23:27-28).  Around others I could act so holy and pure but inwardly, I was tormented by my sins.  I hated my flesh.  I despised what I knew about me when none were around yet I continued to play the hypocrite and act like I was living in complete victory.

I see now the errors of my ways.  It was not seeking Christ that was a sin.  It was not seeking to overcome my sins that was a sin.  It was my faith in me, my pride in thinking that could gain the victory by the sheer power of my own will.  Yet my will is tainted by my flesh.  My will wants to honor me above Christ.  My will wants to live for the glory of me above the glory of Christ.  My will wants to exalt me and not turn others toward Christ.

I rejoice now though for the gospel.  The gospel is not about what I do to obtain His forgiveness.  The gospel is not about what I do to overcome sin.  The gospel is not about how I can now, by the power of my will, live free from sin.  The gospel in fact informs me that I am saved by God’s grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).  No doubt His grace teaches me to say no to sin (Titus 2:12) but my focus now is on Christ and Christ alone (Titus 2:13).  I know now that through the gospel, I am seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3).  I know now that through Christ, though I was once dead in my sins, I am now alive in Him (Ephesians 2:1-6).  I recognize that my passion is to glorify Christ in all that I say and do and not because of my own striving, my own will power, but in light of the gospel that saves me (1 Corinthians 15:10).  I see now that Christ came into the world to save sinners (Luke 19:10) and Paul the Apostle understood that before a holy and pure God, he was sinful and lost (1 Timothy 1:15).  Our salvation is based on the Lord Jesus Christ and not on our works!  Good works flow from a redeemed life (James 2:14-26; cf. Ephesians 2:10).  The love of God grabs us and empowers us (John 14:15, 23-24).

Our part is to consistently submit to the Lordship of Christ.  This is the key to overcome sin.  It is not by making “sin lists” or by striving merely in our own power to overcome sin.  This has never worked.  The key is to focus on the Lordship of Christ, be saturated in His Word (John 17:17), and to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-17).  To follow the flesh only spells doom (Galatians 6:7-9; James 5:19-20).  2 Peter 2:20-22 warns us against returning to the flesh while thinking we are forgiven.  We must repent of our sins but we do this by the power of the gospel and not by merely creating resolutions.

Here then is the balance.  We adore the gospel that saves us.  We acknowledge that we are saved by the grace of God alone and that Christ is our salvation.  We rejoice in the Lord for His forgiveness and for setting us free from the power of sin (Colossians 1:13-14).  We praise God for the gospel truth that we are redeemed by the blood of Jesus alone (1 Peter 1:18-19) and not by our works (Titus 3:5-7).  We confess that without Christ, we would be lost sinners, hell-bound.  We celebrate the biblical fact that we are holy before God through Christ (Hebrews 10:10; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

This gospel truth then produces a joy in longing to serve the Lord.  I want to be holy as He is holy not because of legalism and perfectionism but because of what He has done in saving me!  I want to strive to be like Jesus and set my mind on things above and not on this world (Colossians 3:1-4) because of the work of Christ.  I rejoice that I am justified before God through faith (Romans 5:1).  I rejoice that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).  This leads me toward holiness.  This gospel leads me to want to pray, to worship, to share the gospel with the lost, to seek to be pure and blameless (Philippians 2:12-15).  I want to press on (Philippians 3:12-16).  I want to forsake my sins in the light of His forgiveness of my sins (1 John 1:9) but I do not deceive myself into thinking that I have overcome sin by my power for I cannot (1 John 1:10).

So I rejoice in Christ.  I praise the Father for the gift of His Son and that I am saved, redeemed, forgiven in Christ alone (1 Timothy 2:5-6).  Yet I also long to be holy, to be pure, to be blameless but I know that I can only obtain holiness by God’s grace working in me.

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