Refocusing on Christ

Should & Could But Don’t

There’s so much information available telling us what we should be doing and how we could be improving our lives. Just take a look at the self-help books currently on shelves, virtual or otherwise, not to mention the many Internet resources dedicated to the task.

With all these resources telling us what we could and should do, self-improvement can seem impossible. Even when we find ways we actually want to change and techniques that would work, we still often just don’t do them.

Why? Too much work. The pain of staying where we are still isn’t bigger than the pain of changing. Or, maybe you’ve taken some of the advice, and implemented change. After a while, though, you find yourself back to your old habits and way of thinking.

This happens with Scripture too. We read it. We know what we should do. But, we don’t do it. Paul describes this struggle well.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:15-19)

Refocus Your Identity

If I dwell on how much I should do and could do but don’t do, I get overwhelmed. Discouragement usually follows. And eventually, I simply feel like a failure.

For many, the solution involves just not thinking about it. Just don’t consider the changes you should and could make. Stay ignorant. Stay conveniently confused. Stay too busy.

My personality doesn’t generally allow for this. It prefers ruminating about how much I haven’t done and then succumbing to depression and defeat.

Whatever your tendency, be sure of this. If you never do any of what you should or could do, you’re accepted, secure and significant. Even if you somehow managed to do all of what you think you should or could do, you’re not any more or less accepted, secure, and significant.

When you accepted Christ as Savior and made him Lord of your life, you were fully justified — declared righteous — at that moment. Your Identity In Christ is secure. Nothing else you can or think you should do will make you any more accepted, secure and significant than you were at that moment. With that realization comes an amazing peace.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)

Refocus on Jesus

That doesn’t mean we can ignore how we should and could improve. But, it does change our motivation for doing so. With that motivation change comes a refocus on progress toward perfection — on progressive sanctification.

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

This is the process of spiritual growth. In general, it involves letting the Holy Spirit work change in us and then doing our part to live out that change.

Train yourself to be godly.” (1 Timothy 4:7)

Even that process can seem overwhelming at times. But that’s usually when we focus on ourselves; at least, that’s my continual struggle. In fact, the only way I’ve been able to maintain consistency in living the fact that I am accepted, secure and significant is by focusing on Christ.

“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Today as I again struggle with feeling out of balance and out of sync, I am reminded yet again that I am still accepted, secure and significant. So, instead of letting depression or anxiety or defeat take over again, I remember my secure position and turn once more back toward the reason it exists.

Pursuing Perfection, Part III

Path to PerfectionPursuing Perfection, Part I defined perfectionism and helped us view it through God’s eyes. Pursuing Perfection, Part II showed how we are already perfect in God’s eyes because we receive the instantaneous perfection occurring at salvation. This third part in the series takes the idea of perfection further as we look at how perfection is a process (aka progressive sanctification).

We do have a part to play…

Perfectionists have one thing right, we are supposed to pursue perfection. But they go about it completely wrong by relying on their own efforts to achieve the objective.

Those with a “good enough” mindset have it partially right too in that the goal is impossible. Because our efforts don’t get us to the objective, we sometimes just don’t bother to try very hard. But, the “why bother” approach does not match up with God’s desires for us either.

(Note: See Pursuing Perfection, Part I to better understand the definition of perfectionism and perfectionists as well as what a “good enough” mindset entails.)

Fortunately, scripture clearly tells us what our role is in this process. And this role involves the activity of the Holy Spirit working in our lives toward perfection. The following are all a part of the process of being perfected:

  1. Endurance/Patience (James 1:4) – Never giving up. Reaching the end of the race. Crossing the finish line.
  2. Love (Colossians 3:14) – Binds us together in perfect harmony. The glue for unity.
  3. Holiness (2 Corinthians 7:1) – Get rid of the bad stuff that draws us  away and distracts us from God.
  4. Praise (Psalm 8:2) – Silences our enemies.
  5. Faith (1 Thessalonians 3:10) – Growing in faith takes us toward perfection.
  6. Good Works (Hebrews 13:21) – God equips and gives the desire to do them. They illustrate our faith.
  7. Unity (John 17:23) – We are more powerful as one, strong body than individual parts working separately.
  8. Strength/Power (2 Corinthians 12:9) Our imperfection (weaknesses) allows His power to show. When we try to be perfect in our own efforts, His power is no longer the focus.

If we focus on these attributes, which God enables in us through His grace, we can know we are moving toward perfection. They provide a gauge by which we can assess our progress. The specifics of how these are carried out through the work we do, ministry, our hobbies & interests, etc., are unique to each individual. This eliminates the need for comparisons or competition with regard to sanctification.

The Struggle with Perfection

The struggle with perfection comes because we live in an imperfect world, we are imperfect people, and perfection really is impossible for us. But that doesn’t mean we should give up on the goal of perfection. We can’t go to the other extreme and put forth little to no effort just because we know perfection isn’t possible.

A huge part of my spiritual growth has been the renewal of my mind in the area of perfectionism. But that doesn’t mean that mindset has completely disappeared. For me, it means that I choose not to let the perfectionist in me direct my life. Yes, I’ve learned not to let perfectionism rule and reign and instead to allow a perfect God to rule and reign.

  • I’ve learned that the perfect shoes, bag & hairstyle don’t exist.
  • I’ve learned that I don’t have to correct people’s grammar constantly.
  • I’ve learned that most people don’t notice when commas or periods are missing.
  • I’ve learned that my own efforts to be perfect lead to a muddy and miry pit.
  • I’ve learned that God perfects others, not me.
  • I’ve learned that compassion, flexibility & forgiveness require accepting imperfections.
  • I’ve learned that walking the road to sanctification (holiness) makes my friendships, marriage and kids want to strive for perfection too.
  • I’ve learned that imperfection allows God to be more fully present in my life as I admit my need for Him to perfect me.

At the same time, I want to encourage those who are discouraged to the point of not wanting to try because they know perfection is impossible. God wants us to pursue perfection but to do so depending on Him. He wants us to play the role He has given us to play and to always strive for our best. And, He’s given us a way to accomplish perfection, both now and in the progressive sanctification that is our lives.

So taking this to heart, we need to remember…

  • We cannot become perfect through our own efforts.
  • “Good enough” thinking leads to lukewarm Christians.
  • God, in His grace, has already made us perfect through Jesus.
  • We do have a role to play in the process of being perfected.

DISCUSSION: How does the process of pursuing perfection – also called progressive sanctification – exist in your life today?