Posts Tagged ‘perfection


A template for gaining eternal life?

“16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? 17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? [there is] none good but one, [that is], God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, 19 Honour thy father and [thy] mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? 21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go [and] sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come [and] follow me.  22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.”  (Matthew 19)

When discussing how someone can gain eternal life, Mormons have frequently pointed to these words Jesus spoke to the rich young man – especially his words in v. 17:  “but if thou will enter into life, keep the commandments.”  They then often state that these words show that keeping the commandments are essential for gaining eternal life.  Case closed.

But does that interpretation even coincide with what Mormonism teaches?  As many Mormons are quick to point out, Mormonism does talk about grace.  Mormonism teaches that no one can gain eternal life by their own merits.  “For we know that it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23) is one of the foundational passages of the LDS Church.  Mormonism teaches that it takes a combination of God’s grace and man’s effort to enter God’s presence.  “The phrase ‘after all we can’ teaches that effort is required on our part to receive the fullness of the Lord’s grace and be made worthy to dwell with Him.” (True to the Faith, p. 77)

But that is not what Jesus told the young man!  He doesn’t even hint at grace.  All he talks about is keeping the commandments.  If Mormons want to point to these words as a template for gaining eternal life then they had better not mention grace at all – because Jesus doesn’t.  Here Jesus says it’s 100% – not 50%, not 25%, not 1% – but 100% about keeping the commandments.

That is God’s consistent answer to the question:  “what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?”  If the question is about what a person needs to do, then God’s answer is you have to do everything.  You have to perfectly keep all the commandments.  If that is the question, then grace is not part of the answer.

That, my friends, is a sobering answer.  It is one that can easily lead to despair.  And that is God’s exact intent!  He wants people to despair – of their own goodness and efforts.  That is what Jesus wanted to accomplish with the young man – he wanted the young man to throw up his hands at the impossibility of doing this.  He wanted that because only people who realize that they are in deep trouble look to him for rescue.

Suppose, for a moment, that there was a person who had to get across the ocean but didn’t realize how big it was.  He was a good swimmer so he thought he could swim across.  He was convinced that he could do it, even after many told him he couldn’t.  Finally they urge him to get into the water and start swimming.  They do that for the express purpose of proving to him that he will fail – so that he won’t try when nobody will be around to save him.

Jesus was doing a similar thing with this young man.  He wanted to impress upon him the impossibility of his keeping all the commandments.  Thus no mention of grace.  Contrary to what Mormonism teaches salvation is not a both/and proposition.  It is not both by grace and works.  It is an either/or proposition.  Either by grace or by works.  It’s one or the other.  Not both/and.  The story of the young man, contrary to what many Mormons state, does not support the both/and proposition, but the either/or one.  This is an important point to remember when this story is being discussed.

Even more important to see – and believe – is that our salvation depends 100% on what Jesus did and 0% on what we do.  To him be all the glory!



Christ Our Righteousness

     A Bible passage that has become increasingly precious to me is 1 Corinthians 1:30-31.  “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:  That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”  What I especially treasure is its teaching that Jesus has become our righteousness.

     Righteousness is an important biblical word, but one that a lot of people aren’t that familiar with because it is not used that often outside of religious discussions.  I confirmed that by googling it.  Almost all the references that came up placed it in a religious context.  My dictionary defines it as acting according to what is right, being upright.

     That is why I so treasure the above quoted passage.  As the years go by, I am increasingly aware of my failure to always act uprightly, to act righteously.  The battle between flesh and Spirit that Paul describes in Galatians is something I feel regularly.  (“For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” 5:17). No matter how hard I try to lead a Christ-centered life, I find myself putting self in the center.  No matter how hard I try to always be patient and joyful, I find myself still being impatient and moody.  On and on it goes.

     What a relief – what a joy it is, then, to be told that Jesus has become our righteousness.  Not only did Jesus die in my place, he also lived in my place – as my Substitute.  All his perfect and righteous thoughts, words, and actions are credited to my account.  Not only did he undo what I did, he also did what I didn’t do.  As God now looks at my account, He doesn’t see any debts since they were erased by Jesus’ blood.  Instead all he sees is righteousness – the righteousness of Jesus that has been credited to me.

     No wonder the Bible says, “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”  To Jesus, my Savior, my Righteousness, – be all glory!


Humble Self-righteousness

     Most often self righteousness is equated with being arrogant and judgmental.  My dictionary defined it as being “convinced of one’s own righteousness especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others.”   A Google search produced descriptions that were laced with phrases like “holier than thou”, “smugly moralistic and intolerant”, and “pharisaical”.

     But one of the deadliest forms of self-righteousness is when it is cloaked in sincere humility.  I’m talking about a person who is concerned about others and puts that concern into action – a person who despises arrogance – a person who is a pleasure to be around.  I’m talking about a person like the rich young man that came to Jesus one day. His story is recorded in Matthew 19. 

     “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?  And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? [there is] none good but one, [that is], God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.  He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and [thy] mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?  Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go [and] sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come [and] follow me.  But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.”

     This young man was different from many who came with a question for Jesus.  As the Bible points out, many came insincerely to Jesus – asking him questions in order to try and trap him in his words. Not this young man.  It is obvious that he is sincere.  He really wants to know what he must do to have eternal life.  And he comes humbly and respectfully.  I’m quite sure if we had known him, we would have liked him. He doesn’t come off as being self-righteous as we normally think of it.

     But what he says smacks of self-righteousness.  He truly and sincerely thinks that he has done a good job of keeping the commandments.  His words come off not as bragging but as fact.  “All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? “  Even though he can point to a life of obedience he senses that he is still lacking something – that he hasn’t done enough.

     Notice that Jesus doesn’t address whether or not he was correct in what he had said.  Instead he goes right to the heart of the matter and uncovers his sinful love of money.  With this one well-placed directive, Jesus was trying to bring him to his knees.  He was trying to show him the impossibility of his “doing” enough to gain eternal life.  No one can do enough – in fact, no one can do anything – to have eternal life.  Eternal life, that is, life forever in Heavenly Father’s presence, is not something we earn – it is something given to us.  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)  This, however, is something the young man couldn’t see or accept.

     There are many today who are like this young man.  People who don’t fit at all the usual definition of self-righteous.  People who are humble and caring for others but who still think that they have a good history of keeping the commandments.  Who think that they have to do something to merit eternal life and earn a place in Heavenly Father’s presence.  Who are humbly self-righteous.  This is a danger we all need to beware of.

     Instead of thinking we have a pretty good track record of keeping the commandments, instead of thinking that our righteousness will earn us anything, we all need to see our “goodness” from God’s perspective.  One place he gives that perspective is Isaiah 64:6.  “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.”  This becomes all the more sobering when we realize that the Hebrew word translated “rags” is literally used menstrual pads.  That is how appealing our own righteousness is to God.

      That is why the Bible tells us to look for God-pleasing righteousness outside of ourselves.  That is why it points us to Jesus’ righteousness and the wonderful fact that he bestows it on us freely and fully.  That is why one of the most comforting titles for God is, “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS”.  (Jeremiah 23:6)  Only Jesus’ righteousness is good enough to allow us to enter Heavenly Father’s presence.  When we place our trust in it, then there is no doubt where we will spend eternity.  We will spend it with Heavenly Father.  To God be all praise and glory!


A Sobering Scripture


      This Sunday I’m preaching on James 3:3-12.

          “Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.  Behold also the ships, which though [they be] so great, and [are] driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.  Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!

6         And the tongue [is] a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

7        For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:  But the tongue can no man tame; [it is] an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

9       Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.  Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.  Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet [water] and bitter?  Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so [can] no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.”

     There are fewer passages that are more sobering than that.  It vividly shows that talk is not cheap – that the saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is totally wrong.  We all can think of examples of how just a few words destroyed a person.  Words are powerful – and deadly.

     What is even more sobering is that when, in the last paragraph James applies this to believers, he shows that, even after people have been brought to faith, they can’t completely control their tongues.  The best we can do is an unnatural inconsistency – as we talk out of both sides of our mouths.

     That is something that I can’t argue with.  It’s not difficult for me to think of biting words I wished I would have swallowed; unloving criticism that I have gleefully offered, teasing that went too far.  This passage does a good job of fulfilling its purpose.  It vividly shows me my sin.

      What a blessing it is that seeing my sinfulness doesn’t drive me to despair but into the arms of my Savior.  As I think about this passage, I am filled with awe with the realization that Jesus never once spoke a wrong word.  Never once did his tongue cause him to sin.  Just try to imagine that.  As a boy playing with his brothers and sisters and the other kids in Nazareth, he never once said anything wrong.  As a  carpenter, never venting about a customer.  As a teacher, always giving just the right criticism to his disciples.  Even when he was abused, he didn’t strike back with wrong words.

     And then! I realize that I get all the credit for that!  This is all part of the perfect robe of his righteousness – the robe that he has freely given me – the robe that makes me perfect in God’s sight.  But not only did he cover my sins with his righteousness, he washed them away with his blood!  All those unkind words – all that biting criticism – they have been separated from me as far as the east is from the west.  Because of Jesus, and only because of him, I am a perfect saint in God’s eyes.  Because of Jesus, and only because of him, I am totally confident that I will spend all eternity with him and the Father as part of their eternal family.  To him and to him alone be all praise and glory!



    In the latest (August 2010) edition of the Ensign (the official magazine of the LDS Church) both the First Presidency message and the article on its beliefs focus on the Temple and especially the requirement to be worthy.  In just a few short pages various forms of the word worthy appear over 15 times.  If there is something the LDS Church emphasizes, it is that a person must be worthy to enter the temple.  (By the way, many Christians are surprised to learn that many Mormons don’t meet the requirements – that they are not temple worthy.)

     But, according to the LDS Church, they don’t have to be perfect.  “We are not expected to be perfect to enter the temple.  Rather, the purpose of the things we learn and the covenants we make in the temple is to help perfect us.  We must, however, be worthy to enter.”  (p.8) That same page states:  “The Lord has set the standards of worthiness to enter the temple, as expressed by the Psalmist: ‘Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?  or who shall stand in his holy place? ‘He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart.’ Psalm 24:3-4)”

    I find the contrast between those two statements interesting.  Isn’t a person with a pure heart describing more than just a “worthy” person?  Isn’t that a description of a perfect person?  Doesn’t this Scripture, which the LDS itself cites, contradict its statement that “we are not expected to be perfect to enter the temple”? 

    The Bible consistently sets perfection as the requirement for people to be in the presence of the Lord.  For example, Hebrews 12:14 states:  ‘Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”  God doesn’t command us to be worthy – He commands us to be perfect.  “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”  (Matthew 5:48)  By teaching that people are to be worthy but don’t have to be perfect to “stand in the holy place” the LDS Church severely lowers the requirements and is setting people up for a rude awakening.  Remember Hebrews 12:14:  without holiness no man shall see the Lord.

     Only holy and perfect people will be with the Lord.  That’s a sobering fact. That should drive everybody to despair of their own shabby worthiness and trust totally and completely in the holiness and perfection that is theirs through Jesus.  “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  (Hebrews 10:10)  “For by one offering he hath perfected for even them that are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14)  Jesus’ perfection – and only Jesus’ perfection – enables us to be with the Lord.  It is my prayer that many Christians share this truth with their Mormon friends.  It further is my prayer that many Mormons abandon finding comfort in their worthiness and instead find joy in Jesus’ perfection for them.


Before and After Pictures

     There were two sets of before and after pictures.  They were pictures of two people’s mouths – before and after dental work.  The before picture in the first set showed some crooked teeth and a few others with cavities.  The after picture naturally showed the same mouth but now with perfectly straight teeth and not a cavity in sight.  This set touted the work of one dentist.

     The second set, touting the work of another dentist, showed a much more drastic change.  That before picture revealed a mouth with major problems.  As you looked at the picture, you wondered how the person could even close his mouth or eat anything.  The after picture amazingly resembled the after picture of the first set – perfectly aligned teeth with not a problem in sight.  It was obvious that a highly skilled dentist worked on it.

     Obviously, I don’t want to talk about dentists.  I want to talk about how wonderfully God has worked on me.  And one way that I can emphasize his incredible work is by showing people my before picture.  The Bible paints it vividly.  I was a lawless rebel.  (1 John 3:4).  I was totally corrupt and evil. (Genesis 8:21) I was spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1) always doing sin’s biding. (John 8:34)  I did no good; I was worthless (Romans 3:10-12).  A viler picture could not be drawn. That was my picture – really, not figuratively.

     But then the Lord worked on me.  He washed me and cleansed me (1 John 1:7).  He made me spiritually alive (Eph. 2 5).  He created a new heart within me (2 Cor. 5:17).  He changed me from being a slave of sin to a slave of righteousness (Rom. 6:17-18).  He adopted me into his family (Gal. 4:5).  He sanctified me and made me holy (Heb. 10:10-14).  He did this all for me through Jesus Christ. 

     The tremendous contrast between my before and after pictures emphasizes the greatness of what God has done.  But when that contrast is lessened, when the before picture is of a basically good person who needs a little work, then God is robbed of his glory.  And robbing God of his glory is no small thing.


Receiving or Doing?


     There has been some discussion about the story of the rich young man in the comments after my last post.  In this post I would like to make a point that hasn’t been made in that thread yet.  And that is the placement of this story in Mark’s Gospel. 

     One aspect of Bible study that is often neglected is seeing the structure and flow of the individual books of the Bible and how each part relates to other parts.  This is something people often don’t see especially when it comes to the four Gospels.  Without giving it much thought, many people think that the four Gospels are just individual stories and parables of Jesus strung together without much structure.  But nothing is further from the truth than that.  Each Gospel writer wrote with a specific purpose in mind.  Each carefully structured his Gospel under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Each placed the individual stories in their Gospels as carefully as a jeweler places each gem in its setting.

     We see Mark doing that in the placement of the story of the rich young ruler.  He significantly placed it right after the story of Jesus’ blessing of the little children.  As such it stands in bold contrast to it especially Jesus’ saying in Mark 10:15.  “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”  As one commentator pointed out, children are not like adults who don’t want anything given to them.  Rather they eagerly and ashamedly receive things as gifts. This is all the more striking when we say that Luke reports that the little children being brought to Jesus were infants.  (Luke 18:15)  The point is little children, especially infants, don’t do anything.  They receive things. As Jesus says, “whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”

     What a striking contrast then is offered by the rich young man!  The topic is the same:  entering the kingdom of heaven.  (Compare Mark 10:15 with verses 23-24.)  But the approach is so much different.  The young man wants to know what to do to inherit eternal life.  As has been stated in the comments on the previous post, if “doing” is the question, then there is no room for talk of the Atonement – then there is no room for “trying”.  It’s all about doing.  That is the level Jesus answers him.  In effect Jesus says, if you don’t want to receive it as a small child but want to earn it, then you had better do everything.  That’s why Jesus tells him to sell his possessions. 

     This, however, is something no one can do.  “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.’” (Galatians 3:10)  Jesus makes that same point to the disciples when, after the young man left, he said: “With men it is impossible.” (v. 27)  Man can’t do what needs to be done to inherit eternal life.

     But what man can’t do, God did.  “with God all things are possible”.  Jesus did do everything that was commanded and he did it for us.  Jesus paid the full price for every one of our sins.  Jesus did it all so that God can give us eternal life in his kingdom, living in his mansions, freely as a gift

       That’s why little children, and not hard-working adults, are to be our role models.  That’s the clear lesson Mark is teaching us by contrasting these two stories.

May 2020

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