Posts Tagged With: perfectionism

 
 

Spiritual Warfare XI: Final Thoughts About the Sword of the Spirit

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“Sword of the Spirit” stained glass from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Knoxville, TN. Photo by Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As we conclude our discussion of the sword of the Spirit, I believe it is important to remind ourselves how to properly wield it. It is easy to misuse the sword of the Spirit, and such abuse can be devastating. Therefore, I offer a few final thoughts.

Remember that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). In other words, Satan is our enemy: not other people. Even if the other person seems to be our enemy (for example, we disagree with them on political issues, they belong to a false religion, or they are even part of a group that is persecuting believers), the real enemies are Satan and his demons. We should actually view the human “enemy” as a prisoner of war, enslaved by deception.

It is one thing to attack Satan, his demons, and their lies with the word of God. However, that does not justify using the Bible to attack another human being.

Therefore, when wielding the sword of the Spirit in encounters with other people—or even with ourselves—we approach the situation with mercy and grace, not hostility or condemnation.

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5–6, ESV).

Our goal when dealing with people—whether they are fellow believers, unbelievers, or ourselves—is redemption and restoration, not rejection or damnation. We are looking to draw unbelievers into the kingdom of God, not to find opportunities to speed them into hell. We are looking to assist believers as they obtain the blessings of God’s kingdom, not to force them out or discourage them. We also need to pay attention to our own hearts. It is easy to condemn and judge ourselves. Years ago, I started reading the writings and theology of nineteenth-century holiness authors, many of whom preached on Christian perfection and entire sanctification (see Matthew 5:48). However, there was a problem: I was still struggling with some sinful habits. Ironically, a claim that believers could be delivered from all sin often led me into discouragement and self-condemnation, which led me even further from the holiness these preachers promised.

Now, over 30 years after becoming a follower of Christ, I am still not perfect. I still sin. However, wise men of God have taught me to remember that I am saved by God’s grace. He is working on me. For most of the last 15 years, I have sat under the ministry of a bishop who would close almost every service by saying, “Remember the Gospel, the good news: That God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to Himself, not counting your sins against you. God loves you. God has forgiven you. God is not angry with you, and God will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Yes, I have that memorized!) Take that word to heart (it merely paraphrases several key statements from the New Testament). Believe it, and let it guide you as you share God’s Word with other people or apply it to your life.

Second, be bold with the sword, but know your boundaries. You are part of an army. There are some battles that do not belong to you. Do not be a busy-body, trying to fix every person you see. Do not take on battles that other soldiers of the cross should be fighting.

Some immature believers think it is their job to reprimand everybody whom they see faltering. However, there are times when it is best to leave the battle to other people. Maybe the pastor is already offering counsel and advice to the person who is struggling. If you think you need to start swinging the sword of the Spirit in another Christian’s life, make certain you have their trust and respect first. If a person has not requested your advice, do not force it on them (no matter how biblical or profound it may seem to you).

When ministering to people who do not have a relationship with Christ, always focus on Jesus and salvation. Our job is to lead people to Christ. Once they come into a faith-focused relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit will straighten them out. Too often, we try to get sinners to start acting like Christians. Sinners sin—it is what they do. They need to first become Christians; then we can expect them to begin the process of acting like children of God.

In all, use the sword of the Spirit with wisdom. Do not swing it around like a maniac. Be bold, be direct, but be wise.

Many posts on darkenedglassreflections.com discuss proper use of the Word of God. I invite you to go to the search bar on this page and search “word of God” for more articles and guidance. Two popular posts are “Teaching, Reproof, Correction, and Training in Righteousness” and “Proverbs 7:1-5—Internalizing God’s Word and Wisdom.”

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christian Perfection vs. Perfectionism

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, ESV).

This is one Bible verse that has gotten me into a lot of trouble over the years. It is not a problem with Scripture itself; God and His Word are perfect. Instead, it was my problem. Having a compulsive sort of personality, I am prone to perfectionism. Unfortunately, I am not perfect. So, I would read this passage, and then emotionally beat myself up when I did not live up to it. This would only drag me further from the sort of perfection to which Jesus called His disciples. All those books by nineteenth-century evangelist/theologian Charles G. Finney did not help matters.

It is important to understand what Jesus meant. The perfection ideal He presented is not the sort of 100% flawlessness a perfectionist like me is prone to pursue. Even the holiest people I know stumble sometimes. We all make poor decisions at times, driven by stress, imperfect wisdom, or habit. So, what is perfection? Perhaps, we can look at a few related Bible passages and the context of this verse.

This verse concludes a teaching in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount about “love for enemies” (Matthew 5:41-48):

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

In this passage, Jesus calls us to a kind of love that is not natural. Human nature compels us to hate our enemies, to insult and gossip about those who persecute us, and to seek revenge (or at least the upper hand). Christian perfection is a perfection of love, going beyond the imperfect love of sin-stained humanity to imitate the sacrificial love of Christ.

In a related sermon (which some Bible scholars call, “The Sermon on the Plain”), Jesus concluded a similar section by saying, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” This brings the point even further: “mercy” is not just a good feeling. “Mercy” involves action: Choosing to forgive  a sinner; reaching out to help someone in need.

When Jesus tells us to “be perfect,” He is not demanding that we never fail. He is not planning to withdraw His forgiveness when we sin. He is, on one hand, giving us a high calling. We will not become flawless in this life, but that kind of perfection is our ideal; as long as we have shortcomings, we have new heights to reach and our spiritual journey is not complete. However, even when we fall into sin, we should not hide behind a facade of false holiness; we should confess our sins, accept His forgiveness, and seek His cleansing (1 John 1:8-10).

On the more practical level, Jesus is calling us to love our enemies, to offer His mercy to a world that deserves judgment. He is calling us to be Christians in every area of our lives (particularly, those areas where it is hardest).

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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