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God’s Liberating Grace
In the desire to be free, the American public is in greater bondage than at any other time. While this is true given the increase of violence and overpopulation of jails, the real bondages are far deadlier.
People are in the shackles of alcohol, drugs (both legal and illegal), sexual immorality, and an overwhelming need for acceptance.
The good news, however, is that God’s grace can liberate us from these and other bondages that have our hearts and lives in chains. Unfortunately, most people don’t want to hear this. Instead they try to deal with them in their own way and end up dealing more with the symptoms than the cause.
Some time ago I was given an article about the increased popularity of young girls who cut themselves. In the article one said, “I’ve got to get away. Why do I even bother coming – no one cares that I’m here. I’m worthless. Nothing I say or do is ever right. I’m ugly, fat, and lazy. I’ll never amount to anything.”
These acts of self-abuse and addictions are becoming more and more popular as people are trying to find new ways to drown out the emotional pain. These kinds of solutions, however, are short lived.
One youth said that in caring for these self-inflicted wounds that they felt comforted, yet at the same time guilty, because next time it’s going to take more pain to find the release they’re hoping for.
The journalist said that these kids were “bright, talented, creative achievers – perfectionists who push themselves beyond all human bounds, people-pleasers who cover their pain with a happy face.”
This journalist hit on one of the root causes in these sorts of hurtful behaviors, and why so many find themselves in their addictions, and that is “perfectionism.”
Perfectionism is trying to prove our worth, not only to ourselves but also to others. It’s actually a counterfeit to spiritual maturity, because it’s putting on a false front.
One of the main reasons people get caught up in perfectionism is because they haven’t understood God’s grace. God takes our sins and gives us forgiveness, along with the power to live our lives productively.
Now that’s a good deal and one that’s hard to refuse, because God’s grace is free. But we think that it’s too good to be true thinking there’s a catch in there somewhere. We also think we have to help God out in the process.
To counter this faulty thinking, Paul dedicates just about his entire letter to the Galatian church in the attempt to portray any attempt to try to earn God’s approval as a dumb idea.
“Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3 NKJV)
No matter how strong or disciplined we may be, or how many good deeds we do or rules we keep, they cannot make us perfect, because our salvation is a work of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. And so Paul says, “Don’t be foolish enough to try.”
Paul is bringing them back to the beginning, when they saw and experienced God’s wondrous works, and asks, “Was it through your being perfect, through keeping the law, or was it through your faith in God’s grace?”
Perfectionism says, “Do,” God’s grace says, “Done.”
Therefore Paul is saying it’s ludicrous to think that we can accomplish what only what He can complete. It was the same thing he said to the Philippians church.
“Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6 NKJV)
To the Galatians, however, Paul is more forceful saying, “Who has bewitched you.” (Galatians 3:1 NKJV) This reveals an element of demonic activity in this sort of thinking.
Today I’d like to look at God’s liberating grace and how we can break free from the prison of perfectionism, along with other hurtful and destructive behaviors and addictions.
Perfectionism’s Destructive Force
1. It Defeats Initiative
When we end up waiting for the perfect set of circumstances, timing, weather, or environment. When we wait for our kids to leave the house, when enough money comes in, or when the stars line up, then nothing will ever get done. This is perfectionism’s curse.
“He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.” (Ecclesiastes 11:4 NKJV)
We may reinterpret this saying, “If we’re waiting for the perfect conditions before we start, then we’ll never get anything done.”
Perfectionism promotes procrastination. When standards are too high, paralysis sets in.
2. It Damages Relationships
“Do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise: why should you destroy yourself?” (Ecclesiastes 7:16)
We have the tendency to take things to the extreme. We can make any virtue into a vice by doing so.
We all have this picture of our ideal self. It’s what we show on our first date. But after a while the gap between the ideal and the real begins to show.
We also have this ongoing conversation with ourselves saying, “Shape up, you can do it better.” Or we can make more damaging remarks like that girl who called herself worthless, ugly, fat and lazy.
What is the cure for perfectionism? It isn’t found in some therapy session, or in some purple pill. The cure is found only through God’s liberating grace.
I heard the formula by someone using the acrostic, “RELAX.” The reason is because they say the antidote for perfectionism is when we learn to relax in God’s grace.
Realize Nobody’s Perfect
Nothing but God and His word are perfect.
“To all perfection I see a limit, but your commands are boundless.” (Psalm 119:96 NIV)
Nothing is perfect except God’s word. We therefore need to build our lives upon it. Further, no one is perfect except God; therefore we need to give others and ourselves permission to mess up.
Solomon says that there is no one who does good and doesn’t blow it, Ecclesiastes 7:20.
Back in the 80’s there was a book entitled, “ I’m OK, You’re OK.” Even though it is was the #1 best seller, it’s nothing but a bunch of baloney. I’m not okay, and I know you’re not okay either. We’re imperfect because we all sin.
God’s grace, however, says we don’t have to be perfect. The reason is because the only one who is perfect is Jesus Christ, and we are made perfect in Him.
Enjoy God’s Unconditional Love
“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1a NKJV)
We are not only servants of God, but even more than that, we’re His children, and if His children, then heirs of eternal life.
As parents we know our kids are far from perfect, but we still love the little angels anyway. We love them in spite of their imperfections.
When our little ones bring home a picture they’ve drawn that has no artistic value, we don’t throw it away. Instead we put it on the refrigerator for all to see.
When our children begin to walk, they stumble and fall. They bump into things and even break some stuff in the process. But we don’t yell at them for their attempts, instead we encourage them and pick them up to try again.
That’s our Heavenly Father. He loves us even when we stumble and fall, even when our efforts are far from perfect. He loves us no natter what..
God’s love is unconditional, and so we need to come to His throne of grace for help in time of need, Hebrews 4:16. We don’t have to worry whether we measure up, because we don’t and never will. But Jesus has measured up for us when He died upon the cross. That’s why we can come to God and experience the fullness of His grace.
Let God Handle Things
At the root of perfectionism is an overwhelming desire to control.
• If we can control our spouse, then we think our marriage will be perfect.
• If we can control our kids, then they’ll never get in trouble.
• If we can control our career, then our future will be assured.
• If we can control people around us, then the world will be a better place.
The painful reality, however, is that most things in our lives are out of our control, from birth to death and everything in-between. Therefore, since we cannot control the uncontrollable we have to let go and let God.
The Apostle Peter said,
“Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7 NKJV)
To cast means to let go. When we cast a line into the water to catch a fish there comes a point when we have to let our finger off the button. If we don’t then there is no casting and no fish dinner.
To overcome perfectionism we have to let go and let God do His thing. Let God handle the uncontrollable(s).
Act By Faith
We get into God’s family not by anything we do, but rather it’s a gracious act of God based upon our faith.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV)
If it’s not by God’s grace then we’re not getting in. If anyone thinks salvation is through the church they attend, keeping the rules, or doing good things, then they’re going to be in for a rude awaking on the other side of death.
No one will ever be good enough, perfect enough, earn enough, or do enough. If it’s not by grace through faith, then there is no entry into heaven.
Further, the way we enter this new life in Christ is the same way we’re to continue in it. It’s by grace through faith.
To the Colossian church Paul said,
“As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” (Colossians 2:6 NKJV)
We aren’t saved by grace just to live by works. Therefore, since being perfect didn’t save us, what makes us think we can live this life by being perfect?
Everything in life is a gift from God. None of us would be alive if it wasn’t for God’s grace. The air we breathe, the minds we think with, the ability to communicate; it’s all a gift of God’s grace.
God forgives us, guides us, gives us gifts and talents to earn a living and do ministry all by His grace.
Xchange Perfectionism for Peace
Perfectionism destroys peace. Jesus, therefore, makes us an offer that is too good to pass up. An offer that is just as valid today as it was when He spoke it.
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 NKJV)
If we’re tired, worn out, and burned out, we can come to Jesus and recover our souls. Jesus will recover the peace that was lost and imprisoned due to perfectionism.
Things don’t have to be perfect for us to be happy.
• If we’re waiting for that perfect vacation, then we’re never going to enjoy the ones we take.
• There’s no such thing as the perfect marriage. Understand that we married a sinner, and they married an even bigger one.
• There’s no such thing as a perfect church, because when any of us join a church, then it’s no longer perfect, and
• There’s no such thing as a perfect body, kids, or parents.
We must learn to enjoy this life in the middle of all the imperfection and in less than perfect circumstances.
Paul gives to us the clue, that is, we need to exchange perfectionism for God’s peace.
“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” (Philippians 4:11 NKJV)
Human nature is not to be content, rather it tries to be perfect, and when we find ourselves less than perfect then we become discontent, trying to drown our disappointments in addictions and harmful behavior.
Far too many have been living in the prison of perfectionism. But God wants to give a royal pardon. God wants to unlock the jail door and set people free, to be what He has created for them to be.
No one has to continue living in this prison of perfectionism, which is a self-imposed prison. To walk out of the prison we need to have faith in Jesus Christ, placing all our trust in Him to see us through to the end.
Remember, God who has begun this great work will complete it, and that is when we will find ourselves in heaven with Him.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study