One of my dear friends is about to experience the joy of her first grandchild (a boy). And her daughter shared some pictures of the new baby's nursery on Facebook. The nursery is strikingly beautiful and boldly untraditional in its lack of "babyish cuteness." I was impressed with all of the pictures of the nursery. But this piece of framed artwork caught my attention most. The message is simple and powerful at the same time. When I read this, I thought: These two statements are completely synonymous. If we truly love God, we will hate sin; our sin.
It's easy to hate other people's sin. We don't have to be particularly godly to do that. In fact, we are woefully hypocritical in our contempt for the sins of others. But as we grow in our love of God, we will want to please Him (as opposed to focusing entirely on how well He can please us). An inability to take sin lightly in ourselves is naturally produced by a genuine love for God. It doesn't mean that we won't still have sin in us or that we won't mess up and need to repent. But we won't find sin acceptable. We won't be able to justify and minimize it. There is a growing discomfort with sin that grows in us as our love for God grows and matures. For a true believer, there is no happiness or enjoyment to be found in willful sin or the choice of a sinful lifestyle. I believe it is impossible to truly love God and be casual about pleasing Him through obedience to His Word.
Although I always believed I loved God and wanted to please Him, I used to be less conscious of sinning against Him than I am today. That is one of the biggest signs (to me) of my spiritual growth. I used to make allowance for sin my life. And if I really wanted to do something that I knew was wrong in the sight of God, I justified my conscious choice (to myself) with this argument: I am never going to be perfect anyway; therefore, I'm not going to heaven and this life is all I have. So what difference does it really make what I do? I don't want to hurt anybody. I just want to be happy."
Here's the problem with my previous way of thinking. It was completely selfish. It was all about me. I don't remember thinking about glorifying God with all my choices; especially in small, or what I would have considered fairly insignificant, choices. I really didn't believe God was intimately involved in the little details of my life. The whole perfection concept I was taught to believe was so overwhelming and so unfathomable to me, I lived in a conundrum (*A logical postulation that evades resolution, an intricate and difficult problem).
I bought into the notion that Christians who believed they had to be perfect and were striving for perfection were trying harder than Christians who believed they were saved through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. I remember hearing it said that if "they" are right, then we're ahead of the game (we just tried harder than we needed to) and we'll be alongside everyone else in heaven. But if "we" were right (about perfection), then all those Christians who weren't even trying to reach perfection were in trouble (in eternity).
Many people around me (during my formative years) made the grand assumption that Christians who did not believe the doctrine of perfection were not trying to live for God to the best of their ability. But that assumption is false and it is arrogant. I used to feel deep resentment for having had that thinking cultivated in me about other Christians. But I don't feel so resentful anymore because I realize how genuinely deceived that thinking is. Today I am more inclined to feel compassion for people who think that way than to resent them. They do not comprehend that they are actually in a more precarious position in their faith if their faith is partly in Jesus and partly in themselves for salvation.
I had a conversation recently with a couple of friends from my past. We were reflecting on what we had been taught about the concept of perfection and how we look at that word today. One friend in this conversation was trying to embrace the word with a slightly different spin than what we were taught. I was trying to explain my belief that Jesus Himself is our perfection and our righteousness. We have eternal life through Him. And our obedience is rooted in our love and gratitude for His gift of salvation rather than in a merit-based salvation where our faith is only partially in Jesus and still partially in ourselves. The third friend pointed out that we weren't really that different in what we were saying except that one of us still wanted to embrace the word perfection, and I obviously wanted to distance myself from the word. This is true. That word and that doctrine brought nothing but hopelessness to my life until I understood that Jesus was my righteousness and my perfection.
I never had faith in myself even while believing that doctrine was "the truth." This is why I lived in a conundrum of hopeless proportions. And this is also why the heavy weight of hopelessness was lifted off of me by the gospel once I understood and received it. But one of my friends expressed that while I felt a weight had been lifted, for her it almost seemed harder now. I said, "Really?"
I was at first confused as to how that could be. But it quickly made sense to me. In the environment of a rules-keeping salvation, she believed that she could live as she wanted to for now and then, at some point when it became expedient, she could keep the rules for a few weeks at the end sufficiently to "make it." She really believed that.
As she explained in those terms, I understood. I didn't say it or even think it in the moment; but upon reflection I recognized that as another example of a self-centered salvation as opposed to a Christ-centered salvation (the difference of which she now is beginning to comprehend).
Belief in a performance based salvation lowers the holiness of God to something that can be achieved in even a short period of focused attention. That concept of salvation doesn't produce "holier" followers. It only produces self-righteousness and a feeling of moral superiority; "I am holier than thou."
A list of rules and behaviors that can be checked off gives a person a feeling or a sense of control over their life and eternity. Full surrender OF THE HEART to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior does not even imply control. It is freedom. But it's not control. And only someone who is living IN the freedom of Christ can understand how one can have complete freedom without having complete control of their lives.