“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48 (CSB)
“You think you’re perfect!” The words sneered by my so-called friend stung my ten-year-old ears. What did she mean by saying that I thought I was perfect? That couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, she was dead wrong.
This wasn’t the first time someone accused me of thinking I was perfect. But mistakes were not well-tolerated in my home. I convinced myself that if I did everything right, my daddy wouldn’t drink, and my parents wouldn’t fight incessantly.
Not that my parents expected perfection out of me. I think they understood I was a little kid who was, by nature, a work in progress. But I received their criticism, whether positive or negative, to mean that anything less than perfect was unacceptable.
Growing up, I continued my quest to achieve perfection. Because perfection is impossible to obtain, I repeatedly experienced defeat. It was easier to quit at something I loved rather than admit I failed at it miserably. I could not understand the value of hard work combined with the reward of being good at something because short of perfection, anything less was failure.
So, what does the Bible mean when it commands us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect?
Is God-like perfection even possible?
I came to know Jesus as my savior as a young girl. I wanted to please him the same way I desired to please my earthly Father. But striving to be the perfect Christian only left me feeling like more of a failure.
“Perfect is the enemy of good.” ~ Voltaire
“Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2(CSB)
My journey to embrace the lovely in the imperfect, especially my own, has not been without its stumbles.
To abate shame’s sting, I’ve made excuses or blamed someone or something else for my personal shortcomings. Anything to avoid seeing the image of Little Miss Imperfect in the mirror.
Do you fight the desire to do everything right?
Do you struggle with the need to control your circumstances?
Do you compare yourself with others?
Do you have unreasonable expectations for yourself or the people in your life?
As a believer in Jesus Christ, do you strive for excellence as a Christian? Do you convince yourself that you have somehow arrived if you pray for an hour every morning, spending equal time in Bible study?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you just might be a perfectionist.
While having a flawless faith or a faultless family may originate from sincere motives, it most likely will result in fear. The obsession with being perfect can be paralyzing, as it was in my case.
I was the little girl who quit everything she started out of fear of failure. Piano lessons, cheerleading, ice skating, gymnastics, art classes, swimming, debate team, even writing. You name it, I quit it.
Accepting my personal imperfection was impossible. Sadly, I most likely put this same pressure on my husband and children.
The Toxic Cycle of Perfectionism
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” 1 Peter 5:6 (NIV)
The root of perfectionism is either pride or shame. Most often, it is both. The toxic cycle of pride, sin, shame, and blame leaves us feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. Its weight can be unbearable.
Eventually, it takes its toll on us personally as our mental, emotional, and physical health suffers. It destroys marriages, families, friendships, and careers.
Perfectionism is unsustainable.
The energy put into striving for perfection from yourself or demanding perfection from others is life-controlling.
Perfectionism has many causes. Trauma, abuse, fear of rejection, people-pleasing can all carry over from childhood into adulthood. The need for perfection is self-oriented.
Perfection adamantly declares, “I must be perfect to be accepted,” or “You must be perfect to receive my approval.”
Do you believe the lie that the only way to be accepted is to be perfect or close to it? If so, when did you receive that lie?
Are you ready to acknowledge and abolish perfection’s grip on you, to break free from its clutches? The toxic cycle of perfectionism can be broken, but only by the perfect love of Jesus Christ.
The Perfect Love of Jesus
“There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears has not reached perfection in love.” 1 John 4:18 (CSB)
Jesus did not put heavy burdens on his children. Rather, he taught them how to prioritize relationships over works. Consider the story of Mary and Martha as found in the gospel of Luke.
“While they were traveling, he (Jesus) entered a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone? So tell her to give me a hand.’ The Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:38-41 (CSB)
Martha, on a mission to be the perfect host, missed the blessing of sitting at the feet of perfection, Jesus himself.
Mary, on the other hand, realized that moments like this come once in a lifetime, and she wasn’t missing it for anything. What have you missed out on in your pursuit of perfection?
For me, I have missed out on the joy of companionship because I was too busy attempting to put together the perfect social gathering.
Like Martha, I missed memorable moments, instead consumed with an emotional need to please people with my hospitality rather than with my presence.
I wonder if Martha changed after her conversation with Jesus. Being a doer is not a bad thing, but there are times when it’s not the best thing.
Perfectionism demands we exert ourselves to always be the best. Jesus removes the burden of perfection from our shoulders. With perfection’s claws removed, we can live freely in grace, no longer burdened by the pressure to perform.
The Secret to Being Perfect
So, what is the secret to being perfect? First, we need to understand that the biblical definition of perfection is something completely different from the worldview of perfection.
The Hebrew word for perfect is “shalem,” and it is defined as “finished, whole, and complete.” The Greek word is “teleios,” meaning “having reached its end, finished, complete, perfect, fully grown, mature.”
Looking at these definitions, we see no mention of “free from mistakes, sinless, or without fault.” What I understand it to mean is “a complete reliance on Christ and obedience to his will.”
This pursuit of excellence and virtue is something far different from pursuing perfection as defined in the English language and according to the values of our society. The Miriam Webster’s dictionary defines the word perfect as “being entirely without fault or defect, flawless, satisfying all requirements, complete.”
The Bible teaches us that these qualities are found only in Jesus. How did Jesus stay sinless in a world that demands perfection, but where evil prevails?
“I and my Father are one.” John 10:30 (NKJV)
Jesus is one with his Father, perfectly sinless and blameless. Like Jesus, we are not to strive to be perfect through our own strength or ability. Instead, we are to be one with Jesus, grafted to him.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him, produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me.” John 15:5 (CSB)
The secret to being perfect is remaining in Christ. Biblical perfection is not something we strive or work for. Instead, it is what we become as we remain fully dependent upon on our perfect God. As we remain in Christ and he in us, we will grow in wisdom, understanding, and maturity.
Relentless striving to be perfect only results in frustration and burnout. It’s when we remain in the presence of Perfection that true transformation begins.
For these weary ears, this truth is quite refreshing.
Bible Verses on Perfection
What does the Bible say about perfection?
The following verses will help you grow in understanding of a perfection that is only found in and through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
What a relief to know that we don’t have to strive for perfection anymore. Jesus, the only perfect one, is living in us. We can rest in this truth.
“He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 (CSB)
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15 (CSB)
“But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.” Colossians 3:14 (NKJV)
“But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.” 1 John 2:5 (NKJV)
“But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and not a forgetful hearer but a doer who works – this person will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:25 (CSB)
“The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” Hebrews 7:18-19 (NIV)
“Therefore, since we have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hinderance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2a (CSB)
“I appeal to you, brothers and sister, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” 1 Corinthians 1:10 (NIV)
“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because the trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3 (NIV)
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (CSB)
“For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are sanctified.” Hebrews 10:14 (CSB)
“For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.” James 3:2 (NKJV)