by Linda Rex
Over the years I have had to learn the difficult lesson that sometimes it pays better to stop being so nice to people. Being nice can actually make things more difficult and painful rather than creating a place of safety and healing for those involved. In fact, being nice can actually cause a dangerous situation to continue which needs to be made right.
But being nice isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself, right? God would want us to be nice people wouldn’t he? Isn’t God always a nice God?
And being nice can seem like the Christian thing to do. If someone is a follower of Christ, they will always be nice, right? They will never be mean or unkind. Jesus was always nice, going around healing people and helping people when he lived on earth, wasn’t he? Or was he?
What about when we are parenting our kids? We may want to be a good parent, so we are always kind, and thoughtful, and generous to our kids. We may give them everything they want, and never say anything to correct them, thinking we are being a good parent by doing so. When they get in trouble in school, we may take their side instead of allowing them to experience the painful consequences of bad behavior. But when we do this is it really the most loving and best thing we can do for them?
Parents may find it very difficult to correct their children and to hold them accountable—it just feels heartless to make a child experience the consequences of their bad choices. Putting limits on a child, and enforcing them, and dealing with the accompanying tears and frustration is not a task for the faint of heart. It’s tough being a parent sometimes.
And it may appear that when a person speaks difficult and painful truth, they are being cruel and heartless, when actually they are doing their best to make a bad situation better. Everyone needs someone in their life who won’t just be nice, but who will speak the truth in love.
If you have a friend who will never tell you the truth about your hurtful behavior, are they truly your friend? If your friend is so busy being nice to you they don’t tell you the truth about how insulting and rude you were to someone the other day, are they really doing what is best for you? Are they really loving you with God’s love?
And what about God’s love? We’re all okay with God being a nice God, giving us so many things, and being good to us, as long as he never makes any demands of us and never tells us when we are wrong. We are happy to have a nice God, but not a God who has the right, and the responsibility, to correct us, and to guide and teach us. As long as God stays on his side of the universe and leaves us alone, but makes sure our life is happy and blessed, we like God.
But I’m not so sure God is a nice God. I’m more inclined to believe God is a loving, compassionate God who has a passion for his children becoming the beautiful, Christlike creatures he initially created us to be. God’s heart toward us is not that our life be easy and convenient, but that we grow up into the fullness of the image of God we were created to bear.
I tend to believe God isn’t as concerned with keeping us happy as he is helping us to be transformed into the image of his Son. Sometimes the process we must go through includes difficulty and pain and suffering. We experience the consequences of our behavior, our words and our choices, and we experience the consequences of the things other people say and do. We experience life in a broken world full of broken people, and this is the crucible in which God forms us into new creatures.
I am a firm believer, though, that there is nothing we go through in this life which God cannot redeem or restore, when and as he so chooses. Those unjust and hurtful things people have done to us or said to us over the years are not ignored by God. In his own time and way, he works to make everything right in the end. In Christ who became sin for us, he takes all these things and redeems them, transforming them into a means for accomplishing his Christ-like perfection in our character and way of being.
We can participate in this process of renewal and restoration by allowing God to use our brokenness and pain as a means of helping others to heal and be restored. We respond to the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and lives to heal us and comfort us, and then we turn to others who are suffering and in pain, and share with them the gift which God has given us.
Sometimes healing requires the painful process of removing what is causing the pain—surgery is sometimes necessary in order for healing to occur. This can be true even with regards to our emotional pain. What we do not deal with, we carry around with us, and it often causes difficulty for those around us. So we need to own our stuff, and face it, and get help with it if need be. This is why we have counselors and other people God has gifted to help us with emotional, mental and spiritual struggles and wounds. These are people who will tell us the difficult things we need to hear, while listening to the horrendous things we need to say.
In other words, we need people in our lives who aren’t so much interested in being nice as they are interested in helping us be whole. We need friends or companions on our journey through life who are real, genuine, honest and compassionate. We don’t need people who are nice all the time, but rather who are willing to take the risk of speaking the truth in love, and standing by us when life gets tough. And not only do we want to have these types of people in our lives, but these are the kind of people God is calling us to be.
As parents, we can be people who are more interested in our children growing up to be honest, faithful, compassionate, and genuine people, than keeping them happy and not ever disappointing them. As parents, we can allow our children to suffer, to grieve, and to struggle, while at the same time, helping them to bear up under what they are not able to bear on their own. We can encourage them to take risks rather than taking all their risks for them in their place. We can do things alongside them in such a way that eventually they are able to do them on their own without our help—and this may mean allowing them to struggle and fall down in the process.
In other words, we will all be healthier people, with healthier friends and families, if we would stop being so nice and start being truly loving. We are able to do this because this is the nature of God in us—the God who is so genuinely loving he was willing to join us in our mess and become one of us. This God who lives in us by his Spirit is the God who confronted evil and sin in sinful man by taking our broken humanity upon himself and redeeming it. God was too nice to be nice to us—he became sin for us so we could become the righteousness of God in him.
This God by the Spirit tells us what it looks like to live in true spiritual community. He tells us to avoid living in ways which are hurtful to others, and names what those are in his Word. He by the Spirit enables us to have the courage to speak the truth in difficult situations, and to handle the meltdown which occurs when we directly address unhealthy behaviors and words. This God, who may not always seem to be nice is the God who is Christ in us, and who enables us to stop being nice and to start being truly loving and compassionate in how we live and what we say.
Thank you, God, for not being nice to us—for not allowing us to continue in our broken and unhealthy ways of living and being. Thank you for joining us in our humanity, and forging for us a new humanity which reflects your divine life and love. Grant us the grace to respond to your transforming work and to stop being nice, and start being truly loving and giving–in your name, Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” 1 Jn 4:7–9 NASB
by Linda Rex
I’m always amused by the Christmas song that tells us that Santa has a naughty and nice list, and that we’d better not be naughty if we want something other than coal for Christmas. And it’s interesting how many Christmas movies show Santa checking out the list, and since he doesn’t want to give anyone coal, he is extremely gracious and makes excuses for the naughty kids, giving them presents instead.
I was speaking to a dear friend this morning about our human proclivity to not get things right, especially when it comes to how we treat other people. We find ourselves being insensitive, unforgiving, and irritable even when we want more than anything to be loving, warm and gracious. We want to be nice, but we end up being naughty instead. And so we go around in a funk because we can’t get it right.
I know it’s been said before, but we have to quit treating God like he’s a Santa Claus with a naughty and nice list. The whole point of Christmas is that he doesn’t have one. Instead going by the naughty and nice list, he gave us the gift of his Son. This little baby born on that Bethlehem night was a real person, who in the Spirit lived that perfect human life that we all struggle to live. Immanuel. God with us. God in human flesh, born to be a king, but living as one of us.
Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, talks about what Christ did for us. It’s described by theologians as the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. Christ in our place. Jesus for us, in us, with us.
When he was born, we were reborn. The life he lived, he lived for us, in our place. When he was baptized, we went down into the water with him, and came out, receiving the Spirit as he did. As he wandered in the wilderness, battling the evil one, we were right there with him. When he died, we died, and we rose again in him. We ascended with him and are seated in heavenly places in him.
And most significantly, even now, he stands in our place in the Father’s presence in the Spirit, interceding in every situation. We are the fallen Adam—the ones who can’t get it right. He is the second Adam—who did everything we should have done and didn’t and couldn’t do—and offers us his perfected humanity in our place.
We have adopted the mentality that in some way we are the ones who have to work out our badness and goodness. We are the ones who have to get our relationships right and handle every situation perfectly. I don’t know how well you are doing at that, but personally, I am a flop. I can’t and don’t get things right like I should.
But that’s not a bad thing. Actually that is the very thing that God uses to bind us to himself in Jesus. It is our weaknesses, our failures, and our faults that Jesus comes into the midst of by the Spirit and uses to draw us to himself. We turn away from God in guilt and shame, but God calls us to himself and offers us grace and a new life in his Son. He embraces us in our naughtiness and declares us nice instead.
This is unfathomable. How and why can he do this? Because God knows that it is his goodness and his kindness that brings us to repentance. In the offering of forgiveness, free unmerited pardon, we are shown that we have been wrong and need forgiveness. In receiving that forgiveness, we are in the same moment having to admit that we need to turn our back on the old Adam, to reject the naughtiness that plagues us and holds us captive.
It is an incredible exchange God is offering us. We hand him all that we are as human beings, both our naughtiness and niceness (since even our niceness is faulty) and he gives us Jesus and his perfected humanity instead. We participate in Jesus’ perfect life—he stands in the presence of God in our place.
What we do now is to live moment by moment in that relationship. We look to Christ instead to ourselves for the answers. We listen to, trust in and obey the voice of the Holy Spirit as he speaks to us and guides us throughout our day. We surrender to God and allow Christ to live in us the life he has created us to live. This does not make us any less ourselves, but rather we become more fully the person we were created to be.
And when we hear the jingle of the naughty and nice list come up, telling us that we’re going to get coals in our stockings again this year, we can laugh. Because we know that what we have coming to us are all God’s heavenly blessings in Christ Jesus—something we could never earn, but God has said already belong to us. And that’s what Christmas is all about.
Thank you, Heavenly Father, for giving us the most perfect gift of all, your precious Son Jesus and the gift of your Spirit through him. Thank you, Jesus, for standing in our place and interceding for us moment by moment as we struggle through our niceness and naughtiness. We trust you to finish what you have begun so that one day we can fully experience all the wonderful things you have in mind for us. May we experience them even now and throughout this New Year. In Jesus name, amen.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” Eph. 1:3–6 NASB
by Linda Rex
Over the years since I came to see the dangers of legalism, I have come to see the harm that such a belief system can do to relationships. When people focus on moral perfection, they tend to become very critical of themselves and others. Every little fault or imperfection is picked at and fussed over. And in spite of intense efforts to self-transform, this way of thinking and living not only causes a spirit of condemnation, but also harms the way we look at ourselves and at others.
In Matthew 5:48 (NASB) we read: “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” According to HarperCollins Bible dictionary, the term “perfect” is an English word sometimes used to translate Hebrew and Greek words with a range of meaning (“completeness,” “wholeness,” “blamelessness,” “maturity”) We often read this passage as though Jesus was telling us something we should do and have to do in order to be acceptable to God.
In reality, when we read it that way, we are reading it backwards. We are doing a dyslexic flip of the meaning of that passage. In this passage, Jesus intentionally showed that human beings could not and would not be perfect like God is perfect. There is something missing that they need. They are incomplete without this, and cannot be perfect or whole without it. We are made in God’s image, to reflect his glory, but we are imperfect reflections and our human carnality causes us to reflect darkness rather than light.
It is our human proclivity to try to attain perfection on our own. We want ourselves and others to attain perfect standards under our own efforts. Jesus was pointing out that this is an impossible task, because only God is perfect.
This is the whole reason that Jesus was standing there, preaching to them. Because the Father wants us to be wholly, completely all that he created us to be, he gave us himself in Christ. God took on our human flesh and moment by moment lived the life we should have lived and ought to live. In Christ, God breathed our breath, cried our tears, grieved our sorrows and shared our joys. Down to the last detail, Jesus Christ perfected, or made whole and complete, our humanity.
This is because God knew exactly what we needed in order to be all he created us to be. God didn’t create us to try to become perfect ourselves. He created us for a relationship with himself and others—to love God, love your neighbor.
Trying to perfect ourselves and others only destroys relationships. Nothing is more destructive to love than the constant nitpicking about every little fault or failure of someone to be what you think they should be. There is no room for creativity, personality, or ingenuity. Everyone has to fit a human expectation of what they think God or perfection is like. And they can’t do it.
How do we become perfect as God is perfect? Only in Christ. He is our perfection. The writer of Hebrews says “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Heb. 10:14 NASB). Once and for all, each of us were perfected in Christ, and we are being perfected in him as Christ is being formed in us through the Spirit.
God is the one with the responsibility to perfect us, because he is the perfect one. As we participate in his perfection by living in intimate relationship with him day by day, we are transformed. We focus on the relationship, on coming to know God intimately, and in his presence we are, in time, renewed in his image, to be all he created us to be.
God makes us into a new creation in Christ through the Spirit. Only God is perfect and he holds our perfection in himself in Christ. And he is working out that wholeness and completeness of his nature in us moment by moment in the Spirit. We participate in this work God is doing by growing in our relationship with him and by living in a relationship with others that reflects the perichoresis or “making room for one another” in which the Father, Son and Spirit live.
We make room for one another in the same way that God makes room for us in his life and love—through grace. We offer one another grace—forgiveness for being less than perfect. We allow each other room to grow, to have different ways of thinking and acting and living that are unique to ourselves and yet in harmony with the nature and character of God. Just as there is diversity and unity and equality in the Trinity, there is diversity, unity and equality in our humanity. And we respect and embrace that. To do any less than this would be to embrace imperfection.
Thank you, Holy Father, for seeking our perfection by giving us yourself in Jesus Christ. Thank you for your Spirit, who ceaselessly works for our perfection by forming Christ in us. Thank you for your gift of grace—grant that we may offer it as freely to one another as you offer it to us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48 (NASB)
“For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14 NASB)
by Linda Rex
On my desk there is a block of wood with the word “MENTAL” engraved on it. A colleague of mine from several years ago knew I liked to write and he gave it to me for the times when I experience writer’s block. I can’t help but chuckle when I see it because right then, at that moment, I experience a “mental block.”
How often, though, do we find that we have a mental block when it comes to spiritual perfection? If we are expected to become perfect, how do we do it? For the perfectionists among us, this is important information, because perfectionists cannot settle for anything less than perfection.
There is way of looking at faith in Christ as an expectation that we become perfect people once we get done saying we are sorry for our sins. For some of us, we even think that we have to become perfect before approaching God or he will reject us. Either view is based on a misunderstanding of God’s expectations of us and confusion about who we are as his creatures.
First of all, part of the process of coming to faith in Christ is an acknowledgement of the perfection of God and his love for us, and the confession of our imperfection in the face of God’s perfection. As long as we see ourselves as acceptable, good enough, and able to take care of ourselves, there really isn’t much need for anyone else.
But there is a dignity in our confession of our imperfection. We are human, made in God’s image, to reflect his likeness. We were created for perfection. God desires to share his perfection with us. This is why Jesus came.
Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith—the one who began and will finish the process of perfecting us. Because he joined us to himself in his life, death and resurrection, God in Christ shares his perfection with us. We participate in God’s perfection in Christ by the Spirit.
But this is a process, a journey. It is a relationship with God in Christ by the Spirit in which we are, over time, transformed by the renewal of our minds. In light of God’s mercy in Christ, we surrender ourselves to God in obedient service and we walk in union and communion with the Father, Son and Spirit in love with God and one another.
Our spiritual perfection lies in Christ—we have the assurance that we will one day be like him in glory. For now, though, we focus on Jesus Christ and persevere in our relationship with God in him, rejecting and resisting anything that may seek to draw us away from the path of righteousness we walk in him.
When we read the history of faith in Hebrews 11, we recognize that faith does not come simply but exacts a price. Perfection is not an easy process. It is hard work. But it is not something we do on our own to perfect ourselves. And faith is not something we have to somehow come up with on our own. It is all of grace. It is a gift. Just as faith is a gift from God, so is our perfection.
So, in the midst of the messies of life and our imperfections, we can have Christ’s perfect peace, because he has given us his perfection, and he will continue to perfect us until we fully reflect him in glory. Seeking perfection isn’t a bad thing—but in the midst of all that effort, it is best to remember that there is only one who is perfect, and it is not us. But that Perfect One has graciously included us in his perfection.
Thank you, Perfect and Holy God, for including us in your perfection. Thank you that we don’t have to perfect ourselves or have perfect faith. You are the source, the author and finisher of our faith and our perfection. We trust you to finish what you have begun in us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1–3
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1–2