Perfectionism: Healthy or Unhealthy?

By Nelson Thomas, Mumbai

Aiming at perfection is definitely a commendable trait. A carefree, shallow lifestyle makes one mediocre in every aspect of life. Especially, certain professions like medicine, engineering, etc., demand flawlessness even in minute details.

In spiritual life also such perfection must be our standard and goal. Notice the words of our Lord, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48)

Throughout the scripture we see such call for a blameless, perfect life. (Gen. 17:1; Lev. 11:44; 19: 2; Eph. 5:1; James 1:4; 1Peter 1: 15, 16; 1John 3:3, etc.) We have been exhorted to imitate our Lord in every area of life. Any conformity to the worldly fashions and fleshly desires has been rebuked repeatedly. (Rom. 12:2; 1Cor. 11:1; 1John 2: 15, 16)

Nevertheless, even as we long and cherish a faultless Christian life, we should not forget the following facts.

1. We can never be perfect as God, Job 9:2c, 20

“How can a man be righteous before God? Though I were righteous, my own mouth would condemn me; Though I were blameless, it would prove me perverse.” (Job 9:2c, 20)

Job, about whom God Himself testified to be blameless and upright (1:8), confesses it. Solomon too learned it from experience. (Ecc. 7:20) Paul proved it beyond doubt that both Jews and the Greeks have all come under sin and thus fall short of God’s standard. (Romans 3: 9 – 23)

Remember, when the word of God exhorts His people to be perfect as God, it is actually about the communicable attributes of God, like His love, mercy, holiness etc. (cf. Matt. 5: 43 – 47; 19:21; Luke 6:36; 1Pet 1: 15, 16)

Any claim of sinless perfection is foolishness and deception. Apostle John writes “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us…… we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” (1John 1: 8, 10b)

As we expect a faultless life like God we should not forget the inherent human incapability for the same.

2. Our perfection - if any - is in Christ alone, 2Cor. 5:21; Colo. 1:28; 2:9

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2Cori. 5:21)

This is the thrust of the gospel; God graciously imputes the qualities of His Son Jesus Christ in the lives of anyone who confesses their sins and receives Christ as his Saviour and Lord.

The moment a sinner acknowledges the efficacy of the atoning sacrifice of Christ and calls upon Him for forgiveness and deliverance, the Lord of glory begins to dwell in them. That’s why Apostle Paul wrote, “Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” (Colo. 1: 27c, 28)

God finds us in Christ and reckons His righteousness as our own. (Rom. 3:24; 1Cor 1:30). Today we are able to love and live like Christ only because He lives within us to equip and empower us. (Eph. 3:19; 2Cor. 3:5; Phil. 4:13)

3. Perfecting divine nature within us is an on-going process. Phil. 1:6

“Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

Not only have we been declared righteous in Christ, we are being sanctified on a daily basis. Imparting divine qualities in a believer by the indwelling Holy Spirit is a continuous program and it involves many things:

a. It has a divine as well as a human aspect, Phil. 2: 12b, 13
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (cf. 2Cor 7:1)

b. It involves our experiences and associations.
God in His wisdom allows various events in our life to develop Christlikeness within us. Similarly, God uses the people with whom we associate also. Their prayers, examples, exhortations, etc., also contribute in our pathway to maturity. (Colo. 1:28; 4:12; Eph. 4:13)

c. It involves time.
Spiritual development does not take place all of a sudden. Even after 25 years of Christian life and service Apostle Paul wrote, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on…” (Phil. 3: 12 – 14)

So never forget, even as we target perfection and make every effort to advance towards a higher level of godly life, we can never claim to have arrived. Also it is utter foolishness to boast on our goodness because as we have already seen it is not of our own efforts!

4. Even the best could fall at any time. 1Cor. 10:12.

Finally, we should never forget Paul’s words of warning, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1Cor. 10:12)

Reminding the sad story of the Israelites, Paul exhorts the readers to be on their guard. None of us are impeccable. We still live in a lowly body. Our enemy is always looking for ways to bring us down using the flesh and the world. (1Peter 5:8; 1John 2:16, 17)

Search the sacred pages and history. Carefully examine the lives of devout men in the past; we cannot meet a flawless Person other than the ‘Man Christ Jesus’. (2Cor. 5:21; 1Peter 2:22; 1John 3:5) Abraham the friend God, Moses the most humble man, and David the man after God’s own heart, etc., were all godly no doubt, yet not everything was all right with them.

As long as we strive for flawlessness without forgetting the above mentioned truths, our perfectionist attitude would be in a healthy level. But quite often we slowly forget these realities and slip into an attitude of unhealthy perfectionism. The consequences are far-reaching and disastrous. Let’s consider few of these:

a. Anger
One of the terrible results of unhealthy perfectionism is the fierce fury towards oneself and others. Their false expectation of highest level of excellence at any cost makes them irritated and annoyed against themselves and others. They think rebuking and scolding the failed one is their right and duty. So they leave no opportunity to expose and judge the failures of others in the harshest manner.

Interestingly, often they conveniently neglect their own flaws, but highlight other’s defects out of proportion and react sharply against them.

b. Depression
An unhealthy perfectionist finds no peace, no satisfaction in himself or others. He cannot bear with the imperfections around him. Forbearance, forgiveness and harmonious cohabitation are difficult for him. All these make him troubled and disheartened.

c. Loneliness
The ever increasing high standard of the perfectionist makes it difficult for him to work with others. He prefers to work alone and even others too will desert him for his unattainable, unreasonable high demands. That results in broken interpersonal relationship, especially at workplace.

d. Procrastination
Fear of failure makes a perfectionist to postpone assignments and activities. They expect to perform only in the best manner but that may never take place.
Ultimately, such perfectionists do not achieve much, other than mental frustrations and troubled relations.

Notice the ugly outcome of extreme perfectionism. All because it’s just a selfish, arrogant attitude in which God has no place. In fact, the Lord hates such self-righteous, puffed-up pharisaic mentality. (Luke 16:15; 18: 9 – 14; James 4:1-12)

Be Humble and Sincere

There is nothing wrong in expecting excellence in our moral, spiritual life, but that is impossible by human effort. Never forget God’s exceeding grace in bearing with all our imperfections and His miraculous working for us. Be ready to show the same compassion and concern for the fallen ones we come across. (Ecc. 7:22; Colo. 3:12, 13)

With all humility and sincerity let us confess with Apostle Paul, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.” (2Cor. 3:5) “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13)




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