Give up trying for a flawless faith
I struggle with perfectionism. I buy into the lie that my worth is dependent on how good (flawless) I can appear to be.
David Benner nails me in his book The Gift of Being Yourself: “The roots of our pretend self lie in our childhood discovery that we can secure love by presenting ourselves in the most flattering light. A little girl hides her hatred of her brother because she knows that she should love him. This lack of integrity is then reinforced by her parents, who commend her loving behavior. A young boy denies his resentment after he fails to get something he desires. In so doing, he takes a step toward a loss of awareness of what he is really feeling. In short, we learn to fake it, appearing as we think important others want us to be and ignoring the evidence to the contrary” (p. 61-62).
So I am caught by surprise when Genesis 15:6 says about Abram, “He believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.”
What is so righteous about what Abram? That he “believed the Lord”? How flawless was his belief? Just before this (in Genesis 15:2-3), Abram was expressing his doubts to God and complaining because God had not brought him any children. Just after this (in Genesis 15:8), Abram is expressing his doubts again, wondering how he can believe that God will give him the promised land.
Apparently, righteousness is not determined by flawless believing or by pretending that one’s faith is stronger than it is. Apparently, in God’s assessment, righteousness has more to do with integrity of relationship with God. Apparently, righteousness is more about right relationship than about flawless faith. Apparently, righteousness has more to do with God’s grace than our ‘perfect’ behavior.
The rest of Genesis 15 makes this particularly clear. God told Abram to bring a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove and a young pigeon, and Abram cut the heifer, goat and ram in two and set the halves across a rut from each other.
This may seem bizarre to us, but it made sense to Abram. To seal—or to “cut”—a covenant between two parties in that culture, animals were “cut” in two. The halves were then set on opposite sides of a depression, with the blood of the severed animals draining into the space between them. The two parties making the covenant would remove their sandals and walk through the pool of blood between the severed creatures. In doing so, each person would be making a statement: This covenant is now sealed with blood. May it be done to me, as it has been done to these creatures, if I should ever break the covenant we have established between us. Or may it be done to you, as it has been done to these animals, if you should ever break the covenant we have established between us.
Abram understood the cutting of a covenant. What he didn’t understand was how an individual was to cut a covenant with the invisible, transcendent God. He understood that he, Abram, was capable of taking off his sandals and walking through that pool so that the blood stained his feet as a visible sign of the covenant God was cutting with him, but how could God do it? It made sense to him that he—a mortal—should pledge his life to the Almighty God, but how and why would God Almighty pledge his life to Abram?
It seemed to Abram that he would be the one who could and who should walk through the blood and pledge his life, but the One giving direction had not yet told him to do so. Thus, Abram waited…and chased away vulture…and waited.
Then Abram saw the most amazing sight. He saw God, like “a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch” pass between the severed animals! As it turned out, it wasn’t Abram who swore upon himself the punishment of a broken covenant. It was God! It wasn’t Abram who promised to pay with his life if anything went awry. It was God! It wasn’t Abram who ended up with blood on him. It was God!
What Abram saw that night was fulfilled in Jesus, for it was in Jesus that God took upon Himself the punishment for our sin (for us breaking the covenant between God and people).
Abram’s righteousness, as it turns out, was not contingent on Abram’s flawless faith or perfect behavior, but was covered by God’s grace. And our righteousness, as it turns out, is not contingent on our flawless faith or our efforts at perfect behavior, but is covered by God’s grace.
I pray for God to help me to give up my efforts to appear flawless, and I pray for God to help me to live more deeply in His grace.