Tag Archives: law

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 6:15-23

Here is my mindmap for Romans 6:15-23:

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

  1. What does the rhetorical question in v15 mean? And the answer?
  2. What is the relationship between slavery and obedience?
  3. Does the Gospel make us no longer slaves?
  4. Is it better to be a slave to sin, or to the law? Why?
  5. What is freedom in this passage?
  6. What is the result of working for (or slavery to) sin?
  7. What is the result of God’s gift? How is it different?
  8. Which do you want? How can you get it?
  9. Spend some time discussing the last verse, as a concise summary summary of the gospel in the first six chapters of Romans (and in Next Step Discipleship, pp40-41)

Romans 5:21-21

Here is my mindmap of Romans 5:12-21:

Here is the scrolls for this week, and this chart I’ve found helpful laying out this passage, to make it’s content and structure more accessible. And some more questions of my own:

  1. How are Adam and Jesus alike?
  2. How are they different?
  3. How did sin enter the world?
  4. Why do all men die?
  5. Did people die before the law?
  6. In what ways are the free gift, not like the trespass (vv15-16)?
  7. What are their results/reigns?
  8. How are the offense and obedience similar?
  9. how to sin and grace spread/reign?
  10. How does Paul address our character (v19), our legal status (v18), and our reign (v17)?
  11. Summarize a comparison of the lineages of Adam and Jesus.
  12. How does Jesus answer the problem of Adam, sin and death?


What is the use of the Law?

Going through Romans 7, I find a lot of our discussions could use more background than we have. When talking about “the Law”, there are two questions I have found very helpful in finding my way through Biblical texts, as well as conversations about them with others. The first I talked about here, under the polysemy of the phrase “(the) law”. In short, this phrase can refer to different things, so the question I like to ask is What does “(the) law” mean here? That is, if you assume it refers to the mosaic law (as it often does), you will get mixed up if a particular use actually refers to natural (i.e., not codified) law, explicit laws given to others (before or after Moses), or to a general principles without any particular moral value —all of which I have found in scripture.

The second question that I find helps clarify texts on the law is What is/are the purpose(s) of the law? I was in a conversation lately where someone talked about an unintended consequence of the law, which sounded like God intended one thing, then had to go to plan B later. This problem is particularly relevant if you think that in the Old testament the purpose of the law was to make people righteous. Given that we know this is clearly not the case in Christ, it would seem to be a change, something of a Plan B for God. But does God have plan B’s? I don’t think so. So I think it helps to ask if it ever was the purpose of the law to make us righteous. Or to declare us righteous. Or to completely remove our sin, even after the fact. Rather, the scriptures tell us

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins..…And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. (Heb 10:1-4,11 ESV)

There are other passages, many in the epistle to the Hebrews, which deal with this question of the purpose or value of the law and sacrificial system it contains. But rather that try to summarize it all myself, I’ll include here a couple paragraphs from the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), in the Modern English Study Version (1993). I think it provides a great starting point to think about the purpose(s) of the law, whatever you think about what this confession says elsewhere. I got the text here, and the prooftexts here (plus a few of my own). This is the sixth and seventh paragraphs of Chapter 19, “The Law of God”:

6. Although true believers are not under the law as a covenant of works by which they are justified or condemned (Romans 6:14; 7:4; Galatians 2:16; 3:13; 4:4-5; Acts 13:38-39; Romans 8:1, 33; Heb 7:19,10:1-4,11), nevertheless the law is of great use to them as well as to others. By informing them —as a rule of life— both of the will of God and of their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly (Romans 7:12, 22, 25; Psalm 119:1-6; 1 Corinthians 7:19; Galatians 5:14-23). It also reveals to them the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives (Romans 7:7, 13; 3:20). Therefore, when they examine themselves in the light of the law, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred of their sin (James 1:23-25; Romans 7:9, 14, 24), together with a clearer view of their need of Christ and the perfection of his obedience (Galatians 3:24; Romans 7:24-25; 8:3-4). The law is also useful to the regenerate because, by forbidding sin, it restrains their corruptions (James 2:11-12; Psalm 119:101, 104, 128). By its threats it shows them what their sins deserve, and, although they are free from the curse threatened in the law, it shows the afflictions that they may expect because of them in this life (Ezra 9:13-14; Psalm 89:30-34; Galatians 3:13). The promises of the law likewise show to the regenerate God’s approval of obedience and the blessings they may expect as they obey the law (Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 5:33; Leviticus 18:5; Matthew 19:17; Leviticus 26:1-13; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 6:2-3; Psalm 19:11; 37:11; Matthew 5:5), although these blessings are not due to them by the law as a covenant of works (Galatians 2:16; Luke 17:10). Therefore, the fact that a man does good rather than evil because the law encourages good and discourages evil is no evidence that the man is under the law rather than under grace (Romans 6:12-15; 1 Peter 3:8-12 with Psalm 34:12-16; Hebrews 12:28-29).

7. These uses of the law do not conflict with the grace of the gospel, but are in complete harmony with it (Romans 3:31; Galatians 3:21; Titus 2:11-14); for it is the Spirit of Christ who subdues and enables the will of man to do freely and cheerfully those things which the will of God, revealed in the law, requires (Ezekiel 36:27; Hebrews 8:10 with Jeremiah 31:33; Psalm 119:35, 47; Romans 7:22).

The most important point, for me, is that there are a number of legitimate uses of the law, none of which is to make us right legally (i.e., justification) or in fact (i.e., sanctification). We can therefore conclude that legalism (attempting to accomplish either justification or sanctification through the law) is and has always been an abuse of the law.

Romans 2:1-16 (Moral Sinners)

Here is my mind map for this section:

Romans 2:1-16 mindmap
You can get a copy of the scrolls for this section here.

And here are a few questions of my own:

Who is Paul addressing now?
How does the reader condemning himself?
What is God’s judgment based on?
What is the purpose of the questions in v3-4 ?
What is the source of this person’s treasure/store of wrath?
How does Paul describe ‘the day’?
What will the judgment be based on? What is it not based on? Describe each group.
What will each group get? How is there “no partiality”?
Who gets ‘tribulation and anguish’?
Who gets ‘glory, honor, and peace’?
What does ‘partiality’ mean here?
What happens to people who sin without the law? And ​ with ​ the law?
Who will be justified by the law?
Who was the Law given to? Who will be judged by it?
How can those without the law be justified by it?
What role does the conscience play?
What will God judge? (v 16)
What role does the conscience play in all this?