Freedom from perfection: The day I stopped cleaning my house

Two years ago I stopped cleaning my house. Not completely, just strategically when friends were coming over.

Do I sound like a crazy woman yet?

You see, I have a problem with perfection.

It eats at me.

I like things just so, just right, just…perfect.

And they never will be.

The weight of perfection was crushing me a few years ago and I knew a Band-Aid needed to be ripped off somewhere. My house was the easiest place to start. I began an adventure of fighting for imperfect.

I created a schedule for cleaning my house, because I like to fight germs and all that, and I held myself to the schedule. I refused to clean something just because someone was coming over. I had ruined too many cups of coffee with friends by getting up in the middle to clean that little place behind the toilet seat that never, ever seems clean. I had sat down to too many delightful dinners with friends filled with the anxiety of wondering what they would notice I missed.

My house example is so small in the grand scheme of what is important in life, but Paul reminds us in Galatians 2:15-19, that no piece of our lives should be ruled by perfection:

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. 17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.

What are we living for?

I chase freedom like crazy with my spray bottle of vinegar and washcloth. I scrub and I scrub so that life feels more perfect and when you walk into my house you won’t judge me. I chase freedom in the law by assuming I’ll feel better if I can just appear a little more put together.

The law demands perfection.

 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4 (emphasis added)

What kind of requirement is in the law? Righteous, yes. Right, justifiable, perfect, yes.

We can never live up to the law. God may not care how clean my house is, but I am, by nature, and by deed, imperfect. My house is just another reminder that there’s always something- I will never, never, “have it together.” It’s Biblical Truth.

But God, He does something more. He does something different. I am freed from perfection by Christ Jesus. He fulfilled what I cannot, so I can live for what matters – Gospel.

In fighting the urge to clean my house for you to visit me, I take perfection off the table in our relationship. I stop assuming judgement on your part, which was never really fair to begin with.

I do not clean for you, because if I clean for you that assumes that there is a judgement of what my house should look like, what you expect it to look like in order for us to maintain our relationship. But I believe better of you, my friend. I believe you love me enough to not judge me, to give Gospel and share grace. I believe that when you come over you come to see me, you don’t come to see any part of my house, that living to God means that relationship matters more than “just so.” The house is simply a platform, a location, a place that is warm and friendly, that we can gather.

I think dropping the assumption of judgement from others is the only way we can end all the judging. I will not judge you, I will not judge your house, I will not judge your family I will not judge your kids, I will simply be your friend and love you.

This seems to me very connected to the Gospel motivation Paul props up in Galatians 2:19:

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.

We died to the law. Literally died to it, in our baptism. All this judgement, one woman to another, perceived or real, it means nothing.

We need not aim for perfect. Christ already came to our “house,” our lives, our families, cleaned it up by His blood, proclaims us holy in Him. Now we just live there, proclaiming His gospel grace to one another.

Chasing perfect – It’s so tempting.

Dropping perfect – It’s a challenge.

Freedom in Christ – already won.

It is for freedom Christ has set us free… let’s live there.


Discussion questions:

What area of life do you struggle with trying to be perfect or at least avoid the judgement of others?

How can we help one another embrace more freedom from the judgement of others?

Chose one area of life – family, chores, work, exercise, volunteering, neighboring, ministry, etc. – what Gospel message do you need to hear there? How can you let the Holy Spirit motivate via the Gospel instead of seeking motivation through the law of should’s and must’s?

 

Freedom in Confrontation: In your face and all that

I have a wild imagination.

Every time I read our passage of Scripture today I picture the Apostle Paul as a boxer (in full getup) yelling, “In Yo’ Face, Peter!”

I am sorry if I have tainted the Word for you with my imagination. 😉

Remember the backdrop from our previous days of study – false brothers, both Peter and Paul entrusted by God with the Gospel, along with the leaders of the Jerusalem church, Barnabas, Titus, and others. And awesome, huge, growing fellowship, not without their issues.

Let’s read Galatians 2:11-14:

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

“…I opposed him to his face…”

So, you can see where I’m coming from.

The Greek root word for opposed in the ESV translation of Galatians 2:11, above, is transliterated anthistémi. Translations include: oppose, resist, withstand, or take a stand against.

I am sure that Paul did not take this lightly. Paul’s letters in the New Testament consistently reference his constant prayer, his conviction, yes, but his concern for reasonableness, discernment, and great affection for fellow believers in Christ.

Still, at some point, Paul decided it was time to speak up, it was worth speaking up. Peter was being incongruent in the faith and while this is a big deal for all believers (walking what we talk, and talking what we walk), it is a massive deal for leaders and teachers of the faith, those of us with influence over others.

Peter ate with Gentiles, fellowshipped with Gentiles, reached Gentiles, after a vision given him by God (Acts 10:9-16, Acts 11:2-9) and then, in certain company – namely, pushy, Judaizer company – made a conscious or unconscious decision to separate himself from the Gentiles. Paul accurately called this hypocrisy.

Oh goodness. We have been there. We are all hypocrites. It’s just true. In some way, we have not managed to walk the talk or talk the walk. Let’s just confess that here and now.

But we also have all been called upon by God to help a brother out, to speak up when our fellow brother or sister in Christ has fallen prey to Satan’s temptation of putting on the mask, being different than who God made them to be and who they are in Christ, for a certain select group of people.

It’s never easy.

How do we do confrontation well?

First,

Ask – is this person a believer?

Or am I expecting believer behavior from an unbeliever? The Bible tells us that we can’t expect righteousness from the unrighteous. It’s not judging the unbeliever; it’s actually a measure of grace. If you work with someone that isn’t a believer, why are we surprised that person wants their way, that there may be something underhanded happening, or they are gossiping?

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. Romans 6:17-19

We aren’t better as believers (certainly not!), but we should know better. We have a moral compass known as Christ working in us, when the rest of the world, who doesn’t know Christ, will not have that moral compass. We will confront believers and unbelievers differently with the Truth and Love found in the Word.

Ask – what kind of relationship do I have with this person?

It’s sooooo tempting to point out incongruence and injustice at every turn, whether directly or indirectly. Our internal justice radar goes crazy and we naturally want to see what is right. However, relationship always matters more than right.

Paul had an actual relationship with Peter. They were in similar roles and dealing with similar questions and struggles. They had conversed about said struggles on more than one occasion. Paul didn’t just walk up to a stranger known as Peter at temple and say, “Dude, get it together. You’re excluding people. It’s totally wrong and you should be defrocked.” There was a relationship there long before there was a confrontation.

Ask – is this a blanket of love or boxing gloves?

I’m partial to cheese today, but it feels appropriate with Peter’s history. It’s really just a nemonic device to remember that we should always enter confrontation, speaking up, opposition, disagreements, and difficult discussion with humility. Am I speaking the Truth in Love? That brings real freedom.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:15-16 

This is how God designed confrontation – wrapped in a crazy amount of love. Jesus, Himself, confronted Peter in the Gospels, as well as others, more than once, but it’s only as effective as the love between brothers.

Jesus loves us so much that He died for us. Nothing can separate us from His love. He can say anything and everything to us, because He wraps everything in love, always seeking our freedom from the bondage of whatever is holding us in its grip.

Paul chased freedom for Peter. He loved him enough to speak face-to-face, man-to-man, brother-to-brother. He didn’t send a text or call him out on social media. He loved with honor, care, and genuine concern, even when it was uncomfortable.

Freedom in confrontation – learning together, one day at a time.


Discussion questions:

Have you ever had to confront someone? Was it the right thing to do? What could you have done differently?

How does God bring healing in the midst of and after confrontation?

What things matter enough to confront a friend or family member about?

Freedom in Trust: Tearing off the masks

What kind of masks do people wear?

I can barely deal with backstabbers, with people who have chameleon qualities, acting one way around one person and another way around another. Please tell me I’m not the only one.

What kind of falsehoods do people put on to make us believe that they are trustworthy and then later we find that they are the furthest from someone we’d want to put our trust in? Why are some people so good at this, so convincing? What issues do we have deep within us that we are so easily fooled?

In Galatians 2:3-10 we see the contrast between the way the Church on earth was meant to be and what happens because of sin in the world. Do not be mistaken: The church is always worth being a part of, but Paul introduces us to one of the hardest parts of life in a community of believers – false brothers:

But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

There are all kinds of people in this story, but it comes down to people who are trustworthy and people who are not. You would think it’s clear-cut, but it never is. People who wear masks don’t also wear sandwich boards that say, “False brother here!” (Bummer.) Instead, the masks serve a purpose: they easily fool.

Some false brothers, people pretending to be brothers in other words, pretending to be affectionate, to only want what’s best for everyone, slipped into the church in Paul’s time and demanded circumcision. What demands do people make on others in the church, today, that seem unfair? How can we spot a “false brother” in our midst without setting off Cold-War-style panic in our local congregations?

The today’s text in Galatians gives us three clues:

False brothers offer false gospel.

It’s important to remember that the Gospel never demands, it invites. Paul calls out the “spies” for bringing a form of gospel that brought slavery, not freedom. Where are the suggestions of our brothers leading people? Deeper into the Word? Filled with peace and grace in the Gospel of Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, or filled with fear for acceptance by God or by man?

True Gospel reaches a hand into the pit and pulls us out from the muck; it does not stand above the pit and point out our issues.

Psalm 103:1-4 proclaims this Gospel truth:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy... (emphasis added)

False brothers sidle up to power.

Galatians 2:6 points out the distinction –

…those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me.

These false brothers were looking for power wherever they could find it, real or “seeming” influence. That screams falsehood if I’ve ever seen it. People sliding on over to bend the ear of anyone that seems important enough. Yikes. Lord, may we not be fooled.

The Jerusalem leaders, thankfully, came through with wisdom and humility rather than power – a mark of true leadership in the Lord. See the leadership’s response in Galatians 2:9:

…and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me…

The leadership perceived grace – true Gospel, entrusted to Paul and entrusted to Peter, indeed entrusted to all of God’s people.

False brothers forget that it’s a group effort.

If we’re identifying true Gospel v. falsehood, it’s pretty easy to tell who’s a team player. The person who constantly brings up their agenda, their desires, their needs, rather than others’, while may simply be immature, probably shouldn’t be given a giant measure of trust with ministry, leadership, or care in the church, but rather be put in places where teaching can still occur regularly.

Paul and Barnabas are blessed to share the Gospel with the Gentiles, Peter and others are blessed to share the Gospel with the Jews- all entrusted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ (v. 7). Different contexts, ministry together. In Galatians 2:10, Paul identifies that they all have a common goal – remembering the people who need an extra measure of care. That looks, sounds, and feels a whole lot like real Gospel.

False brothers will find their way in, but in Jesus’s words:

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16 

It’s a challenge, but we cling tight to the Word. Somewhere along the way we just have to trust. Trust God to be in control and guide us. Trust Christ to fill in the gaps where we are unsure. The best way I have found to combat this struggle is this:

Look for where freedom can be given in our fellowship, rather than following fear.

More freedom, less fear among the faithful. Always in and by the power of Christ Jesus, our Lord.


Discussion questions:

What demands do people make on others in the church, today, that seem unfair?

How can we spot a “false brother” in our midst without setting off Cold-War-style panic in our local congregations? How do we deal with even these people gently and with grace?

Practically speaking – how do we identify areas of fear in our local congregations? If you have any ideas on how to alleviate fears for people and bring more freedom into our congregations, please share!