Have you ever felt the pressure as a Christian to be perfect? Where does this come from? Perhaps we have this instruction from Jesus echoing in our minds:
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Matthew 5:48 NIV
We need to read this verse in context. Prior to this verse, Jesus talks about what it looks like to practically love your neighbours as well as your enemies. He talks about doing good for those from whom you expect nothing in return. Our love for others is meant to reflect the perfect love that God has for all of his children, not just those people we may benefit from.
Interestingly, if you keep reading after this instruction to ‘be perfect’, Jesus continues by saying:
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
Matthew 6:1 NIV
So our aim for perfection has nothing to do with how it looks to others. In fact, we are encouraged to do so quietly, to be generous without telling anyone and to live a beautiful secret life that is seen by God and God alone.
The issue in Christian culture is not our obsession with perfection, but the emphasis on the appearance of perfection.@trustintheword
We know that we are all sinners and that we ‘all fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). That’s why we are Christians in the first place! Because we cannot attain right-standing with God on our own. And yet we have this unspoken assumption that once we are saved, we become perfect human beings. We completely discredit the concept of sanctification. Sanctification is a fancy word to describe the life-long process of becoming more like Christ. In fact, we must remember that sanctification is not actually our own effort but a bi-product of living life in step with the Spirit. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says, ‘May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (NIV).
Paul discusses this further in Philippians 2.
“Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless.”
Philippians 2:12-16 NLT
Here we are reminded that it is God’s power at work within us that gives us these desires to live righteously, that make us more perfect little by little.
Okay, so now I feel like I have addressed where this idea of perfection comes from. It is in the Bible! But I believe, like many things, people have construed these ideas to make them what God never intended for them to be.
God never intended for the standard of perfection to be based on appearances.
Remember the Pharisees? These were the Jewish teachers of the law. They did all the right things on the outside. In fact, their religious duties were quite an impressive show. But their hearts were crooked and did not reflect the love of God. Jesus described them like this:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside, you appear to people as righteous but on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness”. (Mathew 23:27-28 NIV)
Ummm… I don’t know about you but it kinda reminds me of Christians I still see today. We are happy to parade the parts of our lives that look good. We post photos of our Bible to Instagram. We get up in front of the church and pledge huge amounts of money, displaying our generosity and we give gifts to the poor… but the truth of the matter is that it has been months since we have actually sat down and read our Bible. The money that we gave was only 1/20 of our income. The hamper that we donated was just a collection of things that we didn’t want anyway and we wanted to post about it on Facebook.
Let us not become so consumed by appearances that we neglect the state of our soul.@trustintheword
When I was in high school, I wrote an essay a night. I completed every single exercise in my textbooks. I didn’t wear makeup or put much effort into my appearance because they weren’t the goal. My goal in this season was to learn all that I could, to refine my skills, to excel in my studies and still have time to read the Bible and journal every day. And I did it. I believe my results reflect that, but even more importantly, I believe that everyone who went to school with me would attest to my godly character in that typically anxious season of one’s life.
I was more concerned about what was in my heart, mind and soul than the appearance I portrayed to others. What is in your heart will ALWAYS come out. People will see it. And do you know something interesting? The guy that the entire school had been crushing on for years, the guy that every other guy wished they could be like, he liked me. Messy hair, long ugly school skirt and even with my unshaven legs. I was the one he wanted. I don’t think it had much to do with my outward appearance but the light of God that radiated from within me.
Why do I say these things? Being a Christian is not about appearances. It never was and it never will be. It’s about the state of our hearts. It’s about our relationship with God and getting ourselves to a place every day where we allow his Word to wash over us and align our priorities with the things that matter in heaven. It has and always will be about the heart. Check out this verse:
“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7).
If all you are worried about is the way that you appear to others, you have missed the point. We are not meant to be living our lives impressing others or parading how ‘loving’ we are. Yet how many of us feel the pressure to live in this way as Christians?
We feel that our failures and our struggles are not welcome. We try to hide them. We don’t want anyone to see them. We push them away and, in a sense, try to disassociate ourselves from them. Rather than seeing our weaknesses as an opportunity for God to demonstrate his grace, we see them as a barrier to our appearance of perfection.
I don’t know about you, but I am sick of seeing images of the ‘perfect Christian’. I’ve been a Christian for nearly 25 years living very close to God and I can tell you, I am nowhere near perfect. If you see someone who looks perfect and says that they do not struggle, they do not fail or they are not tempted, run a mile because they are obviously not spending time with God who convicts our hearts. Nothing good can come from hiding your insecurities or sweeping our failures under a mat. Only when we bring our weaknesses to Jesus can we be made strong.
I believe we feel the pressure to be perfect because the enemy has weaselled his way into Christian culture, twisting scriptures just like he did when he tempted Jesus in the desert. He takes an element of truth but he warps it out of context and twists it into a festering lie.
If you are like me and you’re aware of your shortcomings, please do not think that you are a bad Christian. Please do not think that God cannot use you. Please do not conform to the pressure of a church culture that tells you you need to be perfect for God to get the glory in your life. Seek God in his Word. Seek to align your heart with him little by little each day. Let him shape you into his likeness in the moments that no one else sees. And slowly but surely what is on the inside will come out. God will meet you in your weaknesses.
Lastly, hold tight to this verse, which is a near and dear favourite of mine:
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (1 Corinthians 12:9-11 NIV).
Have you ever felt the pressure to be perfect as a Christian? What has this looked like for you in your journey? What truths have you uncovered about the appearance of perfection? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.