Pitfalls on the Road to Healing

Pitfall #1: Focusing On Perfection
Pitfall #2: Worrying About Failure
Pitfall #3: Inconsistent Trust

Pitfall #1: Focusing On Perfection

Even though perfection is set before us (Matthew 5:48), it is not to be our focus. Many, especially the youth, have become discouraged and even given up on God because of an obsession with perfection. There is a good reason why many perfection-based theologies fail so miserably. It’s not so much that these theological theories, such as Last Generation Theology, are wrong per se. The problem is that the emphasis they place on perfection causes navel gazing, anxiety, isolation, and effectively thwarts any hope of perfection. Morris Venden nails it:

“Perfection is God’s work, not mine…It’s only safe to talk about perfection over easy…because if I spend much time talking about perfection it’s going to focus my attention right in on myself: How far have I come? How far do I have to go? I wonder if I’m going to make it in time for the end of the world? The moment my attention is focused on myself is the moment that there is no hope whatever for perfection. For perfection, overcoming, and obedience all come from looking to Jesus…I will never succeed by focusing on myself.”

God may well have a perfect people in the end, who do not even sin by a thought, but that is not our problem outside of participating in a trusting relationship with God. The most important thing we can do is to have trust in God: to be willing to listen, to believe that He knows what is best, and to be willing to change. Our focus is never on becoming a perfect person, but only on the joy of our friendship with Him and pleasing Him. He will do the rest in us in His perfect time.

“Not by painful struggles or wearisome toil, not by gift or sacrifice is righteousness obtained but it is freely given to every soul who hungers and thirsts to receive it. As we discern the perfection of our Savior’s Character we shall desire to become wholly transformed and renewed in the image of his purity.” – Ellen White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing

Pitfall #2: Worrying About Failure

  • God Is Faithful, Even If We Fail Often

So what happens if we fail? Nothing happens. God doesn’t go anywhere. He doesn’t leave us. We don’t leave our children or our babies when they make mistakes. We keep on being their parents. Why would God treat us with any less love than our earthly parents? Ellen White says this very clearly in Steps to Christ:

“There are those who have known the pardoning love of Christ and who really desire to be children of God, yet they realize that their character is imperfect, their life faulty, and they are ready to doubt whether their hearts have been renewed by the Holy Spirit. To such I would say, Do not draw back in despair. We shall often have to bow down and weep at the feet of Jesus because of our shortcomings and mistakes, but we are not to be discouraged. Even if we are overcome by the enemy, we are not cast off, not forsaken and rejected of God.”

When we fall, we should keep right on going, keep right on seeking Jesus day by day. We must keep giving Him permission to do his work in our life, and He will continue to do that. Remember, He never leaves us. We leave Him. He will continue to stay with us as long as we don’t walk away.

Morris Venden likens seeking Jesus to an elevator. We are on an elevator going up to heaven. As long as we stay on the elevator we might fall down, but we are still going up. Jesus, who is on the elevator with us, wants to teach us how to depend on Him so we don’t fall down. As long as that takes, as long as we continue seeking Him, we are still on the elevator going up. The only way we can fail is if we step out of the elevator.

“If the eye is kept fixed on Christ, the work of the Spirit ceases not until the soul is conformed to His image.” Ellen White, Desire of Ages 302

“[I am] confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

When we focus on Jesus instead of our sins, God will complete in us what he has begun. If we continue to behold Jesus, God is faithful to change us into His likeness. 2 Corinthians 3:18

  • What Our Job Is And What It Isn’t

So what about all of our besetting sinzes? All of those sinzes that you have been struggling with—impure thoughts, swearing, anger—are not your problem. They are God’s problem. God has never asked us to fight the devil and our problems. Never. We have been trying to fight a problem that God has promised to handle for us instead of seeking Him and trusting Him to take care of it. Our only problem is to deal with the sin that causes all of these resulting sinzes: living apart from God.

Basically, we have gotten that perfect living thing backward, imagining that any part of our salvation—be it justification, sanctification, or glorification—depends on us (even a little bit). Our focus has been too much on being good and too little on Jesus. With no clear understanding of how we can be perfect, many of us have given up in discouragement and even left the church.

When we fight the war at the wrong location we will lose the war, so we need to find out where to fight the war. Timothy says, “Fight the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12),” not the good fight of overcoming sins or fighting the fight to obey all the rules. No, it’s about faith in Jesus: fighting day by day to get to know Him better so that He can work His magic in and through us.

“Anything outside of faith is sin.” Romans 14:23

But can we have a relationship with God while we’re still sinning willfully? Yes. The disciples had a relationship with Jesus for three years, but also continued to have known sin in their lives. They knew it was sin and they continued to do it. Because of this, we can only conclude that it is possible to have a relationship with God and to have known sin in your life at the same time. However, sooner or later one of these is going to go. This is encouraging because it means that if I continue my relationship with God that sin is going to go, sooner or later.

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

  • It’s Not About What You Do, But Who You Know

In light of this, the mantra of Morris and Lee Venden make total sense:

“Christianity is not about what you do, but about Who you know. And then Who you know is going to change what you do.”

It’s not about doctrine, but about a man, and it’s His job to change us. Unless the doctrine is about the Man even the doctrine is wrong.

“He that has the Son has life, and he that has not the Son has not life.” 1 John 5:11-12

Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing,” and St. Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ.” The presence of Jesus in our lives makes all the difference. This means that if we are serious about our salvation, then personal time with Jesus is not negotiable. It is where we get to know Him.

The only danger is that we might scrap our relationship with Christ and choose sin instead. Judas became the victim of a choice like that. Bottom line? We must not worry about our behavior. Instead, seek Jesus continually and He will change our behavior by the magic of love.

Pitfall #3: Inconsistent Trust

Is trusting completely, even perfectly, required? Can’t we get away with a little cheating? No. That was the strength of King David, who was always humbly willing to listen to God and repent no matter how many times he fell into sin. He never cheated God there.

When what God wants is seen as a loving, trusting relationship, then what He wants is not a requirement demanded (you can’t demand love anyway), but an absolutely voluntary experience.

Like Graham Maxwell says, this long debate between faith, works, and obedience has troubled saints through the years, but it can be easily resolved if we look at the biblical word for obedience. Obedience, from the original language, means “listening under,” a humble willingness to listen. If we love and trust God, of course we’ll be willing to listen. Could God’s expectation of our willingness to listen be 100%? Our performance may be weak; we may stumble as we leave our doctor’s office, but is it too much to ask us not to cheat in our willingness to listen? Even the weakest saint can be 100% here. Even the weakest saint can continue to come back to God with a humble spirit every time they fall. If we trust God, that is enough. That is all God ever asked for.

“The word for obedience means ‘listening under’ or ‘a willingness to listen.’ God does not expect perfect performance. If I’ve gone to my physician with an advanced case of arthritis, then he doesn’t expect me to run the 4 minute mile on the way home. He even helps me down the steps into my wheel chair maybe. He says, ‘Do a little better this week and be sure and come back and take your medication.’ All He asks of me is a willingness to listen and cooperate. I might die tomorrow, but I’m going to die His trusting patient. And I will arise His trusting patient, and all will be well.” – Graham Maxwell

Tim Jennings comments that it is not a child’s fault if he is born with HIV. He is only at fault if he refuses an offered remedy that could heal him. It is not our fault that we are born sinners. It is only our fault when we refuse God’s remedy: to partake in a humble, trusting friendship with God, always being willing to continue to listen to Him, always being willing to cooperate with His healing protocol. We can all give 100% here.