They keep telling me I’m forgiven. A choir of trumpet-wielding Angels could sing the message to me in three-part harmony and I’d tell them I’d have to think about it. But sometimes it sneaks up on me. The message finds its way through the maze of pride in my crinkly brain and sets up shop. Then I wonder why I ever questioned, what I ever thought could be better than full acceptance based on the work of another—Jesus himself.
That lasts about a day.
It’s a vicious cycle.
I start wanting to do something in return. That’s not a bad thing, mind you. That’s where it should come from–a response of love to an act of ultimate love. We love him because he first loved us, and all that. It’s the part where my perfectionism starts me rolling back down that hill, Jack and Jill style. Then I need to hear the gospel all over again.
I know, I’m neurotic. But that’s what makes sense to me. It seems illogical for me to be less than perfect, even if I’m loved no matter how badly I screw it up. Because then I feel like I’m just phoning it in. I’m taking advantage of God’s grace. But then I fail and fail and fail. I feel like one of those ropes that dogs tug on, and there’s a bulldog on both ends and neither will let go.
That’s been a recurring theme in my life since I became a Christian. God tells me to trust him, and I’m like, “No, I totally got this, man.” I feel like Rocky in that first movie—where he lost—getting knocked down by the bigger, stronger, faster and better boxer of my own sin. Eyes swelling shut, I keep getting up. My pride won’t let me do anything less. I get a few good punches in and the bell rings. Sweet mercy. I can call a day. I can say I’ve had enough. Where’s that towel? All I can think about is rest (and maybe those few good punches), but when the next round starts, I find myself rising, stumbling toward failure. Bell after damnable bell, I fight, until I’m done.
But I don’t win Apollo Creed’s grudging respect. I don’t get the girl. I don’t get an adoring crowd. I get nothing. I’m bloodied and beaten and I’ve lost. Because I tried to do it myself.
All that said, I admire the irrational need I have to be perfect. I see it as some misguided outcome of my sanctification. A twisted desire to move more quickly into purification. So it’s a go… What’s that?It’s pride? –Laughs dismissively- It’s notpride. It’s just…
Yeah… it’s pride.
Here’s the thing: I do know we’re not capable of achieving perfection. It’s literally like thinking that if you try hard enough you can fly. And I’m not using hyperbole. No exaggeration here. I mean that. Literally. Because, if you’re like me, you don’t always fully grasp that this is exactly how far we are from achieving perfection.
But I still try to do it alone.
I want to add a but. Yeah, I know it’s impossible, but It doesn’t hurt to try. No, it doesn’t hurt to try. Not at all. Not if you love being mentally and physically drained, feeling like a failure and finally running away because you can’t go on anymore.
That’s the other option. Seriously.
God didn’t come and live a sinless life and die a sinner’s death as some sort of backup plan. Drastic measures highlight a drastic need. That need is ours. While what God wants is perfect, it can’t be done by us. It had to be done for us.
But I still try to do it myself.
And, so, for the billionth time I will, with a sour stomach and aching head, go to God and ask him what he wants me to do. How I can please him. Maybe I’ll listen this time when his reply to me is the same as the one he gave to those who asked in John 6:28-29: “Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’”
Apart from him. I can’t do it. And that hurts.
So, while my ego is left shredded on the floor at the knowledge that even my good works are like filthy rags (Is. 64:6), he goes on, trying to get me to see the hope in this: John 15:4: “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
My will. My strength. Worthless apart from him. (John 15:5)
When I let him love me, in that love I find myself changed. You will too. You’ll find that you love more and forgive more easily. You’ll have strange bouts of patience and find yourself giggling at inappropriate times. Because, as a branch, you got nothing. But when we’re connected to the Vine, we grow and produce good fruit.
It’s not guilt that guides us. It isn’t shame that pushes us toward the finish line. It is love that constrains us. (2 Cor. 5:14) Stop putting all your energy into yourself and start putting your trust in Jesus. Anything else…
But, with God…