Perfectionism is found in many places. It lurks in overly clean houses, prodigiously high standards for children, over-working mothers and fathers, and even, in homework assignments submitted for seminary classes. I’ll admit that perfectionism is a huge struggle for me. In one sense, I think I had assumed perfectionism was largely a cultural proclivity of the west—which may be why I was taken off-guard when I was confronted by it so strongly in Ethiopia.
It was on the first day at our training center, across a courtyard strewn with used, metal pop-bottle-caps and other miscellaneous garbage, in a small, hot, dust-covered room that perfectionism snuck up on me. I had been laying the groundwork of God’s grand story throughout all of Scripture and had just finished talking about Israel’s repeated failure to follow God’s law and his judgment that had come upon the entire nation through their exile. The entire class of sixteen seemed heavy, and I assumed there was a general concern about God’s judgment. As I waited, Pastor Tekele slowly looked at me. This sweet pastor, who has spent years in the Ethiopian bush witnessing to mud-covered natives, said through tear-filled eyes in halted English, “I am so amazed at the patience of God. I sin so much, and it is always such a worry. But I see now how long God kept pursuing Israel, and I know he will keep loving me.”
Where many would have focused on God’s wrath, Pastor Tekele saw thousands of years of grace and pursuit. In a country with no infrastructure to deal with municipal-level trash, where plastic bottles and wrecked cars line hundreds of miles of freeway from Addis to Awassa, I had been stuck looking at the pop-bottle-cap externals, and, in an instant, God—through Pastor Tekele—brought me back to the heart. Pastor Tekele continued to explain a church culture that expected perfectionism in heart and in actions, where it was expected that at some point a true church leader would experience a life that was without sin. While pointing out the theological problem with those statements was not complicated, in reality my heart and many of our hearts aren’t really in that different of a place.
Our manicured lawns and lives are often our way of showing that we have it all together. We want to demonstrate that we are worthy of God’s love and acceptance. I have no doubt that Paul would remind us, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3 ESV). It is easy to run past the line of taking part in my own sanctification to trying to own my sanctification. For Pastor Tekele, seeing his own indwelling sin had always been a reminder that he hadn’t arrived and contained a fear that God didn’t love him and he wasn’t truly saved. Yet, when we see how, in the large story of the Bible, every act of God points to a need for a Savior, seeing our own sin points us to God’s solution—Christ Jesus!
Praise God that, in his glorious plan, Romans 3:23 is followed by Romans 3:24! “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23–24 ESV). It is a great mercy that, slowly, from one degree of glory to another, God is working in my life and Tekele’s life by the power of the Spirit (2 Cor 3:18). Paul didn’t arrive at sinless perfection in this life (Phil 3:12), Tekele hasn’t arrived, and I definitely haven’t. But God, in Christ Jesus, continues to hold us in his hand and will ensure that all of his sheep make it to the end (John 10:27-30; Romans 8:30).
Thinking that the condition of our external surroundings will make us look good may be shallow, but thinking we can spruce-up our own hearts to the satisfaction of God is deadly. At Bethlehem College & Seminary, we are about Education in Serious Joy—joy that God himself in Christ Jesus has condescended, become a man, borne our sins on the cross, and through his death and resurrection, we now have hope! Hope of eternal life (Romans 5:20-21), hope of righteousness (Gal 5:5), hope of salvation (1 Thes 5:8-9)! Will you join me in continuing to pray for my heart, our hearts, the hearts of our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia and the entire world—that we might fight the good fight (2 Timothy 4:7-8) yet realize, in the end, it was not us but God at work within us (1 Cor 15:10)? That we might place aside our pop-bottle-cap perfectionism and look to Jesus Christ whose blood brings true peace with God (Hebrews 13:20-21) and whose Spirit truly changes hearts?
Ryan Eagy 3rd Year Seminary Student
Bethlehem College & Seminary Focus Weekend 2016On the weekend of April 9/10, Bethlehem Baptist Church celebrated its relationship with Bethlehem College & Seminary. Church members enjoyed this video and sermons delivered by six different faculty members and students.
Join us for our weekly Chapel Service on Thursday, April 28th, 12:45-1:45pm, featuring Fred Iglesia on Training Urban Pastors.
1. Pray for a successful ending of the semester as papers are due and exams are approaching.
2. Pray for seminary graduates who are still seeking placement after graduation and our college graduates who are considering their next steps.
3. Pray for our students who are seeking summer employment.
4. Pray for our students as they serve Bethlehem and other local churches in the area.
5. That 50+ Serious Joy Scholarships of $10,000 each will be funded in whole or part by June 30.