On Sunday I was teasing about having a banner across the entrance of the church that read "No Perfect People Allowed!" The reason being, the people who perceive themselves to be perfect (or who have it pretty well together) will always be obstacles to the message of grace because they don’t realize their great need. If you think about the people who gave Jesus the most trouble and advocated for His death they were people with the perception of self-perfection or self-accomplishment. The same kind of people gave Paul a bad time.
We don’t grow spiritually until we realize our great need. It isn’t in our successes where we grow spiritually but in our failures. It isn’t in our strengths where we realize our great need for Abba but in our weaknesses. It might seem heretical but think with me, don’t we grow most profoundly when we’ve done it wrong? Rather than when we perceive ourselves to be doing it right? We just have the hardest time believing this because we haven’t lost our self-confidence. It’s only when we lose our self-confidence that we discover Christ is more than enough and we become increasingly Christ-confident.
When a person thinks themselves to be holy (good) through their own actions and attitudes they are most far from God. The Sermon on the Mount reminds us of the complete impossibility of achieving a relationship with God through our own merit. Jesus wasn’t laying down a new standard of living but showing us the complete inability to fulfill the complete intent of the Law. In our brokenness, our weakness, our dependence, and our humility we experience the holiness of God.
Matthew 5:46–48 "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
If you’re coming to God through your own effort you need to be perfect! But who can do that? That’s exactly the point. When we think ourselves to be perfect (or trying really hard to be perfect) we don’t realize our own need for mercy, grace and forgiveness so we are very reluctant to be merciful, gracious and forgiving. We demand from others things they can never do and we don’t do ourselves. There’s no more difficult person to be in relationship with than the one who sees themselves as "pretty good." It is this very perception of being good and being content with where we are spiritually that keeps us from growing and realizing our great need. The rich young ruler had this very problem. He was looking for eternal life through his own goodness.
Matthew 19:21 "Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’"
We are most dangerous to others, and I guess ourselves, when we think we have the capacity to achieve this spiritual perfection. We aren’t ready for grace as long as we are looking for one more thing to "do." In the case of this young man it seems Jesus understood his possessions were his god. Will you sell off whatever it is that holds you? Will you embrace your weakness and experience Christ as your perfection and strength?
We see this great love and mercy in how Jesus relates to those who realize their great need. The story of the prodigal shows us how, in our absolute failure and complete loss of everything, we experience real relationship with the Father. The elder, self-righteous brother got lost in his own perfection and was disgusted with his father’s grace and mercy. He tragically missed out on the abundant provision of his father. Friend, don’t miss out on all God has for you. Embrace your great need and in His abundant grace and mercy find yourself transformed and full of grace and mercy for others.