I’ve been pondering something all week. I’ve been asking myself if I intentionally follow God or not.
You see, a friend commented to me, “Anne, sometimes your blog comes across like you’re perfect, but now that I’ve gotten to know you, I realize you’re not. You’re normal just like the rest of us.”
I shook my head at her. Of course I’m not perfect! How could she even think that? My husband and children would certainly tell her otherwise. So would my mother. And my closest friends. And all the ladies at church. And my next-door neighbors.
But we all know that bloggers can craft words to make things sound however they want. I certainly don’t intend to make myself look perfect. Only God is righteous. The closer someone gets to me, the more they will surely see my unrighteousness.
“God looks down from heaven
on the sons of men
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
Everyone has turned away,
they have together become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one” (Psalm 53:2-3).
“There is not a righteous man on earth
who does what is right and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
But on the other hand, doing righteousness is certainly my goal.
“If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him” (1 John 2:29).
“Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:7-10).
And therein lies the conundrum. (Isn’t that an awesome word? I’m like my 4-year-old daughter, and sometimes I just like to roll certain words around on my tongue, just to see how they feel.)
Sometimes righteousness feels like a conundrum, or a riddle that I just can’t solve.
“And if we are careful to obey all this law before YHWH our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness” (Deuteronomy 6:25).
“For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous” (Romans 2:13).
“Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith'” (Galatians 3:11).
“There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10).
I certainly see myself in these verses. My heart must be honest before God, because I know how often I fail, how often I rebel, and how often I am too fearful to obey. One of my favorite passages in Ephesians says it exactly right:
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-3).
This certainly describes me, before I was given new life. No matter how hard I tried, I was absolutely powerless to do right. Not only was I “dead in my transgressions and sins,” I rather enjoyed it that way. I gratified the cravings of my sinful nature, and I followed its desires and thoughts.
Thankfully, things changed!
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9).
No, there can certainly be no boasting, not in my case or in anyone’s. We are all saved by the favor and mercy of God, only through faith in our Messiah. We didn’t suddenly start doing something that was good enough to change God’s mind toward our sins.
A verse from Numbers caught my eye:
“Now if you unintentionally fail to keep any of these commands YHWH gave Moses… The priest is to make atonement before YHWH for the one who erred by sinning unintentionally, and when atonement has been made for him, he will be forgiven” (Numbers 15: 22, 28).
But see this contrast:
“But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes YHWH, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised YHWH’s word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him” (Numbers 15:30-31).
In Ephesians, I read that I have been saved by grace through faith, not of my own works, so that I cannot boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). But note why I have been saved:
“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
The conundrum is best seen in these verses:
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives” (1 John 1:8-10).
I think I can see the answer to the riddle, at least a little bit.
- Living by faith means being honest before a just God. It means that I admit my guilt.
- Living by faith also means repentance, or turning around and not living the way I use to live, according to my own fleshly desires. It means doing things God’s way now, not mine.
- Living by faith, though, means that I won’t do this perfectly. No one does. If I claim to be without sin, I’m just deceiving myself.
- Living by faith, however, means that I’ll do everything in my power not to sin intentionally. If I know to do right and do it not, it is sin (James 4:17). It is defiantly despising the Word of YHWH!
- Living by faith, on the other hand, means that I will confess my defiance as soon as it is pointed out to me.
- Living by faith means being forgiven and purified. It’s a wonderful way to live. His word has a place in my life!
My friend had come to me because she thought she saw sin in my life. I’ll be honest — I was defensive! Inside, I wanted to explain away the verses she had brought, to tell her that it didn’t apply to me.
And she saw I wasn’t perfect.
I know I’m not perfect, but I hope she’ll find me humble and willing to repent and turn around. I hope she’ll see the Word in my life. Perfect or not, it’s where I realistically hope to be.
“YHWH, who may dwell in your sanctuary?
Who may live on your holy hill?
He whose walk is blameless
and who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from his heart
and has no slander on his tongue,
who does his neighbor no wrong
and casts no slur on his fellowman,
who despises a vile man
but honors those who fear YHWH,
who keeps his oath
even when it hurts,
who lends his money without usury
and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things
will never be shaken” (Psalm 15).
The more I obey His Word, the more perfect I’ll be. It’s a realistic goal!
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Rebekah in AK says
Really? Am I really the first to comment? That’s never happened before! I think you did a good job summing up the answer to the conundrum (and yes, it is a great word).
Anne Elliott says
I wouldn’t know how to comment to this post either. I keep rolling it all around in my mind, kinda like the words on my tongue. 🙂
Indeed, that conundrum is the $64,000 question! 😉
Beth Werner Lee says
I was just reading this morning in, You’re Already Amazing by Holley Gerth, the verses Matthew 5:48 and then Hebrew 10:14 (By one sacrifice he has made perfect those who are being made holy.) and Galatians 2:20 to explain how we are already made perfect, while growing in holiness. How wonderful to read your confessional and instructive post and hear confirmation in the instruction from God for me today.
Thanking God for you, Anne!
Tanya Thorne says
You don’t have to be perfect to have wisdom to share, and I always find much wisdom in everything you write, Anne. Thank you once again!
I enjoyed the simplicity of what Anne discussed. I have sometimes thought of myself as a hypocrite. Because I can use my many gifts God blessed me with to help others, but in the same situation I look for guidance. When I attended church this past Sunday something my pastor said (Clinton McFarland) just helped me so much. He said, that, when you repent you saying you’re sorry and you’ll never do it again. But, when you go to God earnestly and confess your sins because you feel bad about it and know you were not Christ-like , God is forgiving and loving. So, he will forgive you. But you also have to work on what caused you to sin, whether it is the company you keep or the places you go. I feel as if Paul spoke about it best in Corinthians when he said ‘why do we do that which we don’t want to do?’ I appreciate you allowing me to testify to the goodness of The Lord!