Stop Trying to be Perfect

Why being good is different—and better— than being perfect.

Try harder. Achieve more. Make no mistakes. Produce perfection. These are the messages the world screams at us in the 21st century.

It’s not a purely secular message either. The desperate attempt to be perfect has seeped into our churches. Worship bands seek to pull off the perfect set, spending hours tweaking musical concepts that will most likely go unnoticed by most. Creative teams spend weeks on video promos, handouts and lighting to compliment a service. Pastors labor for hours over the perfect soundbite for their congregations to tweet.

There is nothing wrong with working hard to achieve good results—in fact there is every reason to work hard and give our best to what we do. God loves when we use the gifts He has given us for His glory, whether that’s by preaching, teaching, learning or building a business.

By striving to be perfect, we are relying on our own strength, not God’s.


In the Old Testament, the word avodah is often used to mean both work and worship (see Exodus 34:21 and Exodus 8:1). Working hard is no bad thing, and many good things have come out of situations where people have worked furiously hard to achieve brilliant results.

But things have escalated. Society today places expectations upon us that are not only unhealthy, but ungodly. Mistakes are no longer lessons to learn from, but public humiliations, which serve only to knock our confidence and thwart our passions. Achieving anything less than perfect is considered a failure. Employees in some of our biggest firms slave well into the early hours only to get up at the crack of dawn, all in an attempt to avoid failure. It’s perfection or nothing.

The problem is that by striving to be perfect, we are relying on our own strength, not God’s. That is why people who spend their lives trying desperately to achieve perfection often burn out.
The human desire to be perfect means we push God to the side, opting to tap into our own limited power resources rather than drawing from the fountain of life. In many ways, the shift in society to achieve perfection is a shift that says, “God, we don’t need you anymore—we’ve got this one covered.”

God never calls us to be perfect—but He does call us to be holy. In his first letter, Peter echoes the book of Leviticus when he writes, “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). Holiness is messy. Holiness calls us into situations where what matters is our obedience, not our success rate. God doesn’t judge us with a performance chart or a strategic review. He looks at our hearts, looks for our obedience and takes delight in that.

God doesn’t judge us with a performance chart or a strategic review. He looks at our hearts, looks for our obedience and takes delight in that.


In his book East of Eden, John Steinbeck writes: “Now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good.” Being freed from the burden of perfectionism releases us to focus on being holy, on being obedient to God and doing His work. Rather than simply looking at the end result, we focus on the journey and transformation that takes place along the way. As a result, our mindset shifts from one of all or nothing to one of recognition of the work of God in our lives.

Abandoning the quest for perfectionism also frees us from seeking and gaining our affirmation from the world. Perfectionism is not a standard set by God, and so is not a standard by which we should live. Recognizing this, and turning ourselves away from this, frees us to find our worth and acceptance in God alone. We seek not to please those around us—our bosses, friends, families, co-workers—but God.

We seek to please Him by offering Him a willing and contrite heart, ready to learn from our mistakes and delve into the messiness that is the realm of holiness. As a consequence of this, there is every chance we will see our work results improve, as the pressure is lifted and we begin to do what we do for the glory of God.

True perfection is only—and will always only be—found in God. While we are called to be like Jesus, we must acknowledge that we can never be perfect as He was perfect. Attempting to be perfect is a vain human striving to play God, to bring things under our control, to maintain a vestige of power that we should otherwise surrender.

Does any of this mean we should cease to work hard at what we do? Not for a minute. Does this mean we need to realign ourselves so we no longer spend our days slaving away for unnecessary perfection and instead look to please God? Absolutely.

Top Comments

Sheila Anabel

2

Sheila Anabel commented…

being perfect means accepting Jesus' perfection when we accept him as our personal saviour.... we are perfect through him. constantly trying to do things right to somehow "follow" what God "commands" is not gonna get us anywhere, because we would be relaying in our own efforts to get God's grace. We should't worry about being perfect, we should worry about having a personal relationship with God and following him with a sincere heart. He'll do the rest :)

Kara Hardy

4

Kara Hardy commented…

Healthy self image. That is the key. How do we gain one? Through Christ alone. When we know who God is, we can be free in who we are in Him. It's sad to think that my Church is vibrant and passionate for Jesus on stage, but cannot even look each other in the eyes when asked to take a prayer partner by the hand. We have become a cold culture of Christians. It is no wonder to me why people have such a bad view of God. We can't seem to love.

10 Comments

Amanda J. Partridge

1

Amanda J. Partridge commented…

Actually, God does call us to be perfect. Matthew 5:48: "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Jamin Bradley

20

Jamin Bradley replied to Amanda J. Partridge's comment

This verse also came to my mind as I was reading this article. It is a pretty straight forward command. I understand, of course, that we can't be as perfect as God, but it seems to me that this is a certain perfection that Jesus calls us to be like and that it is something for us to strive for.

I always thought John Wesley had a healthy understanding of Christian perfection:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_perfection

Grant Hooper

10

Grant Hooper replied to Jamin Bradley's comment

amen jamin.... we aren't the same as God or Jesus because our flesh is corrupted by our past sins....you know? so when we get saved, all sins arent immediately gone. we have to put to death each one. if you spent 25 years as a sinner, realistically there are probably a ton of hidden sins that could take a lifetime to deal with... none the less.... i believe that we can conscientiously resist all temptation and all known sin tomorrow, rather than have a defeatist mentality that tomorrow "i wont be perfect..." essentially "tomorrow i will probably sin." i think people get stuck with this mentality. but if we fight sin and say no. then God brings more sin to light, that we didn't know was there. for instance, an angry outburst sometimes "just happens" ....seems uncontrollable. but it could be what your doing with your prayer time and bible reading leading up to that, that has to do with this spur of the moment sins of passion. that sin was already fought in the weeks and months leading up to it... to see whether or not, when that car cuts you off....you lose your temper and sin.... we're called to glorify God in all that we do. if we dont acknowledge God and glorify him when we drink a glass of water...its actually sin. thats true. how can we possibly get to the point where we are constantly thinking of him in all we do.... if people are saying "tomorrow i'm gonna sin." ..... most of us are stuck on elementary things because of this.

Chris Ribau

1

Chris Ribau commented…

Perfection is unattainable in this mortal body of ours, obviously. How does one practically live this "good" life that you're writing about? Personally, I'm more confused than ever. How does this relate to sin or reoccurring sin, for that matter.

Chad Bashor

3

Chad Bashor replied to Chris Ribau's comment

Yes, perfection is unattainable in this world. However, we should strive to be as sinless as possible with the right motive, not because acting this way will get us to Heaven, but because we love Jesus. We will be known by our fruits and the company we keep. We must be intentional in our Christian walk and pray that God will help us keep our minds and hearts pure. Unfortunately, too many Christians have adopted the attitude that because they are forgiven, they can do whatever they want and ask for forgiveness afterwards, rather than trying to avoid the sin altogether. We should strive not to sin intentionally or willfully. Psalm 19:13

Grant Hooper

10

Grant Hooper commented…

Matthew 5 - Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. I understand what the author is saying, but it still upholds a common mistake. If we set the bar low... and we actually aim for "imperfect" we are bound, in our depraved minds, to "sin that grace abounds," and essentially abuse grace. This is not okay. We have the means to perfectly obey in the spirit. The Spirit has nothing to do with sin. Our Flesh does. In the Spirit, we can resist sin. And we can always choose to abide in the Spirit rather than please the flesh. He got one thing right. We are trying to be like Christ who is perfect. But our sinful and imperfect past, yesterday, is not an excuse to plan to be imperfect in our obedience tomorrow... which is essentially saying your gonna sin tomorrow. No, tomorrow we should all abide in the Spirit and be perfect. It's true, our salvation doesn't rest on this, if that's what he was trying to get at...but we can choose to obey tomorrow and resist all temptations in the areas that we have insight into. Too many people take and already-defeated mentality that justifies sin. This is rampant in the churches, and one of the reasons why sin is also rampant.

Sheila Anabel

2

Sheila Anabel commented…

being perfect means accepting Jesus' perfection when we accept him as our personal saviour.... we are perfect through him. constantly trying to do things right to somehow "follow" what God "commands" is not gonna get us anywhere, because we would be relaying in our own efforts to get God's grace. We should't worry about being perfect, we should worry about having a personal relationship with God and following him with a sincere heart. He'll do the rest :)

Kara Hardy

4

Kara Hardy commented…

Healthy self image. That is the key. How do we gain one? Through Christ alone. When we know who God is, we can be free in who we are in Him. It's sad to think that my Church is vibrant and passionate for Jesus on stage, but cannot even look each other in the eyes when asked to take a prayer partner by the hand. We have become a cold culture of Christians. It is no wonder to me why people have such a bad view of God. We can't seem to love.

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