Righteousness

The Distortion of Perfectionism

I recently read Amy Baker’s book Picture Perfect: When Life Doesn’t Line Up and think you should too if you deal with perfectionism like she describes: “What I accomplished took on a life of its own, and I was in danger of seeing what I got done, rather than Jesus, as the source of my perfection” (pg.2).

She lists some trademark characteristics of perfectionism:

  • you want to be the best in everything you do;
  • you have very high expectations for yourself and others;
  • you are very upset with yourself if you make a mistake;
  • you feel guilty for relaxing;
  • you feel like you are never doing enough;
  • you are very particular about the details of tasks;
  • when you perform well, you analyze your performance for the weak spots and quickly gloss over things done right;
  • you want something done right or not done at all;
  • you are perceived by others as a role model;
  • you feel others are never satisfied by your performance;
  • you compare yourself to others;
  • you do not attempt things you know you cannot complete with excellence;
  • you are frightened by the thought of failure;
  • you procrastinate;
  • your relationships are often strained or difficult;
  • you feel like you will never be perfect; and
  • you rarely experience joy (ppg.8-9).

This list is exhausting! Just reading through these tendencies made me feel overwhelmed and I can see how a perfectionist will often feel paralyzed in any kind of fruitful work. I agree with Baker that there are positive and negative traits in this list. The struggle seems to come when a person easily crosses that line of not properly having her eyes on Jesus as the perfecter of her faith but relies on herself to bring about perfection—a never-ending quest!

When life doesn’t go just the way a perfectionist plans, then frustration, anger, and unhappiness can set in. Baker hits a high note when she reveals that perfectionism is distorted because a person would not quickly become angry or frustrated in situation because these are not “perfect” responses (12). The tension lies in the fact that God created people to reflect His image, but sin has created tension in this pursuit of reflecting the image of a perfect God. Not only that, but sin has led to a man-centered definition of perfectionism that focuses on performances and outcomes that glorify man and not God.

Do you struggle with perfectionism? Stop looking to yourself as God and trust in the only One who can give you righteousness that is worthy to stand before the Lord.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1–2, ESV)

Photo by Blake Richard Verdoorn on Unsplash

Five To Focus 22. Let Scripture Train in Righteousness

The last of four roles of Scripture in your life: it will train you in righteousness.

Scripture reference: 2 Timothy 3:16

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You Might Be A Legalist If… (Part 4)

Note: This post is part of a series.

You might be a legalist if you appear righteous but are spiritually decaying inside.

Our sinful flesh is selfish. We love to be seen. Commended. Rewarded. Praised.

Matthew 6 records Jesus calling out three specific examples of this sinful attitude:

  • “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1, ESV)  
  • “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matthew 6:5, ESV)  
  • “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matthew 6:16, ESV)  

We need to beware of spiritual practices that are motivated by the praise of man because it reveals our misunderstanding of the personal relationship we can have with Jesus Christ. His glory should motivate us!

Perhaps Jesus’ harshest words were toward the Pharisees. Matthew 23:25–28 is a striking condemnation for appearing righteous while internally being guilty of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Are you like a whitewashed tomb, outwardly beautiful but internally filled with dead peoples’ bones?

Today, this is called formalism. Formalism is “undue insistence on the outward observances of religion or the prescriptions of a moral code, with a corresponding neglect of the inner spirit or significance which the ‘forms’ were designed to safeguard.”¹

Many people are guilty of just going through the formality of believing in Jesus Christ. We want to look like we’re doing the right things, so we pray, sing, tithe, open our Bible in church and display one on the coffee table at home, walk down the aisle… but our soul is filthy and decaying because our motivation is not pure and our actions are not genuine toward God.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10, ESV)  

 

1 F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 627.

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