If you are plagued by perfectionism, then it’s time remember the gospel.
Believe me—I will be joining you in this holy endeavor because I need the reminding, too.
Oh, perfection. I love working hard. The ability to do so is a gift from the Lord. Beyond working hard, I enjoy working precisely. Correctly. Exactly. Clearly. I enjoy working and living in such a way that exudes the excellence of Christ and presses onward past challenges and obstacles. Especially within ministry, working excellently brings me deep joy. And I believe it honors the Lord.
What saps me of joy, however, is my tendency to expect absolute perfection of myself. See, working hard as unto the Lord should be the pursuit of every Christ follower. But, if a person is not careful, working excellently can quickly evolve into working for self-righteous perfection. There is a difference between working by the Lord’s strength in utter dependence on Him, and working through our own independent efforts, which naturally results in self-glorification.
The pursuit of perfection by our own efforts and for our own vain purposes reveals in us a stunning truth: we are plagued by it, and therefore, we need reminders of the gospel of grace.
Six Signs of Perfectionism
It’s time to take a test.
If the following traits are true of you, you might be a perfectionist:
- You expect perfection from yourself.
- You expect perfection from other people. Common attitudes toward others involve critique, judgment and disappointment.
- You beat yourself up for making mistakes or failing.
- You are afraid of failure, and the fear keeps you from moving forward.
- You are unwilling to let others help you.
- You refuse to take correction and hear the messy truth about yourself.
If the majority of the above statements describe you, then it is possible you have been plagued by the need for perfection in many aspects of life. You are not alone. All of the above have described me at one point or another.
The truth is, our understanding of the gospel is reflected through how we live on a daily basis, especially in relation to our dependence on Christ. Conversely, not coming to terms with the fullness of Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection leaves a disconnection, whereby we attempt to fill in the gaps with our own vain efforts to be good (and do good).
It hit me like a ton of bricks when I realized: my need for perfection meant I was missing the full extent of the gospel message, which trains us“to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12).
What’s at the root?
What is at the root of perfectionism? In pondering the desire to be perfect, it seems at its root lie four sinful tendencies: The need to be in control, the need for approval from man, self-justification (making ourselves “good”) by works, and the sins of unbelief (doubting Christ’s sufficiency and goodness) and idolatry (hungering for worldly gain and pursuits).
I don’t know about you, but if those sins describe the heart of a perfectionist, then I am running—no, sprinting--the other direction. Straight to the gospel, straight to the cross.
A Perfectionist’s Reality Check
My prayer for perfectionists is that we would remind ourselves daily of the good news of Christ. Only in fixing our minds on Jesus through His inerrant Word will we be transformed by truth and made into His likeness. So, what does the gospel say to us?
- Jesus is Lord, holy and perfect. He rules our lives (Romans 1:3-4).
- No one person is good. We were all under the law and slaves to sin (Romans 3:10).
- God will judge all of mankind (Romans 2:6).
- Christ died for sinners (Romans 5:6).
- We are justified by His blood (Romans 5:9) when we believe.
- Our righteousness is in Christ (Romans 5:18).
Read that last point again. Your righteousness is in Christ. My sister, this means that righteousness—your need to be perfect and without failure—has been bestowed upon you by Christ alone! All of our vain efforts to achieve perfection and control circumstances cannot make us good. They are futile.
But the gospel reminds us that the Author and Perfecter of our faith is the One who makes us righteous. In Christ, we are blameless and without fault. We are adopted saints, dearly loved and wholly approved. Grace is lavished on us through the love of Christ, who compels us to love others (yes, even imperfect sinners!) as we have been loved. Our inheritance is in eternity, not in the fleeting pleasures and treasures of worldly success, accolades and titles.
Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”
For my sisters struggling with perfectionism, preach the gospel to yourselves on a daily basis. Get in the Scriptures. Journal each and every spiritual blessing that Christ has given to you, for His glory. Worship God for providing the perfect sacrifice in His Son, who loved you and gave Himself for you.
Kristen Leigh Evensen is a writer, blogger and singer/songwriter. She writes on faith and identity at The Identity Project and keeps a column at WHOLE Magazine. Her desire is to see women transformed by the Gospel! Follow her on Twitter @kristenlevensen and on Facebook.