On perfection, good works, and falling short

This particular morning Jeremiah and I were driving down the road on our way to get breakfast when we caught a glimpse of a church’s marquee to our right. In black letters it read: No Perfect People Allowed.

Out of all the crazy church marquee signs out there, this one was a breath of fresh air. I figured the church must have gotten the phrase from John Ortberg’s book.

Growing up in the church, there were times I felt I had to be perfect to be accepted. So much that I kept up a certain image inside the doors and another one on the outside. But I was totally missing the mark in my faith and in the gospel and here’s why:

Perfection or “good behavior” isn’t the goal of our faith. I fall short every time when it is. The goal is depending on God’s grace and love to work in our hearts and transform them. Any good works we produce are evidence of a life that has been changed by Christ. Behavior modification doesn’t mean life change has truly happened from the inside out. Anyone can look holy. And we can’t mistake this for the gospel.

These truths have lifted certain burdens like: If I could just follow that rule closer… If I could sin less in this area… if I could just appear to love that person, then.. This thinking is all about me and what I can do and not on God’s grace to ultimately change my heart and help me put sin to death.

On our drive back with a belly full of chocolate chip pancakes, I glanced at the sign again. While my good works won’t get me anywhere, I became more thankful that an absolute dependence on a perfect Savior to change my stubborn heart, always will.

Do you ever focus too much on good works instead of grace? Any church marquee signs catching your eye lately?

Bring your Bibles, but don’t bring your problems?

dmax_5386sepia3There is a cancer happening in churches across the country today and it has to do with morality– the same disease that controlled the Pharisees and teachers of the law in Jesus’ time.

It’s the idea that you have to “do” this or do that to be accepted by God. It’s the idea that you must go to church, but don’t you dare say anything that could ever show that you’re not a “good” Christian or that you aren’t following all the rules. And problems? Oh no, don’t bring those. Those don’t exist.

Well it’s a crazy thing, isn’t it? And it’s far from the true gospel. It causes people to never want to step foot in the church again. I’ve seen it happen.

The truth is that Jesus came to heal us of our problems. He didn’t ask us to clean up before hand. He never asked the church to put on their pretty faces and hide their issues with lust, greed, adultery, murder, or jealousy from each other. He said to confess them so that they could be healed and find life again (James 5:16).

He asks us to bring our sin to him.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were so blinded by their good works that they couldn’t see their hypocrisy. Jesus said to them, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to” (Matt. 23:13).

The Pharisees had it so wrong that people were kept from entering the kingdom of God. A lot of us have it wrong today, including myself at times. Morality is not our motive.

The gospel is. The cross is our motive. It’s about broken people receiving the free, unmerited gift of salvation- not because of anything good we have done.

As I grow in my faith, I’m reminded to be careful of those who preach a message of morality alone- that there is something I can do to earn favor with God. (This isn’t to say that when I grow closer to Him, I won’t want to “do” those things.) But my motive isn’t for morality’s sake alone, but to embrace Christ for all that he is and to let him do the changing he needs to do in my areas of brokenness.

Have you ever felt like you could bring your Bible to church, but not your problems? Do you think the typical church today is missing the true gospel?

photo by: Janice Dunn

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