MORE ABOUT JESUS PART 6 — PERFECTION ONLY IN CHRIST
by Pastor Mike Fortune
April 11, 2007
Throughout the history of the church, sincere Christians have taken striving for holiness to extremes resulting in pietism, sanctificationism, perfectionism, legalism, extreme monastacism, and pharisaism. But these extreme forms of righteousness by works need not be. Because the Gospel results in holier, more sanctified lives than perfectionism ever could. How? By beholding Jesus, we become changed (2 Corinthians 3:18)! He purifies and changes us better than we could ever purify and change ourselves! Maybe that’s why Jon Paulien, who’s just accepted a call to be the Dean of Religion out at Loma Linda University, said it this way while he was chair of New Testament Theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in his book published by the Review and Herald called Knowing God In The Real World, “Our standing with God is not subject to the ups and downs of our daily obedience, but to the ongoing nature of Jesus' perfect righteousness!”
But I didn’t always know that. I used to think my standing with God depends on how well I’m obeying. That all satan wanted was for me to do bad things. To disobey. To rebel. Whatever. But I learned he doesn’t care if we’re naughty or nice. He is perfectly happy to have you do good things apart from Jesus. Because the people who seem to keep their lives out of trouble but don’t have a relationship with Jesus are in just as dangerous a position as those who are obviously doing illegal, immoral, and unChristian stuff. Why? Because they think they’re okay with God, but they forget that living their life apart from Jesus is what sin really is.
Sin is primarily a broken relationship with God
When Adam and Eve sinned, God before He asked: “What have you done?” in Genesis 3:13 He asked: Where are you? Where have you been? God knew a relationship had been broken! Which is how Isaiah defines sin. Isaiah 1:2-4 (NLT) says, “Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! This is what the LORD says: ‘The children I raised and cared for have turned against me. Even the animals—the donkey and the ox—know their owner and appreciate his care, but not my people Israel. No matter what I do for them, they still do not understand.’ Oh, what a sinful nation they are!” God is saying the animals had a better relationship with their masters than their masters had with God because at least their animals knew their masters and appreciated what they did for them. So from the very beginning in Eden to the days of the prophets of old to today, sin is primarily a broken relationship with God.
Which may be why Paul could say in Romans 14:23 (NKJV) that “Whatever is not from faith is sin.” Faith as we’ve said is a relational word. It means trust. Psalm 20:7 says “Some trust in horses, some trust in chariots, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Whatever is not from faith or trust in God is sin. Which means that anything, whether it is good or bad, outside of a faith relationship with Jesus is sin. Therefore, I can live a life on the outside that appears to be completely Christian doing nothing illegal, immoral, or unChristian, but if the tendency (Steps to Christ, 58) of my life is I am living apart from Jesus and am not seeking to know Him better through His Word and through prayer, then I am living my good life in my own strength apart from Jesus. Which is sin.
So if that’s true, why do we keep telling people that sin is the transgression of the law? Because that’s what 1 John 3:4 says. “Sin is the transgression of the law!” But newsflash: that’s not all it means. We know this is true because all around this verse that we constantly quote out of context are relationship words! Have you noticed this before? Let’s look at it. Start in verse 1. “1How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”
Verse 2. “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” Relational words. “Dear. Friends. Children. Which is obviously familial and relational word. I find it extremely ironic that many Adventists miss this. So protective of the Sabbath are we that we miss the entire point of the Sabbath. Which is to know the Lord of it. So protective of this text in 1 John 3:4 that evangelists have used for so long right before introducing the truths about the Sabbath seemingly so clearly describing sin as being the transgression of the law that we miss the relationship with the law giver! How great is the love the Father has lavished on us! That we should be called children of God and that is what we are!
Yes, verse 3 says, “3Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” But again, how much can we do apart from Christ? Nothing! So who’s really doing the purifying here? Jesus! And when, like Philippians 1:6, does it say this purifying process will be completed? 1 John 3:2 says “When He appears!” Not before! So why are we beating ourselves up? Of course you’re going to fall and fail in the meantime. Those are Ellen White’s words in chapter 7 of Steps to Christ to describe what happens in the life of the genuine Christian who continues to fall short of the glory of God. They continue to fall and fail. All the way up until the day Jesus Christ returns. Which leads me to my only conclusion for tonight. Genuine perfection can only ever be found in Christ. There is no other kind. I suppose God can empower us to never fall, fail, or sin again, but apparently, He does not. Romans 3:23 says it this way in present continuous Greek. “All have sinned and continue to fall short of the glory of God.”
So what happens in the meantime? There’s really 2 schools of thought on this. The first one involves perfectionism. The second one involves perfectionism only in Christ. So being good without Jesus is just as bad as being bad without Jesus. Which is a sobering thought is it not? And so the devil is more than happy for you to be a good Christian without Christ. Maybe even an obedient Sabbath keeping Seventh-day Adventist Christian as long as you do not have a growing relationship with Jesus. Why? Because satan knows that by beholding, we become changed.
2 Corinthians 3:18 (NKJV) says, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” He knows the reality show Jesus produces in us will never be cancelled! The Holy Spirit has dunamis power. It’s where we get the word dynamite. The dynamite power of the Holy Spirit takes away our desire to smoke cigarettes, as you wish. The Holy Spirit reminds us to not even listen to gossip much less repeat it, as you wish. The Holy Spirit convicts us that stealing pirated software is just as big as stealing cars. The Holy Spirit rewires our fuses turning sons of thunder into the pure in heart. If you focus on Jesus, you’ll become more like Christ. If you focus on your faults and failures, you’ll become more like them. We need to permanently ban navel gazing because 2 Corinthians 3:18 is saying “By beholding we become changed.”
There’s are some great scenes in the movie The Princess Bride, a fairy tale that makes fun of fairy tales, about a servant boy named Westley who falls in love with a beautiful young maiden named Buttercup. She treats him terribly until one day she realizes that she also loves him. And whenever she asks him to do something for her, he replies, “As you wish.” If we have or want a relationship with Jesus, He says the same thing to us—His bride according to Scripture—“As you wish.” [Show clip]
Later, for a variety of reasons, Westley has to leave. But upon his return, the evil King Hummperdink captures Westley and tortures him to the point that he is, according to Mad Max the Medicine Man, “half-dead.” But “half-dead” is not all “all dead.” So, with the help of a magic chocolate pill Mad Max makes, Westley’s strength and vigor returns and together with his friends, they storm King Hummperdink’s castle to rescue his one true love. It’s a silly movie. But with a wonderful lesson. True love cannot die. Jesus’ love for us is so true and so strong and so lasting that not even when we think we’re spiritually dead we’re really only half dead. For Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He can rescue and rekindle in us a relationship with Him that is fun and everlasting dependant on His pardon and power to save and sanctify.
So what’s my job? My job is to get with Him. That’s the right fight of faith. And it is not impossible. The weakest of us can fall to our knees and spend special and specific time with Jesus. Any victory that occurs after that, any overcoming on a theological level from God’s perspective, is all God’s and anything that happens after that on a practical down to earth real life level is all God’s too. For apart from Him, we can do nothing.
Jeremiah 13:23 (NIV) says it this way. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.” Steps to Christ says, “All of your promises and resolutions are like ropes of sand.” Not some of them. All of them. Before or after you come to Christ. So if we need to be rescued or revived, what do we do? We do have a part to play. But it’s not the part many former Christians think it is. We have to fight the right fight of faith. But what is the right fight of faith?
The right fight of faith—get to know Jesus!
1 Timothy 6:12 (NIV) says, “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” It didn’t say we’re to fight the good fight of overcoming your faults and failures. It didn’t say to we’re to fight the right fight of trying to get your behavior in line. It didn’t say to fight the right fight of obeying all the rules. It says, “Fight the good fight of faith.” But what is faith? It is simple trust. But you don’t trust someone you don’t know. So faith is getting to know God to see if He is worthy of your trust. Psalm 20:7 (NIV) says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” So the right fight is fighting to get to know Jesus better each day. And it is a fight is it not? Does the devil make it difficult for you to spend special and specific time with Jesus at the beginning of your day? You bet he does. He knows if he can discourage you from spending time with Jesus, that you’re powerless against him. But that with Jesus, he’s gonna get pounded!
According to John 15:5 (NIV), how much can you do without Jesus? Nothing. Jesus says, “I am the Vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.” But how much can you do with Jesus? Philippians 4:13 (NKJV), “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” If with Christ, I can do all things, but without Him, I can do nothing, then who is responsible for whatever it is that is getting done? Jesus! This is why we can say Jesus saves and sanctifies! His will is done in heaven and on earth.
So, here we are again circling back to looking to live, reading for relationship, dialogue praying by talking and listening, and sharing what you got from the first two with someone else. There are 126 pages in the book Steps to Christ, but the cliff notes only have three. Read your Bible looking for Jesus. Talk and listen for Jesus when you’re done reading. And witness to someone else about what Jesus reveals to you from the first two. And what happens when you do that is the big fancy word called sanctification. It means growing in the image of Jesus. And it happens no other way. You cannot do it on your own! So quit trying to! It’s not only not fun, it doesn’t work! Smoking is not your problem. Gossip is not your problem. Stealing is not your problem. Temper is not your problem. None of our faults and failures are our problems. They’re God’s! He’s the One bragging about taking care of those things if we abide in Him! Specifically ask for forgiveness. First from those you hurt and then from God. But after that, quit beating yourself up when you crash and burn. Instead, keep coming to Jesus. That’s the secret to Victorious Living in Christ.
All star faith means risking our lives on what God has done for us in Christ. When saving faith becomes a part of our lives, everything we do, say, or live for is related to Christ. That’s the real reason many people don’t want salvation even though its free. They don’t want to give Lordship of their lives over to anyone else. Do you? It's so much easier criticizing and fault finding, comparing our below average batting averages to each other’s instead of humbling ourselves, acknowledging that all of us have sinned and continue to do so, none of us are any better than anyone else and even if we were, we don’t deserve it. But if by grace until Jesus comes, we choose in Christ, to have All Star faith, we too will make headlines. Because in Christ, we are batting 1000 today, tomorrow, and the next day regardless of how many errors we commit or runs batted in.
Joanne Smarney tells the true story of when in 1990 she was working in the downtown area in Flint, Michigan at the Genesee County Drain Commissioner's Office, very near the county court buildings. The day was extremely cold and windy, but she decided to take her morning break outside. She walked around the building to clear her head and get a break from the clamor inside and as she turned the corner, she saw another "up and coming" young lawyer waiting for the light to change so he could cross the street. He was probably in his late 20's, clean cut, and impeccably dressed. His navy-blue designer overcoat must have been fresh from the cleaners. His two hundred dollar shoes glistened with polish. His briefcase was also expensive, probably a graduation gift from Mom and Dad for passing the bar. Soft leather gloves covered his hands. The light changed and he proceeded to cross the street. But more than half way through, he started to take off his gloves. This puzzled her as it was very, very cold. Then she saw another man in the crosswalk, obviously down on his luck, crossing from the other side, walking with metal crutches. He had no gloves to protect him from the frozen aluminum.
The lawyer paused momentarily in front of the man on crutches and handed him his fur-lined gloves. They both smiled and kept walking. The whole exchange lasted no more than two or three seconds. “Yes, she says, the lawyer won my respect, but I also truly admire the man on crutches. He not only had the good grace to accept something he needed, but also did so cheerfully. He did not protest or argue with the generous giver, instead simply smiled, said thanks, and continued on his way. It is just as important, if not more so, to accept the gifts we're given graciously as it is to be the giver of gifts.
It is this simple decision to accept the gift from the giver that determines whether or not we have All Star faith—regardless of your batting average, the errors you’ve made, or surprisingly enough, even the ridiculously perfect Home Runs we hit.