Tag Archives: faith

Perfectionism and the Strife to Enter Rest

for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
Hebrews 4:10‭-‬11 (ESV)

This passage I have long found difficult to understand, and even moreso to apply. But today I heard a sermon addressing rest, and a couple things fell in place.

The preacher said that God didn’t rest because he was tired, but because he was satisfied. I think this is not the only motive here (the example for our good also being there), but I think it is an important point.

For us, then, if we desire to follow His example, then rest should also include satisfaction. But for some of us perfectionists, satisfaction is hard to achieve.

My doctoral coursework beat some of that out of me. I was constantly faced with the choice of trying to work longer on something, in hopes of being satisfied with it later, while acknowledging the cost that work would have, on my family, sleep, and ability to do other things which I also found important. Ultimately I came to say that I simply needed to be satisfied with what I considered B level work. The irony is that I never actually got a B, however much I felt that was the most that my work deserved. So the standards of those judging my work were not the same as the standards I held for myself. In this case, logic dictates that meeting higher standards is in excess, and a bad use of my time and energy.

But I still want things to be without flaw, even on points which are clearly unimportant to everyone around me. So there remains a discipline to be satisfied, to “strive to enter that rest“.

Which brings us to the irony of the passage: “strive to enter that rest” is not something that easily fits into the head. How does one strive to rest? One answer suggests itself by the reason for doing this: “so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience”. That is, not striving to enter rest is disobedience? That doesn’t necessarily help things make sense, except to make clear that the striving and resting is a question of obedience, rather than just putting our work towards our pleasure or ease.

The word obedience leads us to another. While verses 6 and 11 use the word disobedience, chapter 3, verses 18-19 equate disobedience with unbelief:

And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
Hebrews 3:18‭-‬19 (ESV)

Thus not striving to enter rest is not just disobedience, but unbelief. This reminds one of this principle:

For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23b ESV)

Biblical though it be, it would be nice if the above also made sense. I think the connection is that when I insist on using my perfectionist judgement, I’m actually trying to protect myself from failure, and I’m trusting in my own work to do so. Rather, the satisfaction that comes from faith (and thus a right relationship with God) acknowledges that I have already failed so seriously that my works are (and will always be) far insufficient to make up for my failure.

So God’s command to me in these moments is to trust Him and His work in the cross, rather than my standards and my work to meet them. It is an act of faith to set aside my vain attempts at perfection, and to trust rather that I am already OK.

But the act of faith is at the same time an act of striving, because of my need to be freed from slavery to my current set of oppressive expectations, a slavery that I work hard to maintain:

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?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 6:16,19 (ESV)

When we present ourselves to a master other than God, this is sin by definition: idolatry and a lack of faith (however you want to look at it). I think the trick is to understand that we present ourselves to our perfectionist expectations just as much as we present ourselves to drunkenness, adultery, or pornography. We think that adding another law, or higher expectations, must be something else. But when God talks about lawlessness above, he’s not only talking about no law, but about living outside His law.

So, to wrap this all up together, the command is that we say yes to God as an act of faith and no to our inclinations, as an act of striving, without these being two different acts. And this command is sweet, because the act of faith/striving it requires gives me both a right relationship with God and liberation from slavery to my own oppressive expectations.

Romans 4:1-12

Here is my mind map of Romans 4:1-12:

mind map of Romans 4:1-12

Here is the scrolls for this week, and here are some more questions of my own:

  1. Where does Paul turn in this section? Why?
  2. Why is Abraham’s justification important?
  3. What evidence does Paul seek in the scriptures?
  4. What is the difference between works/grace?
  5. What concepts does Paul contrast in vv 4-5?
  6. What is the difference of being right with or without works?
  7. What does David say on the topic?
  8. Who was the blessing to?
  9. How does Paul argue this?
  10. How did the promise come?
  11. When did the Law come, in relation to the promise and Abraham’s faith?
  12. How is faith voided?
  13. When is there no sin?


Romans 1:14-17 thoughts

This passage contains what is almost unanimously agreed to be the thesis of the book of Romans. It has a couple ambiguities, perhaps because multiple readings each contain aspects which will be brought out in more detail later.

First, I’m not sure about the three for‘s in this passage. The first is clear enough, and the second connects the next part to it, but it is unclear if the third for connects the third section back to the first, or to the second. That is, when he says

16For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

It is clear that he is not ashamed because the Gospel is God’s power, etc. but does the righteousness of God revealed by faith in it further ground his not being ashamed? This would make sense, as parallel grounds to the one statement, but it would also make sense to see the three for‘s as nested. In the nested reading, the righteousness of God … revealed by faith is the grounds for the gospel providing salvation to everyone who believes. In other words, the gospel is not just for Jews, but for everyone, and for a very specific reason. This has nothing to say against Abraham, but he isn’t the ground for this power of God. This power of God is based on faith, and that is why it is available regardless of ethnic identity.

Both readings make sense, so maybe Paul meant this to be ambiguous, to include them both. But I think the second (nested) interpretation fits better with where he is going with regards to faith and Abraham/Moses, etc. I’ll have to think through this some more.

Second, as I talked through this passage with other teachers, it came out that some differed on the reading of the quote from Habbakuk: “The righteous shall live by faith (or, The one who by faith is righteous shall live)“. This footnote in the ESV (in parentheses) contains a second reading; other translations pick one or the other, e.g., the NIV “The righteous will live by faith” and the NET “The righteous by faith will live”.

The question seems to surround whether Paul is talking about those that are righteous by faith, who live, or whether he is talking about how the righteous live, i.e., by faith. In the first, Paul would be talking about justification (i.e., that people are legally righteous by faith, not some other means), while in the second sanctification would be in view (i.e., that people who are righteous live by faith (not by some other means).

But again, I think this might be an intentional ambiguity. Given where Paul will ultimately go in Rom 8:28-30, I don’t think he has a strong distinction between those who are justified and those who are sanctified. They are one group of people, even if we can talk about two distinct things happening to them. So to say that the righteous live by faith is true, but they are also only by faith that they are righteous at all. On the other hand, it is true that any true righteous is obtained by faith, but the fruit (and expectation, or reward) of that righteous standing is life. Once God has justified you, you get to really live, not afraid of the wrath that would otherwise be due to you. But you are also expected to live, as a natural outpouring of what God has done for you. That is, a holy life is possible on the grounds of the right standing (justification) God has given you in Jesus. But Paul will get there eventually. In any case, I think it likely that when Paul talks about salvation in v16, he has the whole package in mind. This power of God calls people out of the kingdom of darkness, into the kingdom of light. It gives people a right standing with God, and it also provides the strength and motivation for right living. And it will ultimately bring us into the eternal presence of God, free from the power and presence of sin, forevermore.

One last point I thought interesting in this passage, is the reference to Barbarians. Typically, Paul talks in terms of Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles), as in v16. But in v14,  he refers to barbarians, those beyond even the ancient boundaries of Alexander the Great’s Empire (which spread the Greek language and culture. So this is not just a Jew/Gentile thing, the fact that faith is the ground of our salvation. It is also a culture/uncultured thing, and a civilized/uncivilized thing. There is no distinction that the ground of faith does not reach across. This is the word of God that is easy, in our mouth. But we’ll get there in Ch 10.

Our church is taking a week off of Romans next week (not sure why), so we’ll pick up on v18 next week.

The Gospel in Romans

So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith”. (Rom 1:15-17 ESV)

Here we see what could be called a thesis statement for the book of Romans. If Romans is the explanation and defense of the Gospel as Paul preaches it, then this is the summary statement of how and why that happens. There are a number of things to notice in these verses:

  1. Paul is eager to preach the gospel to this audience. (v15) because
  2. Paul is not ashamed of the gospel. (v16) because
  3. the gospel is the power of God.
  4. the gospel brings salvation.
  5. that salvation is to everyone who believes.
  6. that salvation is for Jews, and
  7. that salvation is for Greeks/Gentiles/non-Jews. This is because
  8. The gospel is about the righteousness of God. (v17)
  9. That righteousness is revealed by means of faith (source).
  10. That righteousness is revealed for the purpose of faith (end/result). And finally,
  11. This centrality of faith is not new; it has backing in the Hebrew scriptures.

Looking at this verse another way, we can ask the following questions:

Who is the object of the gospel?

This passage is clear enough, I think, that the Gospel is aimed at and available to all nations, Jew and Gentile/non-Jew alike. Elsewhere in Romans, Paul lays out the evidence that neither all nor only the descendants of Abraham will receive the blessings promised to Abraham. That is, at least some Jews don’t obtain that blessing, and at least some non-Jews do. So the object of the gospel is not one particular ethnic group, but everyone who believes.

What is the basis of the gospel?

If the gospel is not a message to a particular people group, who is it for?  And how do we enter into it? I find it intriguing that “from faith to/for faith” is somewhat ambiguous. That is, does it mean something like from A to Z, meaning all-inclusive, or more like Alpha and Omega, which presumably doesn’t mean that Jesus is everything, but that He is the origin and purpose of everything else. Here the difference might be between saying that the righteousness of God in the Gospel is revealed entirely by faith — never by anything else, on the one hand, and on the other hand saying that the righteousness of God in the Gospel comes from/through faith (as its source),  but also aims at faith (as its goal). This second interpretation would mean that not only does God provide us with His righteousness by means of faith (as in Eph 2:8-9), but the purpose for doing that is to give us faith — that is, relationship with Himself. I find this intriguing because I don’t think these interpretations are incompatible, so maybe the ambiguity is intentional.  Maybe it is all about faith, AND provided by and for the purpose of faith. In any case, there is nothing else that provides this righteousness; faith is the only means by which we may enter into the blessings God offers us in the gospel.

What is the purpose of the gospel?

The purpose of the Gospel is addressed three times in this passage, though perhaps tangentially. First, Paul is not ashamed because the gospel is the power of God. Then in verse 17, the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel. And finally, as mentioned above, I think the whole point of the gospel is to magnify faith in God, making Him the primary mover and shaker, revealer and powerful One in all gospel work.  That is, the gospel is all about showing the Glory of God.


God in the Gospel does not hand out blessing to one people group and not another; rather, what He desires in us is, and has always been, faith. And the purpose and result of all this, is that we get to connect relationally with the glory of God.