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Devotional: Perfect Righteousness

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My husband, Josh, and I are best friends. Our relationship began with our friendship, and it was easy to be friends with him because we had a lot in common. We have many complimentary differences, but the things we have in common drew us together and allowed us to build upon our friendship to eventually become husband and wife. Some of the commonalities we share can be seen through similarities in our personalities and the way we approach things. Most of the time, this is beneficial – our thought process is similar, so we often arrive at the same conclusion; but remember: I said MOST of the time.

Josh and I love our home and we love investing in the space God has given us to make it more beautiful for us and our guests. We also love being productive (another devotional for another day). As a result of these two interests, we have a long list of projects around our home that we tackle in our spare time. The exception to my aforementioned statement (about how our similarities are beneficial most of the time) becomes evident when we are working on these projects together. It’s not that we disagree, it’s that we DO agree that everything. Must. Be. Perfect. One of the most recent projects we worked on was a series of wooden signs with cozy sayings on them we were planning to hang up in our house. We began with cutting, sanding, and staining the wood which was followed by stenciling and adding a protective coating to preserve the final product. At every stage, we struggled to be satisfied with our work and when we were finally finished, we were so wholly unsatisfied that Josh sanded everything off and we started again from scratch. You’re probably thinking that they couldn’t possibly have been that bad. And you would be right! But the perfectionist in each of us won out, with encouragement from the other, and we found ourselves in this endless cycle of not being satisfied with the work we had done.

I found myself thinking about my perfectionist mentality as Pastor Barry read the sermon text this past Sunday in church. At first glance, the words penned by John so many years ago seem hopeless. 1 John 2:4-6 says, “Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” It appears that John is depicting an impossible standard of perfection regarding obedience to God’s commandments. But when we think about God and who He is, it is clear that He has every right to hold us to that standard of perfection. God is perfectly righteous and holy; therefore, He can only accept what is also perfectly righteous and Holy, because accepting something less would compromise His very essence. But through this perfect standard, God reveals more than His righteousness to us; He reveals our own sinfulness. No one knows better than myself how often I fail to meet His standard of perfection. No one, that is, except for God Himself. And I am guessing it is the same for each of you reading this. But God revealing His perfection and our sinfulness through His perfect law is not meant to lead us to despair; it is meant to point us to our savior.

Pastor Barry explained that John’s words do not condemn those of us who fail to meet perfection. In verses 1-2, John says: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” It is true that God must uphold a standard of perfection, but it is also true that in His infinite wisdom, He knew that none of us would ever meet that standard. So, He did the most loving thing He could possibly do: He sent His son, Jesus Christ, to live the life we could not, endure the punishment we should have, and give us His righteousness that we don’t deserve and could never earn. When we see the holiness of God alongside our own sinfulness, we realize there is no way we could ever approach God on our own, but praise and thanks be to Him for making a way through Jesus. And no matter how much we sin, we will never be removed from God because the righteousness of Christ has been given to us and Christ is there, advocating on our behalf.

Those wooden signs I mentioned earlier are currently in our basement, unfinished, because my second attempt still didn’t reach the level of perfection I was striving for. I have debated sanding them down again and starting over for a third time, but I am pretty sure somewhere along the way I will mess up again, much like how I mess up daily in my walk with Christ. But unlike the signs that are up to me to make, it is not up to me to earn favor with God by perfectly obeying His law because Jesus has done it for me. When we realize this truth and claim the freedom we have in Christ, the natural response is love and obedience. It is through the recognition of God’s love for us through the sacrifice of His son that we respond in love by being obedient to Him; not perfectly, but in a way that reveals God in us. Brothers and sisters, I know that it is easy to become weighed down by the guilt and shame of our sin and the lack of our ability to meet God’s perfect standard. But when we allow God to use that reality to show us the magnitude of the cross, we find joy in the knowledge that His perfect standard has been met by the one who not only paid our debt, but lovingly and graciously handed us His perfect righteousness so that we may know the love and favor of God. Only then can we begin to reflect obedience to God, not by seeking to earn His favor, but by responding out of the love we have for Him for all that He has done for us.

 Photo Credit: Thanti Nguyen