To work out our salvation is to live in the purposes of God. This includes being made perfect, a bride for His Son without blemish, spot, or wrinkle. We must avoid the trap of trying to accomplish the impossible ourselves. It is the work of God through the Spirit alone that can effect lasting transformation. This means the surrender of self and the demands of pride.
Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? (Galatians 3:3)
Self-reliance is a habit engrained in us through our lives and one which has a strong hold – and a stronghold – in us. In many ways, it’s the epitome of self because it’s essentially a matter of pride. Taking control is wired into who we are, and this is possibly the strongest part of the old nature. Prior to salvation, self was our central focus. We did everything for self and by self, and letting go of that deeply woven pattern is extremely difficult. In the ‘honeymoon’ period after our new birth, it’s relatively easy to rest in the Spirit and to yield all. But as time goes on, old habits creep in and pride demands what it believes is its due –satisfaction of accomplishment and achievement. We want to be able to claim some of the glory for the changes in us that lead to us being made perfect.
Made perfect is God’s prerogative alone.
The imagery of Jesus as the Rose of Sharon is one of absolute beauty and perfection. It’s the kind of perfection only attainable by God and it’s a reminder of what He is able to achieve through His creative power. Nothing and no one in the universe has the ability to either create from nothing or to create something that is made perfect. If we go back to the beginning of Genesis, we see God look at His creation and declare that it is good. The word ‘good’ here is not limited to our restrictive human perception of what constitutes good. It essentially, when applies to God, means ‘perfectly so’ rather than something that stands out as excellent. The first truth we can draw from this is that God alone can create from nothing. The second is that He cannot create imperfectly. All His work is perfect.
Man, in our limited human capacity, can neither create in this manner nor even hope to be good or perfect. Our imperfection means that anything we do create – something out of something already in existence – it can never be perfect. No matter how many times we may ‘recreate’ something, it will remain imperfect. God, on the other hand, has the power to transform the imperfect into the perfect. His creative power is such that each one of us can will be remade into the image of the perfect Rose of Sharon, the Son of God Himself. In simple terms, this excludes self completely. No matter how well-meant our intentions or how deep our desire to be made perfect, it’s not something we can achieve. God alone can work that in us, and He does so by His Holy Spirit. The Spirit does the work of His will.
God’s purpose is that we are made perfect.
This is an incredible promise for every believer. God desires that Christ’s bride be presented spotless, without blemish or wrinkle. That’s perfect, and that’s what is in store for those who follow Jesus. It’s not a vague possibility but a sure and certain purpose of God. If we choose Christ, we must also choose to submit to the process of being made perfect. The two cannot be separated. Jesus is perfect and His bride must be too. Every prayer, every thanksgiving, every moment of praise and worship, and every act obedience are part of this. The Holy Spirit works in everything to effect God’s will for perfection in us. The truth is it’s not always comfortable, but He has foreordained this for us. It’s our destiny in Jesus. In Christ, perfection is our destination because we belong to Him and must be perfect as He is perfect.
It sounds wonderful and is undoubtedly true. The Bible tells us so we must believe it. But self, while it seeks after perfection, does it from a pride perspective. Self wants to be made perfect and be seen to be perfect. It constantly strives to insert its own agenda into the holy work of God. Pride wants to say ‘I did it’ and self wants to bask in the glory of it. This was the condition of the Galatians who started well in the Spirit but drifted off course when self and pride entered the picture again. Of course, this immediately negates God’s purpose that we be made perfect. A strong self where pride is rampant is far from perfection. The beauty of the Rose of Sharon is its exquisite simplicity and purity. It exists as God made it and has no pretensions or aspirations to be anything else.
Made perfect is a continuous denial of self.
Paul portrays the antithesis between true perfection and man-devised perfection. He juxtaposes the two processes and points out clearly that our efforts are worth nothing. They only serve to dig us deeper into the hole of imperfection. If we desire to obey God’s purpose that we be made perfect, it means continually recognising and rejecting the intrusion of self. Salvation is a great and glorious moment of joy and liberty, but thereafter, we need to live it. We go from a spiritual ‘high’ where it all seems wonderful and easy and we wonder what took us so long to surrender. Then ‘real life’ clicks in and with it, the need to unlearn all the pride-based habits and patterns that governed our lives and feed our need for self-gratification. To have victory, we need to see that made perfect isn’t making us merely good. It’s making us like Jesus.
Christ was the perfect man and the perfect sacrifice and is the perfect Son of God, a perfect revelation of our perfect God. This is God’s measurement for perfection and He won’t accept anything less. Only a perfect God can do a perfect work. We may achieve some success doing it our way, but everything of self must inevitably decay and fall away. Only works done by the supernatural Spirit contain His resurrection power to sustain and bring them to completion. Self is our greatest enemy to the work of God in us. Paul’s warning to the Galatians is as relevant today as it was then – perhaps even more so when we see all the ‘new age’ focus on self and our individual power to change ourselves and our lives. We must recognise and deny self at every opportunity so that the Spirit does the work, not us.
The choice to be made perfect.
It’s a difficult choice but one we cannot ignore. The signs of the coming of Christ are out there for all to see. There is no doubt that the Bridegroom is anxiously awaiting His bride, one perfect and without spot or blemish or wrinkle. If we truly look at ourselves, can we honestly say we’re ready? The real truth is that all of us are hanging on to things that are familiar habits and patterns that feed self. We haven’t yet flung ourselves at the foot of the cross in repentance with our hearts crying out to be made perfect, ready for our Bridegroom. God assures us that He both desires to do the work and will do it. Jesus has already accomplished it on the cross. But we need to make the choice to receive it, to empty ourselves of self and to allow the Spirit to work.
Lord, forgive us for the things we hold onto, for the spots, blemishes, and wrinkles we choose to overlook. Remind us daily that You are coming soon and are looking for Your perfect bridegroom. Help us to live in the truth that we can accomplish nothing in and of ourselves. We know that all our righteousness is as filthy rags. We need Your resurrection power to turn our hearts and transform us into the image of Your perfect Son. Let Your will be done in us, Lord.