To Those Who Need Hope – Part 2 – The Pursuit of Perfection 

We are broken people—all of us. We live in a culture that continually tells us two opposing things: 1) that we are perfect just the way we are (look at the popularity of the “self help” genre of books and articles) and that it’s society that needs to change, and 2) that we are doing something wrong and hurting others—sometimes even if we don’t realize it or if it isn’t true (look at our current “cancel culture” ethics).

It’s no wonder (and no secret) that we live in a polarized world. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to realize that we seem to also have two ways of looking at perfection: 1) we obsess over being perfect and become miserable because of the pursuit; 2) we realize that perfection is impossible, so we completely abandon the pursuit because there “is no point.”

I worry about the idea of perfection myself. My wife and I have a baby on the way, and I want to be the best father I can be. I’m concerned about making the right choices, and I want to be as “perfect” for our daughter (and future kids) as possible. But I know things won’t be perfect. I will make mistakes. I will get angry and say the wrong things. I will do the “right” thing, and learn later that I could have done something else that might have been better. If I get too wrapped up in being perfect, I will be miserable and possibly let it become obsessive, and that may have a negative effect on my family.

So what do I do? I realize that I, and my family, will not be perfect, but I will do what I can to be the best I can. I realize that I am broken and prone to making mistakes, so I will give myself some grace. I realize that life is unpredictable and that negative things will happen, so I will surrender to God and trust Him. I will let Him walk alongside me and be a part of everything I do. Because He wants to have that relationship with us. Relationships are a two-way street. They are reciprocal.

When it comes to discussing the idea of perfection, a number of Christians like to point out what Jesus says during the Sermon on the Mount: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Many well-meaning people use verses like these to either shame others for not being perfect, or to prove that “so-called” Christians aren’t really Christians because of their sins. But let’s back up a bit.

Jesus says this in the context of loving our enemies. He is teaching us—all of us—that we are his children, even the ones who persecute us, and that it is not enough to simply love those who are easy to love. Even those of us who are viewed as “the nicest person we’ve ever met” can be found among “the Gentiles” (Matthew 5:47), or those who are not Christians. We’ve heard it before, but it’s not enough to commit “good deeds” to get into Heaven and dwell alongside our Father. After all, who truly is good?

We are commanded to be perfect, even though God knows that we can’t do it ourselves. On our own, it is impossible to be perfect. Yes, there are ideals, and it’s important to strive for those ideals, but none of us can live a sinless life. And we know that God knows it’s impossible for us to live without sin, and that we are imperfect. He knows we struggle and mess up. He knows us better than we do.

This is where we lose a lot of people on this topic, even many Christians.

So what in the world do we do? How is this fair?

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Christ speaks of His fulfilling of the Law (Matthew 5:17), in which He is telling us that we are made righteously perfect through our relationship with Jesus and His sacrifice for us. To state it plainly: through His actions we are made perfect in the eyes of God if we believe and trust in Him, therefore fulfilling God’s command to be perfect.

God is a just God, and justice requires us to pay the price for wrongdoings. We are given free will and the choice to take part in the relationship with God that I mentioned above, because true love has to be a choice. And God loves and respects us enough to give us free will and that choice. He has given us minds in which to think and debate and doubt and have faith. So there is a portion of responsibility on us. We have the Law to keep us in the right direction (remember: God made us and knows what’s best for us more than we do, even if we struggle to see that or understand it), but we struggle to hold up the Law. So there is Grace, and there is a mighty patience that God has for us. There is the sacrifice of Jesus to pay the penalty for what we’ve done wrong (justice includes fairness and atoning for wrongdoing). And Jesus isn’t merely some ambassador that God had appointed to take all the blame. Jesus is God Himself. And He chose to live amongst us—become one of us—and take quite literally the weight of the world’s sins on His shoulders and bear the punishment. And if that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

Strive to be like Jesus, but realize that it’s impossible. However, do not realize this and think that there is no point to try, since you can never be as perfect as Him. You will always make mistakes; that is unavoidable. However, you must keep trying to do the best you can to best love and serve God, love and serve others, and love yourself (simply putting these things into practice will positively affect your life). You cannot despair in the fact that you are a sinner and always will be. You are not beyond saving. And why do you need saving? Because you can’t save yourself. 

Because of our imperfection and sin, we will always make mistakes, so know that no matter how hard you try, you will fall short in some way. But keep your head up and trust God. Let this knowledge give you freedom. You are imperfect but loved anyway. It’s not an excuse to do whatever you want, as actions done in that manner will lead you farther from God, and will have consequences in your own life. You will make your own miserable hell. God will not be inflicting you with punishment; you will be doing that to yourself. God knows the recipe for a good life. To reiterate, He understands humans and how they operate. He made them, after all. So He knows what’s best. More than we do.

Trust in God and love Him. Love others and work to better yourself. Another way of putting it that may sound familiar: 

“ ‘And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these’ ” (Mark 12:30-31).


Image credit: Sad Woman Looking Out The Window At A Sad Woman Looking Out The Window by Dave Konig