So, You are a Perfectionist? Not a Good Thing.

It sounds so good to call ourselves perfectionists. We have higher standards than others. We go for excellence. We don’t tolerate mistakes. Nothing mediocre about us. Nosirree. Only the best is good enough for us and our Lord.

It sounds good but it may be as self-destructive as anything you can do to yourself.

We are not capable of perfection. Maybe in typing a letter or baking a blueberry pie, we are. But not in a single one of the really big issues of life.

Men, you cannot be a perfect son, brother, husband, or father.

Women, you will never be a perfect daughter, sister, wife, or mother.

The pastor cannot be a perfect shepherd of God’s flock. The church member will never fulfill his/her duties perfectly.

A major factor of human existence which you and I must take into consideration in every aspect of life is the flaw in us.  We are flawed.  You are a sinner; I am a sinner. We were, we are, and we will continue to be so long as we live on this earth.

As if that’s not bad enough, we live in a fallen world. Among other things, that means that everyone else is in the same situation as we. “There is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10, quoting Psalm 14:3 and 53:3).

When Isaiah was given a clear glimpse of himself, he saw two things that rocked him to his core: he was a man of “unclean lips,” meaning an unworthy heart; and what must have been infinitely more depressing to him, everyone around him was in the same boat (Isaiah 6:5).

We are all failures in life. Starting with the first couple who arrived on this planet fresh from the Father’s hands, no one has earned all A’s in righteousness on the divine report card. As God said to the Babylonian king, “You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting” (Daniel 5:27).

That’s true of all of us. We have all “sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

So, where did this inner yearning to be perfect come from? And, isn’t it a noble thing to strive for the best we can give, to hit a standard of excellence?

The desire for excellence is a good thing, a remarkable gift from the Heavenly Father, actually.

We were created for fellowship with a holy God. In salvation, the Lord makes us His sons and daughters. The Holy Spirit takes up permanent residence inside us.

That bodes well for our future. Suddenly, we are no longer satisfied to remain undone, unwashed, uncombed, and unclothed. When the demon-possessed man of Mark 5 was next seen, a couple of hours after Jesus touched him, people had to look twice. He was sitting and clothed and in his right mind.

In the miraculous act of renewal at the hand of the Savior, the man was given a new purpose in life, new goals to meet, new standards to live by, and a new self-respect that had never been there before.

Be ye holy for I am holy, the Lord instructs His redeemed (I Peter 1:16).

God expects us to live differently from now on. In fact, Jesus said, Therefore, you shall be perfect, just as your Father in Heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48).

There it is. We are to be perfect. Isn’t that what Jesus said? Open and shut case for perfectionism.

Answer: God’s standard is indeed perfection. Christ is perfect, and nothing imperfect will enter Heaven.

But wait. There’s more….

However, that is not the end of the story nor the conclusion of the discussion.

However, the fact is God does not expect perfection from us in this life. That’s a good thing, since He’s unlikely to get it!

Psalm 103 gives us all the testimony we should ever need on this issue….

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy.

He will not always strive with us,

Nor will He keep His anger forever.

He has not dealt with us according to our sins,

Nor punished us according to our iniquities.(Ps. 103:8-10)

And again:

He Himself knows our frame;

He is mindful that we are but dust.(Ps. 103:14)

God is under no illusions about sinful man. Even though He paid the supreme price for our redemption–His only begotten Son!–He knows that in the likes of you and me He got no bargain.  He knows we are but dust!

Expect perfection from us? Not hardly. Not today; not ever in this life.

I have a friend whose motto on Facebook says: If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing. We laughed as I told her my own motto is a variation of the same: If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly.

In each case, I suspect she and I are doing noble things in wrong ways, one overdoing and one underdoing.

As human beings go, that’s about par for the course. And the critical point is that God knows this. He expected no less (and no more) from us.

This does not mean that God has lowered His standards. They’re still the same. But something else has changed.

God gave us Jesus.

What has changed is that Jesus Christ lived up to those standards for us. He has met God the Father’s requirements for humans. In His earthly life of sinlessness and in His vicarious death on the cross in our place, Jesus stepped into the breach and became our Savior.

Here’s how Romans 8 puts it:

What the law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did–sending His only Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, He condemned sin in the flesh in order that the requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.(verses 3-4)

How’s that for a loaded sentence? The Apostle Paul excels at that skill, incidentally, which has guaranteed job security for seminary professors for the foreseeable future.

Suffice it to say here that Jesus became our Role Model, Example, Pioneer, as well as the Author and Finisher of our faith. When we “get into Him” at salvation, we share in the heavenly existence which He has achieved.

I just said more there than I can understand. But it’s true.

Love did something about our sin.

God is so compassionate toward imperfect, flawed man that He built into the system a failsafe plan for our salvation.

It’s called the altar and it is seen in the cross of Jesus.

Anyone who proposes to live a perfect life before God and thus entitle himself to Heaven on his own merits would do well to ask why God went to all the trouble of sending Jesus to the cross. If a life that pleases God can be achieved by our own goodness, God sure went to a lot of trouble for nothing, and Jesus suffered too much for too little.

Nothing speaks of this like Exodus 20, the chapter which contains the first recital of the Ten Commandments. Everyone knows this, but what few notice is what follows the commandments in this same passage.

An altar of earth you shall make for me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I record my name, I will come to you and will bless you.

And, if you make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone; for if you use your tool on it, you have profaned it. (Ex. 20:24-25)

Don’t miss this. The same chapter that establishes God’s standard also sets forth the requirements for an altar. Think of the implications of that.

God’s standards are perfect. However, in mankind, He deals with a seriously imperfect creation. Therefore, He builds into the system a way by which we may re-enter His presence when we fail to live up to the standard He has set.

What a gracious God we have.

And since every Old Testament altar points to the cross of Jesus–every one of them!–that is God’s ultimate provision and final answer for the needs of humanity.

The implications of this are enormous and many. Here are a few.

1) No wonder we love this gracious Lord so much. How tender He is in His dealings with us.

2) This just motivates us even more to love Him and want to give Him our best in everything.

3) We need to quit imposing expectations of perfection on ourselves and start being realistic.  God is; why shouldn’t we be?

4) Likewise, we need to drop expectations of perfection on others around us, especially our children.  Show them the same grace God shows us.

5) We need to cut ourselves and each other some slack. If God is merciful toward fallen, weak, frail humanity, we should be also.

6) We must forgive ourselves for our failures. In Christ, God has forgiven us. How can we continue to berate ourselves for our failures and shortcomings when He has wiped the slate clean and freed us to begin anew?

7) This is the “good news of great joy which shall be for all the people” sung about by the angel before the shepherds of Bethlehem that fateful night.  It’s the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ which we preach.

A friend who was tormented with guilt over something she had done a year earlier assured me that she had confessed and repented and that God had forgiven her.

“But I can’t forgive myself,” she said.

“You have higher standards than God,” I replied.

“What a thing to say!” she exclaimed. “I do not.”

“Of course you do,” I said. “It’s easy for God to forgive me. But I can’t forgive myself because I expect more of me than He does.”

It got through to her that day that if God has forgiven her and wiped the record clean, it was absolutely fine for her to accept that forgiveness and get back in the game.

In setting high goals for ourselves, it’s good to go for excellence so long as we are reasonable in our expectations. And that we not let our failure in achieving the goals destroy us.

There! I’ve said it. It’s not perfect, but I shall now click “post” and send this little essay on its way.

I pray that on its outward path into cyberspace this word will encounter some of the Lord’s struggling children who are fighting the battle against defeatism and discouragement which are often the offspring of perfectionism.

God bless you.  Rejoice in the promise that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 8:1)

You are saved. You are loved. You are God’s.  And you are going to Heaven.

One thought on “So, You are a Perfectionist? Not a Good Thing.

  1. Many of these verses are one’s I learned in Sword Drill under my mom’s tutelage.

    I love more than all the message that is in this verse. “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy”. I tried to use that verse when I would instruct my children. I wasn’t always successful but it was always the “guideline” on which I would lean.