Are you one who desires and strives for excellence? If so, you likely expect it in others also. You give your very best nearly all of the time, and your default mindset is that we should all rise up to accomplish everything in life wholeheartedly, with maximum skill and efficiency. In weaker moments you find yourself frustrated that things are not just-so, and when you encounter repeated ineffectiveness in others you may be quick to categorize them in your thinking as slackers, incompetents or dullards. When you yourself fail, you notice a pattern of anger, fear, worry or defeatism because, after all, you’ve come to expect more of yourself. Your high standards make perfect sense to you and you cannot even consider that they might be to high because you were made to mount up and soar, right? Several years ago I, one who was struggling with perfectionism, arrived painfully at the conclusion that I could not consistently meet my own expectations of impeccable output in life. I wasn’t going to be able to be the consummate Christian, the hallowed husband, the faultless father or the pristine pastor. Concluding this left me feeling unsteady for a season in life and I was forced to consider the question, “How good is going to be good enough?” The tendency to rely on my own performance had taken root inside of me, and it was extremely troubling to diagnose how deep my own self-justification ran. I knew that I could never have saved myself, but I lived like I needed to outpace everyone else in order to prove (to whom?) that I took God’s gracious gift at an optimum level. Now, in my growing concern of my tendency to push myself, I wasn’t looking for an easy way out of what God expects for me, but I was certainly trying to find a place to live with excellence while still growing in my need to learn to rest in His grace. This is a hard but necessary part of the Christian journey and, the more prone you might be to perfectionism, the more important it is that you come to terms with your unending weakness in the light of His encompassing grace.
“For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” – Hebrews 10:14
What do you do with this verse? Go ahead and rejoice in it’s rich doctrinal substance, and give God the praise for your justification but…what will you do with it? How will this impact your living this week? This citadel of truth tells us that the ones who are currently being sanctified (those who have been saved) are the same ones who have been perfected for all of eternity. The perfection of our justification is something already accomplished through the works of Christ, even as the perfecting process is still ongoing. What we have here is a divine declaration of your perfect acceptance before God and the simultaneous assertion that you are presently being made acceptable. Do you know what most people seek to do? We seek to become accepted by acting acceptably. We reverse the entire course of God’s work, hijack it for ourselves, feverishly commit to making our lives worthy and then ignorantly present those lives to God with the assumption that He will then receive us. This is so subtle but I promise you that, until lavish grace frees us from this tendency, we are prone to give ourselves over to self-effort and performance based justification. Our theology tells us one thing but the way we live tells us the opposite. It is my belief that we are afraid of walking in our present-moment perfected standing with God. It feels risky, irreverent, sacrilegious, and presumptuous. Christ has done it all?Surely we must do something, right? In those days of searching, for me there had to be an objective answer of what I needed to do, how much of it, how often and to what degree before I could appropriate a sense of well-being and inner rest. During that season I just couldn’t find any answers and it caused me some deep spiritual struggles. In the end I was brought to a self-renunciation and abandonment of trusting in my own ability to be good enough. I concluded that there was nothing I could add to the completed work of Christ and that the grace that fully justified me also made me fully acceptable to God, no matter what level I found myself performing at. Grace won the day and I allowed myself to fall completely into the finished work of Jesus Christ and to learn to rest right there.
The process has not been easy and even today I go through periods where I want to make up for missed opportunities, lost time and personal failures. As I am currently enjoying a three-week break from all ministry, it is still evident that I own some fleeting concerns about whether or not it is proper for a pastor to do so. My inner-Pharisee clucks his tongue and mumbles under his breath, “Tsk. Tsk, Jeff. More is expected of you.” The need to do a little more, a little better, a little deeper and a little longer are impulses that I have to put to death when I find myself trying to drop an anchor for my assurance. Either Christ has accomplished it all for me or I am doomed. He does not ask for our help. He is not requesting our assistance. He looks us directly in our eyes and transmits straight to our hearts that He requires one thing of us and one thing alone: Trust Me. When we learn to do this, a beautiful adventure begins to unfold with our lives. We commence to dying to ourselves and begin to learn what it means to live in Him. My hope is that you are somewhere in the midst of that journey and that it is bringing you unprecedented freedom, relief and joy. Grace is humbling. Grace is risky. At times, grace seems scandalous.
But in the end it is all that we have. It is all that we have ever had. It will be the lasting theme of all eternity and all the praise will belong to Christ – the One who has perfected you forever.
Give to the ministry