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LIBERATING GRACE – MICAH BENAVIDES

MESSAGE TRANSCRIPTION: 

My name is Micah, and I’m one of the leaders around here at Eastside, and I have the privilege to continue our series, Grace Is Greater. Now we’ve been learning about all the different types of Grace. And for me to start out, I want to ask you some questions. And when I ask these questions, I really want you to process and think, does this apply to me? And so the first question is this. Do you ever feel guilty when you relax, knowing you have a lot to do? Do you often feel dissatisfied or discontent with yourself or your situation? Do you tend to see something wrong with things rather than what’s right? Do you ever feel frustrated or maybe even angry at God, feeling that his expectations of you are unreasonable? Do you ever find yourself using these phrases? I have to. I must. I ought to. I should be able to.

Does your relationship with God seem like a burden rather than a blessing? And suppose you’ve answered yes to any of these questions. In that case, you are probably afflicted with this disease, addiction, and weight we call perfectionism. And perfectionism means you are trying to prove your worth by being perfect. And when we tried to do this, we’re actually making ourselves out to be a fool. And I know this to be true because it’s found in Galatians 3:3, which says you began your life in Christ by the Spirit. Now you’re trying to make it complete by your own power. This is foolish. And so it says, you began your life within the Spirit. That was something that you received as a gift when you received saving Grace. It’s not something that you earned.

It’s not something you prove that you were worthy of, but it was a simple gift. And so, when we try to be perfect, we actually make ourselves foolish because we cannot prove our worth enough for God to love us. But this wasn’t always the case, right? As for me, I want to share a part of my story to explain why I fell into perfectionism. I first accepted God’s Grace when I was a freshman in high school.

And during this time, I knew that there was nothing I could do to earn or prove my worth to God. And I knew I was a broken, messed up teenager and that the thing that I had to do was simply receive and accept his Grace. So after accepting and receiving his saving Grace, I took my next spiritual step into baptism. The next few years passed on in my life, and I started to hear this irritating voice. I began to hear this voice tell me these things, and these things were like, God can’t really forgive you anymore. You still keep messing up, Michael. This is like the 100th time you’ve messed up. There’s no way he can continue to forgive you. This is too good to be true. And often, if it’s too good to be true, then that means that it’s actually a lie. Surely God expects me to be better.

Surely he expects some great work out of me so that he will be glad and be proud of me. And eventually, these thoughts took root in my life, and they pushed me away from pursuing the all in life. Now, I didn’t know this at the time, but as I look back on my life, this was the reason why I fell into perfectionism. I had forgotten entirely about God’s Grace and that it was a gift I must receive. I needed to remind myself of God’s liberating grace.

And as I was preparing for this message, I started to dive deeper into my own life. And often, maybe you do this, you begin to ask yourself these questions. Well, why is that? Why do I feel I have to prove to my friends, family, and God that I am worthy of love? Where did this come from? When did this all start? Who did I learn it from? And so, as I started to ask these questions, I believe God revealed to me three driving forces of my perfectionism. And these may also be three driving forces of your perfectionism. And the first driving force behind perfectionism is this. We don’t want to feel hurt. And so hurt comes from yourself. And often, it comes from others. And to be honest, if you’re like me, you have experienced a lot of hurt, not just yourself but also other people. I still think of how I let people down and made them upset with me.

I still think of all the hurtful things that were said to me as a child, all the hurtful things I saw growing up, the arguments and the fights. And if my memory recalls correctly, it always broke out because somebody was imperfect in a relationship. And this is why this drove me to perfectionism. Because if I could be the perfect leader, if I could be the ideal friend, if I could be the perfect husband, the perfect person, then people won’t say hurtful things to me. I mean, some of the worst things I hate to hear that hurt me in the depths of my soul is that Micah, I wish you could just be better. Why can’t you just do this one thing right? And so because I don’t want to hear that from you or from my friends or my family. I try to be perfect, but I can’t attain it, to be honest. I can’t achieve perfection. And so, as a friend, I’m going to mess up, and I can’t be a perfect husband, right?

You see, I try to do this not only so that I don’t feel hurt but also because I want to control, and we want control, which is the next driving force of perfection. We want to be in control. And it feels good to be in control of our lives. When I think of my junior and senior years of high school, everything was in my hands when I got keys, got my own job, and turned 18. I had complete control of my life. I could do whatever I wanted when I wanted it. And also, I realized society tells us this all the time. It tells us that we need to take control of our lives all the time. We need to plan out things for the future. Can I just tell you that this control we like to believe in is a complete lie?

And if you think about it, all the things you’re trying to control probably make you upset because nothing is perfect in the book of James that actually talks about people like you and me that desire control of our lives. He says, now listen, you who say, listen to us who say that we’re in control, we’re in complete control of our lives. He says, Today or tomorrow, we will go to this city or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money. Has anybody ever said that before? Has anybody ever played this out?

Like, yeah, tomorrow I’m going to do this. This year, I will create this much money and all these things. He says, Why? You don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Now, I like control and like to plan out my life. This is quite humbling. And there’s something that you and I have to do. It’s something that you and I have to realize at this point. And it’s found in Proverbs 19:21. He says many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the Lord’s purpose prevails. And so what I’m not saying to you is that you shouldn’t plan things out because I believe God plans many things. I think God planned out Jesus dying on the cross for my sins so that I may have a relationship with the Father again. But in this, he says, there will be plans that we’re going to have on our hearts, but we must be OK. We must be utterly okay if God wants to change the course of our life for his glory so that his purpose may prevail. And so, when we give up control and start to trust God’s purpose, we’re able to do this. This leads me to the last driving force of perfectionism. And it is we don’t want to feel condemned. Maybe you’ve told this to yourself, or perhaps you’ve heard it from somebody else. I need to be perfect. I need to live a perfect life for God so that I won’t be condemned.This sounds nothing like the Grace that we heard about last week, the Grace that can never that you could do anything to separate you from God’s love.

But it drives me to think, God, there’s something that pushes me into this condemnation. There’s this false belief that I have that if I don’t live perfectly, God is going to punish me. And I’m reminded of John 3:17, which says, For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him. Nowhere does it say that I’m going to receive punishment whenever I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior. It’s a complete lie that I tell myself. You see, God sent his Son to be the punishment for us. And if we’re not careful, these driving forces that speak in the back of our heads over and over will keep us gripping on to perfectionism, not allowing us to experience God’s liberating Grace. And so, what do you do whenever you are white-knuckled about perfectionism? How do you experience God’s Grace? Well, you relax. You start to loosen your grip on perfectionism.

And so this morning, I want to give you five ways to relax in God’s perfectionism. And so I’ve made an acrostic, and the first letter is R. You realize, nobody is perfect. This is a no-brainer, right? Nobody’s perfect. But what actually is perfect? Psalm 119 says that nothing is perfect except God’s Word. That means what society tells you isn’t perfect. What the popular opinion tells you isn’t perfect. What you learn going up is not perfect, but God’s word is completely perfect. And sometimes, we find ourselves on social media flipping through all these photos of people thinking, man, they have a perfect life, man, they’re doing everything right.

Can I just tell you that’s a lie, too? And the Bible actually tells us this. And it’s found in Ecclesiastes, chapter seven. It says that no one on Earth does what is right all the time. I imagine when Ali and I were dating, she probably thought I was perfect, but I wasn’t. I messed up. Why? Because nobody does the right thing all the time and never makes a mistake. So you’re imperfect. I’m imperfect. And so that’s a great thing because this is the perfect place for imperfect people. This means that you don’t have to be perfect. And because of God’s Grace, we say it’s okay not to be okay, but it’s not okay to stay there.

But what it doesn’t mean is that you don’t need to grow. You don’t need to stop taking your next spiritual step. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have to repent. God wants us to come to him and repent. It doesn’t mean that we need to stop working on these areas of our life that need changing. God wants us to change. But when God says, you’re okay because of my Grace. He means God. It means that God is not waiting for you to change, for him to love you. You’re okay. He’s not waiting for you to be perfect, for him to say that. And so, this is the first thing that we need to do to start to relax our grip on perfectionism. And the next is the letter E. it stands for Enjoy God’s unconditional love.

Many people think I give my life to Christ, and for the rest of my life, I’m going to serve him. And sure you are. You are going to serve him. But can I tell you that you are much more than a servant, way much more. We talk about it all the time, turning your time, talents, treasures, and plans to God. You are actually a child of God. And God says, I want you to enjoy that unconditional love I have for you because you are my child. And in one John, three, one, he says, see how our heavenly Father loves us very much. He allows us to be called his children. We circle children because I believe it is very important for you to understand this, to understand that you are a child of God, that you are now part of the Royal family. You are actually a child of God. And God says, I want you to enjoy that unconditional love I have for you because you are my child. And in one John, three, one, he says, see how our heavenly Father loves us very much. He allows us to be called his children.

A servant starts the day anxious and worried that his work will please his master. And there is a difference between a servant and a child. You see, a servant is accepted and appreciated based on what he does. You see. But a child is accepted and appreciated based on who he is. A child rests in the secure love of his family. A servant is accepted by his workmanship, but a child is accepted by his relationship. A servant is accepted because of his productivity and his performance. But a child is accepted because of his position in the family. A child can be secure all day knowing that tomorrow, the next day, the next week, the next month, and the next year’s passing will never change the position that he has in his family.

You are part of the Royal family. You know, when I think about this being a child of God, I’m reminded that I am a child of my father. And there’s a story that goes along with this that I want to share. There was a time when I was a junior in high school going into my senior year when I actually hurt my dad. And you see, when we sinned, we actually hurt God. But there’s unconditional love with that. 

And so I remember I told my dad on the weekend, it was Saturday. I texted him and said, hey, dad, I’m going to go to your house tonight, and we’re going to watch the UFC fights, which we still do to this day. And he said, okay, sweet, I can’t wait for you to get here. And so I’m working at Lil Caesars, and I’m cutting pizza, and I’m staying busy. And so finally, my shift ends. I said, okay, I’m clocking out. And as I’m clocking out, my phone starts buzzing. And I look down, and my friend says, hey, Micah, are you coming to my party? I said, oh, crap, I forgot. Yes, I will be there. And so immediately, I go straight from Little Caesar, straight to my friend’s house, take off my clothes, jump into the pool, and have a blast. We’re just hanging out. And the next 45 minutes to an hour pass. And I realize, oh, man, I never told my dad. 

And so I get out of the pool, and I’m rushing to my phone, and I look at my phone, and I have about 50 missed calls, 50 missed messages, all asking, where am I at? Are you okay? What is going on? You better text dad. You better call dad. And so eventually, I picked up my phone immediately, and I called dad. And I said, hey, dad, I’m completely okay. Is everything all right? And I could tell that he had been crying. He said, just get your butt to Grammy’s house now. 

I said, okay, I’m driving. I was only a mile away. And so I show up there, and there are consequences to that. As my dad walks through the door, I can tell he’s upset with me because he feels hurt, because he thought I had gotten into a car wreck. He had thought that he had lost me. And at this moment, as he was telling me my consequence, which was he was taking my car for the week, I was completely okay. And at that moment, I knew there was nothing I could do that would keep my dad from loving me. And if I can take that perspective and times it by, like, ten times it by 100 times it by 10. That is the unconditional love God has for me. And so, really, why is it so hard for us to enjoy God’s, unconditional love? I think it’s hard because we are trained, customized, and programmed to think of conditional love.

This makes me think of another story that happened three or four months ago. I go to meet Virgil in his office, and he’s asking me how I’m doing. And I’m telling him all these things that’s going on. And I say to him that, hey, Virgil, God has been telling me that I need to reconcile this relationship with somebody in my family. This is someone that I’ve been hurt by. But God is telling me I need to be reconciled with this person. I need to invite him back into my life. And I tell Virgil, I said, but he’s not doing these things. And if he can just get to this point, our relationship will start to grow. Then I’ll be able to start loving him. Virgil, do you remember what you said to me? He said, So you put conditions on him, and then you will love Him. That’s not unconditional love. And he chuckled. And I started to realize I was putting conditions on my love for somebody instead of just loving them where they are. And I began to think back about my personal relationship with God.

And often, I fall into this realm of perfectionism, thinking that there’s a condition in order for me to be loved. But he understands you and me. He understands that we are not perfect, and he loves us anyway. He knows the good, the bad, the ugly, and he still loves us. And so, when we start enjoying God’s unconditional love, the grip of perfection really starts to ease up. And then we’re allowed to do this next thing: Let God handle things. Like I said earlier, this is caused by the driving force we want control in our lives. You think if you can just control your spouse, then you’ll have a perfect marriage. You think if you can just control your kids, they’ll never get in trouble, and they’ll always be safe. You think if I can control my career, my path will be assured. 

If I can prevent the people around me, then this world will just be a perfect and better place. But we lack the awareness that we are completely out of control of our life. And so what do we need to do? We need to let God handle things. Peter Five says, Cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you. And we do this by doing what is found in one. Circle the word cast because this is very important. So you guys understand what it means to cast, right?

To cast out the bait, cast out the weight and the Barber or the line. But if you’ve never been fishing, I would like to explain or tell you how I learned how to cast when fishing. When I was a kid, I got a fishing pole. And this fishing pole was about this big and attached to the fishing pole was unreal, and it had a line going up to the pole and then down. Now at the end of the line, there was a hook. There was usually bait, and there was weight. And about twelve inches from that, there was a Bobber. Now, when I learned to cast, there was a button that you had to press. There was a button you had to hold down and reel back. And once you got to this point in the air, you had to let go.

The essence of casting is letting go to relax your grip on perfectionism and let God handle things in your life. So you have to let go of the thought that things need to be perfect for you to be happy. You need to let go of this perfect vacation idea that you have in your mind because there is no such thing. You need to let go of this perfect marriage you are wanting because guess what? Men, you married a sinner, and women, you married a bigger sinner. And so you have two imperfect people coming together thinking that you’re going to have a perfect relationship. Parents, let go. There are no perfect kids. There’s no such thing as a perfect body, a perfect Church, or a perfect job. 

I’ll say it once, I said it once, and I’ll say it again. The only perfect thing is the word of God. And you see, when you cast things out to God, it’s not like fishing. You don’t reel back in. You don’t reel back in the weight that you were carrying. And so we need to stop thinking that there’s going to be a perfect environment for me and you to enjoy life because it’s not going to happen. The things that you had let go, they’re done. They’re out there. And so, what you need to do is learn to be content. After you cast those things out, who needs help being content with where they’re at and where they’re at in their situation, where they’re at in their life. 

You see when we can learn how to do this. In Philippians 4:11-13, Paul says, I am not saying this because I need to learn to be content. Whatever the circumstance, I know what it is to be in need, and I know to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation. He says, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want, I can do all things through him who gives me strength. And so what he’s saying right here is no matter whether I need food or whether I have a lot of food, I’m casting this out. I’m completely content with where I’m at. Whether I’ve been blessed or in need, I’m delighted with where I’m.

After casting all these things, this is all we can do is sit back and be content. And what would it look like if in your life you were to cast all these cares unto God and to never reel them back and to sit and be content with your life or with your situation? I tell you what, it would completely change your life and impact others around you. But another thing that you can do that will also affect others around you is the letter A, which is acting in faith, not fear. Again, many people think I’m saved by God’s free gift, but now I have to really work hard as a Christian to keep God’s approval in my life. And that’s not true. You only say that because of this driving force of condemnation. You’re actually afraid that there will be some punishment because you did something wrong and you feel condemned, and you think God wants to condemn you. But in Galatians four, six, and seven, it says because you are sons and daughters, right? Because you are part of the Royal family.

God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts. This is something that you received when you received Jesus Christ. God sent his Son’s spirit into your heart, and because you have the spirit, you can actually cry out Abba Father. Think about that when you go in prayer, when you go in worship and think you were coming before your heavenly Father, you get to call him Father because you are a child of his. And since you are a child, you are made an era. And what that means is because Jesus died for you and because Jesus was perfect, now he looks down on you and sees you as perfect because of the bloodshed that was shed for you by Jesus. Can I just say something? I don’t know about you, but I need help remembering that I’m a child of God. And so, how do we fight against acting in fear and start acting in faith? Well, we start by being rooted in the Word of God. And that’s found in Colossians 2:6-7 says that just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, just as you received this free gift, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught and overflowing with thankfulness. How do you become rooted in Christ? How do you become built up in Christ?

The Gospel of John 1:1 says the Word was in the beginning, and the Word became flesh. And what he’s talking about is Jesus Christ is the Word of God. And so we need to be rooted in the Word of God so that we can remember that we are part of the Royal family, that we are sons and daughters of the one true King. And if we can build our life on this perfect foundation, this will allow us to do this next thing. And it’s X exchange my perfectionism for God’s peace. I don’t know about you, but living a life trying to be perfect and focusing on perfectionism. As for me, it completely wears me out. It makes me agitated about just the smallest of things. It causes me distress and conflict within my soul. Am I right?

And why do you think that is because we can never be perfect. There’s nothing we could possibly do to be perfect. And God knew that. He knew it was going to be impossible for us to be perfect. That’s why he came up with Grace, to set us free from perfectionism. That’s why he sent Jesus to die in your place and in my place because Jesus was the perfect sacrifice, and we get in on his perfection. And so what do we need to do? There needs to be an exchange of this perfectionism, completely letting go and accepting peace. And Jesus says, this is how we do it. 

In Matthew eleven speaking, he says, Are you tired? Are you worn out? Are you burnt out on religion? Are you burnt out trying to prove your worth or earn your worth to God? He says, Gets away with me, and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me. Watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of Grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me, and you will learn to live freely and lightly.

This is the exchange. This is what the exchange that Vivian talked about, right? No longer trying to keep all these rules, trying to do everything perfectly. Jesus says, Just come with me, will you? Just walk with me. I will show you everything. Keep company with me, and you will learn to live a free and light life. So as we close this morning, these are the five ways you can start to relax your grip on perfectionism. I want to know, where are you? Where are you at? Really ask yourself this question. Are you struggling to realize that nobody’s perfect? Are you having a hard time enjoying God’s unconditional love because you have been caught up and conditioned to love? You’ve been caught up in this lie that you are not a child of God? Are you caught up in control? Do you need to start letting go of your control so God can handle it? Do you need to start casting all those things weighing on you to never reel them back in? Are you struggling with the fact that you believe that there is condemnation even after you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Do you still believe God’s waiting to punish you? It’s not true, and we need to act in faith, not in fear. Last, are you completely exhausted from gripping on to this perfection in your life, and you need to exchange this grip for his peace? You need to start relaxing and open your hands and give them to him so that, in turn, you may walk with him. In turn, you may have a relationship with him and live a peaceful life wherever you’re at.

Could you circle the letter you’re going to work on this week? Circle the letter that God has told you to work on this week, and I want you to put it in your bathroom mirror or on your dresser where you can be reminded and say, God, you told me I needed to work on this week. I need to relax my grip on this perfection. Will you do that? And as we end, I want to end with this prayer, and this prayer is near and dear to my heart. Heart. It is called the prayer of serenity or the serenity prayer. I said, will you bow your heads with me?

It says God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time. Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, taking as Jesus did the simple world as it is not as I would have it, trusting that you will make all things right if I surrender to you your will so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with you forever in the next Amen.