This week several people told me that when they made mistakes, they were very hard on themselves. They wanted to be perfect and they condemned themselves for failures. To live with someone who expects 100% in everything can be very difficult, especially if that person is yourself.
I know. For years I lived with that self-expectation. The belief that I must be perfect came from a misunderstanding of Jesus’s words, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 ESV). With the help of my theologian husband, I learned the true meaning of Jesus’s words.
The word used by Jesus (that in English is translated ‘perfect’) comes from the Greek word ‘teleios’. Teleios means mature. When Jesus said, “you must be perfect”, he was talking about inward character change.
Character change requires time. There’s no quick fix. No 30-second cure. We don’t become butterflies overnight. We must remain in the cocoon of God’s protective and nourishing love. Taste his goodness. Receive his instruction. Saturate ourselves with his beauty. In doing so, we become like Jesus.
Gradually, we are transformed.
- We learn to love what Jesus loved (righteousness) and learning to hate what he hated (wickedness). (Hebrews 1:9NIV)
- We learn to honor our heavenly Father as Jesus did. People rejected him, but he did not care about his own honor. (John 8:49, 50NIV)
- We learn to value Jesus did. “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being . . . he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8 New Living Translation).
- We learn to respond in every frustrating, difficult and painful situation like Jesus did. He consistently displayed what the Bible calls the fruit of righteousness: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22, 23 NIV)
As we are learning (growing toward perfection), we will make mistakes.
We will fail. When that happens, these are the choices we make:
- We face the truth or we deny it.
- We accept responsibility or we blame others
- We receive forgiveness or we condemn ourselves
The following poem describes the choices God makes.
God is patient with us when we’re learning new skills.
He gently instructs us to wipe up our spills.
He does not berate us or call us cruel names
But speaks with kindness, remembering our frame.
He shows us the way when knowledge we lack,
He explains by example. He never attacks us,
Because of our ignorance or because of our fear.
He surrounds us with love and fills us with cheer.
With hope, we continue to flourish and grow.
Empowered by faith, we conquer each foe!
Strengthened by grace, our hearts feel secure.
Because of God’s goodness, we can mature!
In Andrew Garland’s NIV Application commentary on Colossians, he mentions, almost in passing, that being perfect is being what God created you for. Thank you for another insightful post.
Thank you, Rich, for that additional insight . . . “Being perfect is what God created you for”. I love it!
My family has been discussing a current popular phrase. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Perfection can be a frustrating goal. But there is a lot of good in doing good. When you have done your best and have had best intentions, God is pleased.
A good point, Judith! The trap of perfectionism keeps us from doing good, often from doing anything.
I appreciate this emphasis on becoming, and being transformed, and being gentle with ourselves, even as we acknowledge the mistakes and take steps to move into better patterns and habits, growing into our true identity as Christ’s image bearers. PerfectionISM can be a serious block to God’s grace, because it takes the stance that I can and should and must live up to my own too high standards. The standard is indeed high–I think of Oswald Chambers’ way of putting it: “My Utmost for His Highest”–but it is God who works within us “both to will and to do his good pleasure.” (Phil 2:13)
Thank you for your comment, Jean. Yes, perfectionISM blocks God’s grace. Like the legalistic Pharisees of Jesus’s day, it substitutes our laws for God’s law (the law of perfect love). By doing this, we can avoid the commandment to love God, neighbor, and self.
Thank you, Jane. I suspect many of us have struggled with perfection. Thank you, too, to John for clearing up that wording. I know I have had the same struggle. Just recently, I read an article that said that we are practicing our faith here. As a father gently instructs his children as they are learning and doesn’t expect them to get everything right, so our Heavenly Father does the same for us. It’s a beautiful picture.
Thank you for the reminder!
Thank you for admitting to your struggle with perfection, Sandy. It sounds as if our Heavenly Father is giving you more understanding and assurance of his unconditional love. You are precious in his sight, a beautiful person.