While theologians debate “perfectionism,” believe it or not, most of us aren’t trying to be “perfect” for the sake of being a Pharisee. We love Jesus and want to please Him, to show appreciation for His great sacrifice and love. I don’t know that the woman washing Jesus’ feet was really thinking about being perfect. She loved Jesus and wanted Him to know it. She gave all of herself to Him because He gave all of Himself for her. Judas thought she was fanatical and maybe even legalistic. She wasn’t. She was just in love with Jesus.
Jesus tells us if we love Him to keep His commandments. Is it legalistic to do what Jesus asked? I hear people say, we can’t keep the commandments on our own. Jesus never told us to do it on our own. He promised a Helper.
“If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:15-17 NKJV)
I want to keep the commandments because I love Jesus, and not so I can be a self-righteous pharisee, which is why I must die to self and let Jesus live through me. It is not my best plus Christ. My best isn’t worth filthy rags. I must die to self so that it is “not I but Christ.”
“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20 NLT)
When Judah told Joseph to let him trade places with Benjamin, and he would be his slave, he wasn’t trying to be perfect and get a pat on the back. He loved his father Jacob and did not want to break his heart again by Jacob never seeing Benjamin again. Likewise many are not trying to keep the law to be “perfect,” but because they love Jesus, and He says, “If you love me keep my commandments.” Too many times their hearts have been broken. A broken and contrite heart God will never despise! Psalm 51:17. Many want freedom from addictions caused by sin. They are not proud or legalistic. They just love Jesus with all their hearts. This is why, after proclaiming all men sinners, Paul gave the remedy for sin – so we can stop self-destructive behavior which breaks our hearts and God’s. The remedy is not my best plus Christ’s best. The remedy is Jesus alone!
He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. Titus 2:14 NLT
Many want freedom from sin, not so they can be self-righteous pharisees, but because they are tired of breaking Jesus’ heart, and the hearts of others they hold dear. These are promised victory!
Still, Paul knew there would always be legalists trying in their own strength to obey the Law of God. It’s a human-nature thing – we want to feel we deserve heaven. This is why Paul made it clear that only Jesus is righteous, and we can have victory only by allowing Him to work in us for God’s glory.
“May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ —for this will bring much glory and praise to God.” Philippians 1:11 NLT
Keeping the commandments and having freedom from sin is not legalistic. Overcoming sin by the Holy Spirit’s power, because we love God and want to glorify Him, is the fruit of the gospel.