You have two choices. You can strive to be perfect, or you can accept the perfection of someone else. That’s it. The only way to be perfect is never to make a mistake or find someone who will vouch for you.
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Since none of us will ever be perfect, the most obvious solution is to find someone willing to give us their righteousness. That person is Jesus. He was, is, and will always be perfect. He cannot be otherwise. And we cannot be anything but imperfect while in our mortal bodies.
Some may ask, “Why would I not accept the gift of perfection from Jesus? What is it about me that compels me to reject His perfection while choosing to create an illusional world of perfection?”
A Case Study
Biff had a hard time receiving criticism. There was something inside of him that recoiled every time someone critiqued him or expressed displeasure with him. To compensate, Biff strived hard for perfection. The problem was that he could not hit his self-imposed goal.
He could not obey every law, principle, assertion, and expectation in the Bible. His solution, though he was not aware of the deception, was to lower the Bible’s standard. He cheapened God’s law.
He lowered God’s mark so he could be “perfect,” which put him in a favorable light with others. He stacked the deck unbiblically so he would always come out okay. Here are a few of the ways Biff cheapened God’s Word so he could attain it.
Biff would sometimes lie to get himself out of a jam. Rather than owning the truth, he would twist it however much he needed to so he did not appear wrong before others.
He would be quick to tell you that he does not speak bold-faced lies. And he was correct. He did not tell bold-faced lies, but he was lying, even if they were little white ones.
He would either add to the truth or take away from the truth just enough to alter reality to suit his agenda. He had become so used to small deceptions that he did not recognize what he was doing to his conscience.
Through the subtle deceitfulness of sin, Biff’s conscience began to adjust to accommodate his lying. Your conscience is the inner voice that tells you when you are doing something wrong.
It’s like a little sound that goes off when you think about sinning. If you choose not to listen, your conscience will ring louder. It’s a warning bell. Biff’s conscience used to warn him when he was doing wrong.
He chose to silence his inner voice by rationalizing, justifying, and blaming his problems away. In time, his conscience acquiesced and the sound became quieter and quieter (1 Timothy 4:2). Today, his conscience can hardly hear the ringing bell (Hebrews 3:7, 4:7).
It’s like putting a piece of tape over the warning light on your dashboard. He pretended what he was doing was justified. In time, his sinful behavior became the new normal.
It’s like a callus on your skin that protects you from harm. After a while, your skin loses its sensitivity. This is what happened to Biff’s heart. He honestly could not discern right from wrong, as it pertained to specific behaviors.
Like a little bird in a nest with its eyelids shut, Biff had pulled the callused skin over his eyes. He was living in a self-deceived world. He had successfully cheapened the law to the point where he believed that he was better than he was (Hebrews 5:12-14).
He could not see what he could not see. He was not stubborn as much as he was self-deceived. He could now pretend he was a successful perfectionist. On those rare moments where he knew that he had made a mistake, he justified, rationalized, or blamed the problem away.
You can pull off being a perfectionist by changing the truth of God’s Word. The problem with Biff was that his craving to be perfect and his lying to cover up his imperfections was blowing up his marriage.
Emptying the Love Cup
Mable, Biff’s wife, was not as impressed with Biff. She saw through him and was quick to let him know he was a fake. The “perfect character” that he presented to her when they were dating was more like a Hollywood movie set. A facade. Once you walked through the door and entered his real life, there was no substance.
Mable was never a person to mince words. She often reminded him of his failures. Telling a perfectionist that he is a fake is begging for trouble. Mable was emptying Biff’s love cup, the metaphorical cup he held out expecting her to fill with affirmation, acceptance, and approval.
Mable had no inhibition from taking his love cup and hitting him over the head with it. Rather than seeing the light, Biff began to pull away from his wife, initially becoming entangled in lustful thoughts.
Because the eye is never satisfied with seeing and the ear is never filled with hearing, his wayward thoughts were not able to keep up with the idolatrous requirements of his deceived mind (Ecclesiastes 1:8). Throw in the consistent reminders of failure from his wife, and it did not take Biff long to see he needed another option to fill his cup.
The End Of the Road
Biff had noticed an attractive lady who taught his son at their church. He began to look forward to each Sunday when he could drop his child off at her classroom. In time, he struck up a conversation with her.
In time, they were involved in an adulterous affair. Biff knew it was wrong, but he did what he always does–he justified his action by blaming his wife. The idolatry of his heart overcame common sense and the grace of God.
Eventually, they were found out, as those things typically go. Biff and Mable went to see their pastor for help. Biff wanted his marriage fixed, but he did not realize the insidious realities of his heart.
The depth of his sin had so entangled him that he could not repent. He did not know what to repent of or how to make things right. His lack of awareness is essential when you’re helping a person like Biff.
He’s never had a clear view of himself, so what you think would be easy to discern and fix is a mystery to him. This problem is where God is calling you to be careful how you talk to Biff and how you walk him through his sin.
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. – Galatians 6:1
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. – 1 Thessalonians 5:14
Cheapening the Law
Biff’s pastor had to carefully navigate how to tell an insecure person, who strives for perfection, that he is not perfect. How do you say to a person who craves your approval that he is a failure? How do you tell a person who idolizes acceptance that he is unacceptable? Biff had lowered the law of God to a rung on the ladder that he could obtain.
God requires him to be perfect, and Biff needs to be perfect. Mercifully, God provides a way for him to be perfect, but Biff rejects God’s way as he strives for perfection his way.
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:48
He does this by lowering the standard, altering his conscience, pretending to be okay, and justifying his actions when he does make a mistake. Biff’s pastor had to elevate the law, convince Biff that he’s a failure, and appeal to him to trust the perfect Lamb of God.
The first thing the pastor had to do was build a relational bridge to Biff. He had to become his friend. The pastor did not know Biff because of the size of their church.
He knew he needed to build a bridge because the truth he had to carry to Biff could push him further into his idolatry. Biff did not make it easy for his pastor. He was quick to tell him about his high-powered job and philanthropic endeavors. Biff was bragging. He was elevating himself in front of his pastor.
Do you see why Biff could not see what he was doing to himself? Do you see how difficult it was for his pastor to readjust Biff’s thinking to a more precise and biblical reality?
No Gradations Of Righteousness
After a few sessions, the pastor did readjust Biff. Eventually, the pastor began to roll out the gospel in a way Biff had never heard before. He only understood the gospel through the lens of salvation. He had no clue how to bring the gospel to bear on his sanctification.
Biff believed God saved him by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9), but he also thought he had to be perfect post-salvation. He was willing to accept the fact that he was a lowdown sinner who needed a Savior, but it wasn’t as noticeable how to live a progressively sanctified life.
Biff began to learn that he would never be able to create a righteousness that God would accept. He would never be acceptable to God, based on his works, whether those works were pre- or post-salvation.
On his best day, he was a beggar in need of God’s grace (1 Timothy 1:15). There was only one rung on the ladder that Biff earned, and it’s the lowest one. There are no other levels of righteousness in God’s world.
People are sinners (bottom rung), and Christ is perfectly righteous (top level), and there is no in-between. You either stay on the bottom rung, or you accept the alien righteousness of Christ and live in His perfection.
Embrace Nothing To Be Something
When this clicked inside Biff’s head, he expelled a rush of air from his lungs. It was like he could breathe again. The chains of perfectionism had bound him into a pleasing others, craving approval worldview. He never realized the depth of his bondage.
Then it clicked. Biff learned that it was not about doing things, but about being something. He had never experienced “shalom in the Jesus.” He was never at peace because he always felt he had to work for acceptance.
Embracing nothing and being nobody was a foreign concept. Biff began to understand, and the more this aspect of the gospel penetrated his mind, the more he was released from selfish ambition and self-centered striving.
This new gospel orientation released him to serve his wife rather than manipulating her to fill his love cup. The more he began to drink from the Savior’s cup, the requirements, demands, and expectations he placed on his wife disappeared.
Rather than being a man with demands for love–the way he wanted it, he became a man with a servant’s heart. He began to become like Christ, the perfect example of what other-centered living looks like (Mark 10:45).
Elevate the Law With Gratitude
Biff did not have to cheapen the law or lower it so he could achieve his standard of perfection. He elevated the law, as lived out through Christ. The odd thing is that the more he raised the law, the more joy he experienced.
After he realized that he could not keep God’s righteous standard, he started praising God for the Son who did obey what the law demands. Rather than trying to impress others, he became more impressed with Jesus.
The more impressed he became with the Son, the more he was inclined to imitate the Son. The more he was inclined to imitate the Son, the more he impacted those around him, especially his wife.
But it became even odder for Biff and Mable. The more he grew in Christlikeness through his humble servanthood, the more she loved him in return. Ironically, Biff got the very thing he desired–the love and acceptance of his wife, but it did not come because he demanded it, deserved it, or faked perfection.
She loves him because Biff loves God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength (Luke 10;27). And the reason he loves God so much is because he knows that he was a lowdown, dirty, rotten sinner who has been humbled by the reality that he deserved hell, but Christ came to give him a perfection he could never attain through his effort.
Also published on Medium.