"After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?" (Gal. 3:3)
At some point in my life, I believed the lie that it was my job to work hard at becoming perfect so that God would be pleased with me. The Bible basically became a giant rule book pointing out every area where I was failing to live up to perfection and showing me where I needed to work harder to make my life look like Jesus' life. I had absolutely no real understanding of grace. Oh, I understood I was saved by grace. We all know that, right? I knew Jesus' death and resurrection was what got me into heaven, but then I thought the rest of the Christian life was lived by my works and trying really hard to be who Jesus wanted me to be. I was a Pharisee, a rule-follower, a perfectionist and I didn't even realize it. And as long as I could keep the "rules" and apply Bible verses to my life, I felt good. I felt like I had favor with God. I felt that I deserved God's goodness, love, blessings, and kindness. The only problem was that I rarely felt like I did well enough, the bar was always too high. Perfection is rarely attainable. And so when I messed up (even if it was my own perception of me missing some unrealistic expectation), I felt bad and undeserving of His blessings. I lived in guilt, shame and condemnation and I waited for God's wrath and punishment because that's what I felt like I deserved. Afterwards, I'd commit to trying harder and doing better which always eventually ended in another failure. It was a nasty cycle of defeat and discouragement.
Can you imagine what a mess of captivity those beliefs leave a person in? I was bound with weights and burdens that were too heavy for me to carry. My relationship with God was based on my performance, not His unconditional love, mercy, and goodness. It wasn't based on what Christ had already done for me and who I am in Him. The gospel I believed was not good news! It was a chain around my neck.
"Christianity should feel like 'My chains fell off ' not 'I better not screw up." -Justin Buzzard
I lived my life scared to screw up.
But Galatians 3:3 (at top) is clear. Just as we didn't come into salvation through our own human effort and works, we don't live this christian life by our own human efforts either. We receive salvation by grace through faith and we live this life by grace through faith. We look to Christ for it all.
Several months ago, I was going round and round trying to fix one of my "imperfections" and getting absolutely nowhere. I applied Bible verses to my situation and still came up short daily. I was trying so hard and yet continuing to fail. I prayed and prayed, but the harder I tried, the harder I failed. The process left me worn out, anxious, frustrated, confused and discouraged.
One day, in the midst of all this struggling, God showed me a picture of a drowning person, kicking and slapping at the water, just completely wearing themselves out, but getting absolutely nowhere. Obviously this was a picture of me. God (my Rescuer) was right there willing to save me, but I had to stop trying to save myself and trust Him to save me (to "fix" the broken, messed up parts of me). I had to trust in His grace, His goodness and His love, not in my self-effort. I had to trust that if I stopped "trying to swim", He wouldn't let me drown.
He was bringing me to the end of myself so that I would begin to learn to rest in Him. It is Christ that works in me, not me working in me.
"For years, maybe, you have tried fruitlessly to exercise control over yourself, and perhaps this is still your experience; but when once you see the truth, you will recognize that you are indeed powerless to do anything, but that, in setting you aside altogether, God has done it all. Such a discovery brings human striving and self-effort to an end." (Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life)
Letting go of perfection by self-effort and resting in Him has been a hard lesson for me. I'm still learning and I still need reminding. It is my natural inclination to "work" for my approval and for my own "righteousness". But that isn't God's way. His way was and still is Christ, and only Christ. I am not righteous because of my works, I am righteous because of what Christ has done. I am not blessed because I do all the right things (whether this is tithing, bible reading, going to church, serving etc...). I am blessed because of Christ.
Does the God who lavishly provides you with his own presence, his Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you? (Col 3, MSG)
Pride says, I can fix myself, I can be righteous, I can make myself better, I can earn God's blessings or approval. Humility is accepting my own imperfections, accepting my own need of grace, and trusting that Jesus is enough and that He is working out His perfection in me without my help/self-effort. Resting is total trust in Him and His abilities to perform His will in me. It is letting go from trusting in myself. It is letting go of striving and self-analyzing. It is believing that He has already done it all for me. When Jesus said, "It is finished.", He meant it. It is accepting that I have already been made righteous and it is a gift, unearned. Resting is "being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.". (Phil. 1:6)