As human beings we have a natural desire to feel like we belong. But one unique struggle that Christians have is the need to appear that we’ve got it all together. This is not to say that non-Christians don’t also have that struggle, but it seems that it is to a different degree. The pillar of the Christian faith is to spread the good news of the gospel. As Christians we may feel that we must have it together in order to represent the gospel, that to have a real impact we must be perfect. Or we may fear rejection from our church community and even the community outside our church.
Now, let me be clear that Jesus states that we are to be perfect as His Father in heaven is perfect, (Mathew 5:48) but there is a difference between righteousness by works and righteousness by faith. Righteousness by works will destroy your faith, your mental health, and eventually impact your physical health negatively.
When it comes to pretending it is often under the guise of righteousness by works. We may think that we are being “perfect” like a “perfect” Christian is “supposed” to be. But how do we know if this is righteousness by works (pretending) or righteousness by faith? I am sure there are some sincere Christians who are living a life of righteousness by works, but have no clue they are doing so. I didn’t. So how can we tell the difference and what can we do about it? Actions derived from righteousness by works are driven by fear, while actions derived from righteousness by faith are driven by love.
I love Brené Brown’s description of righteousness by works. She says, “perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.”`
In other words, perfectionism driven by fear (righteousness by works) prevents us from experiencing “flight,” —freedom in Christ.” Perfection in Christ and the perfectionism that often robs Christians of the freedom mentioned in the Bible are different. Perfectionism described above is the self-righteousness described as being a “heavy yoke” versus the easy yoke (light burden) experienced in the perfection of Christ (Mathew 11:30).
What does this mean practically speaking? I have always believed in God and have fallen in love and out of love with Him throughout my life. One particular summer I came to learn even more about His character, falling so in love with Him that I decided to devote myself to ministry. I began to work at a Christian facility and trembled with excitement at the thought of doing the Lord’s will. But soon after the excitement wore off I began to feel pressure to do things out of fear of being judged rather than true conviction. Many changes I made were mingled with the motivation of a genuine concern to do what was right, but also a fear that I would not be considered a good Christian if I did not do them. Because I was not wholly motivated by my love for God but for fear of what others thought of me I fell into the idol of legalism (legalism = righteousness by works). My love relationship with the Lord was slowly replaced with fear of being rejected by others within the community where I worked. The things I used to do because my heart was overflowing with the love of Christ became a drudgery to me. I became a slave to a different master. My relationship with the Lord began to die. For two years I struggled in my relationship with Christ, but did not know the culprit that was killing my relationship with Him was legalism. I did not realize how much I had allowed others to sculpt my relationship with Christ until I left the Christian facility. I’m not blaming the ministry. The legalism was mine. Yes, some there tended toward judgmentalism. But, everything we do we are to do it as unto the Lord, and not unto man (Colossians 3:23) no matter what the consequences. This is how we can experience that easy yoke that Christ speaks about in Mathew 11:30. Rather than serving the master of pretending or righteousness by works (which is equivalent to rejecting Jesus according to Galatians 5:4), we may serve the Lord. Let all your works be motivated by your love for Christ and loyalty to Him and not by any others’ opinion of you.
I don’t have it all together nor do I pretend to believe that I have arrived. I still struggle with righteousness by works. But my prayer is that you and I may learn the life long lesson of allowing Jesus to set us free from other’s opinions and take His easy yoke upon us.
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1).