Godliness and Perfectionism (Part 2)

What you believe about yourself can reveal what you believe about God. For the Christian this is important as we stop to consider the doctrine of sanctification. There is a defeatist kind of Christianity very popular these days, which suggests that you can never really be pleasing to God. You are too unholy, too sinful, too imperfect. Of course that is true that we are sinful, unholy, and imperfect, and yet I want to argue that we can still be pleasing to God even while we struggle with sin. In fact I want to argue that a defeatist attitude doesn’t just reflect a bad view of ourselves, but it may reflect a bad view of God.

What we think about God comes out in how we live. Some authors have written rather brilliantly on the idea of functional atheism among believers. The idea is that while they may confess “Jesus is Lord” with their mouths on Sunday, Monday through Saturday they live as if he doesn’t even exist. It’s not real atheism, but it is a manner of living that ignores Jesus. Likewise, what we believe about our obedience may reveal what we really think about God. That is to say, if I think that all my attempts at obedience, imperfect as they are, displease God then perhaps my view of God is one of a stern, hard-hearted God.

In this view we see God as never satisfied with us, always merely tolerating our existence. But, I ask, is this really the God depicted in the Bible? Yes our God is a just God, and one who knows how to exercise His wrath. But don’t the Scriptures also reveal a God who is sympathetic, who is gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love? A.W. Tozer identifies the problem well when he writes:

From a failure to properly understand God comes a world of unhappiness among good Christians even today.The Christian life is thought to be a glum, unrelieved cross-carrying under the eye of a stern Father who expects much and excuses nothing. He is austere, peevish, highly temperamental and extremely hard to please. (The Best of A.W. Tozer, vol. 1. p. 121.)

In response to this Kevin DeYoung has written:

Why do we imagine God to be so unmoved by our heart-felt attempts at obedience? He is, after all, our heavenly Father. What sort of father looks at his daughter’s homemade birthday card and complains that the color scheme is all wrong? What kind of mother says to her son, after he gladly cleaned the garage but put the paint cans on the wrong shelf, “This is worthless in my sight”? What sort of parent rolls his eyes when his child falls of the bike on the first try? There is no righteousness that makes us right with God except for the righteousness of Christ. But for those who have been made right with God by grace alone through faith alone and therefore have been adopted into God’s family, many of our righteous deeds are not only not filthy in God’s eyes, they are exceedingly sweet, precious, and pleasing to him. (The Hole in Our Holiness, 70)

DeYoung has his on a very important point here. He helps us to remember who God is; He is our heavenly father, and as such he loves us like a father.

If we could not imagine a good father being so calloused, cold, and unmoved by the sincere effort at obedience, why would we impose such emotionlessness on God? I have argued that obedience is in fact possible; you can please God, friends. But I want to argue now that thinking you can’t please God may actually do more of a disservice to the character of God than you realize. God is a loving and gentle Father. Exodus 34:6 tells us that God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. This is how God identifies himself. It’s important to remember this as you struggle with sin.

Yes you are imperfect. Yes God does want you to grow, to stop sinning, to put sin to death, and to be perfect. But he is not so cold and harsh as to disregard you for every failed attempt. He is loving and gentle. Christ has won your right standing before God, you are his child, and as such he loves even the flawed efforts of his children. Let that spur you on to more righteous living today, friends. Our God is a loving father!


  1. […] Dunham has only written two posts in his series entitled “Godliness and Perfectionism“, but I have to say I have already enjoyed reading the first two parts of this series more […]

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