Seedbed posted a weblog by David Hull this week entitled “Perfectionism: The Glittering Demon”. Hull works within the Inspire Movement in the U.K. and the U.S. assisting local churches to develop and implement the vision and practice of robust Wesleyan-style discipleship.
Briefly, his perspective is that the culture’s focus leaves us striving to fulfill the “shoulds” of life, even within the church as much as within the culture’s sick consumer driven lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life.
“It is a misshapen and grotesque love-child that is born out of the marriage of a non-contextual reading of Scripture with dominant cultural ideals. When Matthew 5:48 is read aloud, the words, “therefore you are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” appear to harmoniously echo the heartbeat of American culture……… there are not enough pages to talk about the pursuit of the perfect car, house, career, marriage, and children. But this all-consuming demon could not possibly be comfortable within the walls of the church, could it? The church is far too wise and too grounded in the Scriptures to be seduced by this cultural phenomenon, right? Unfortunately, perfectionism is versatile in form and a master of disguise. Not only is the pursuit of perfection present within the church, it is lauded as a spiritual virtue. Perfectionism is not the same as the pursuit of excellence. In the words of Alfred de Musset, “Human perfection does not exist. To understand this is the triumph of human intelligence; the desire to possess it is the most dangerous kind of madness……. this culturally endorsed madness is all the more dangerous when it is cloaked with the language of personal piety and obedience to the Lord. Perfectionism creates a subjective “should” culture. This culture varies between churches, denominations, and across generations. ……Perfectionism is rooted in an unhealthy concern about one’s image within the world as opposed to the reality of one’s life, whether we are speaking about an individual or an entire church community. It attends to externals with morbid scrupulosity while turning a blind eye to the darkness that simmers not too far beneath the surface. It also drives the search for the ‘perfect’ charismatic pastor or worship leader, the inordinate focus on measuring success through numerical growth rather than faithfulness and maturation in love, and the ever popular building campaign to make one’s church bigger, better, or more aesthetically pleasing to outsiders…..This culture demonstrates all or nothing thinking and unrealistic expectations that superimpose shame and scorn on those who are not “perfect” Christians.
We need to move beyond asking the question, “Will this or that person, strategic plan, building campaign make us relevant and more successful in terms of our numerical growth and finances?” and instead inquire, “Will this help us to grow in faithfulness, mature in love, and contribute to genuine unity among a diverse group of people?……. Grace is enough. The same grace that began a good work in us will indeed see it through to completion on the day of Jesus Christ’s return. Praise God!!!”
This is a “stuck place”, the pit into which many with whom I counsel have fallen….striving to meet the expectations of culture to be “perfect”….to possess the perfect weight, hairstyle, fashion look, career, relationship, child, bank account, etc.
As I have pondered this notion of “perfection” in the context of Scripture and in my understanding of the character and nature of God, I have come to see that it is really not as incomprehensible and unattainable as one might think. I will offer this perspective on “perfection in love”….the REAL measure of perfection which is worthy of our understanding and our pursuit
We are born, already loved fully and perfectly by God and it continues all our lives….and beyond into eternity. God’s Prevenient Grace reaches out to us, woos us, all of that time, too. At some point, particularly in our culture where “Christian” belief is common and accepted, one has the opportunity to encounter Christ. If one believes in the saving work of Christ, she becomes bound in love to God through Christ by the work of God’s Justifying Grace. Our love, though, is often imperfect…. immature…. based on an emotional “heart”- only response to feeling loved by God. From our perspective, imperfect as we are, it’s sort of like a dotted line for us that defines our life before that moment of justification and after. It is quite likely based on our imperfect, emotional notion of love and not on the more mature, God-defined understanding of love. This immature, emotional kind of loving with only one’s heart is subject to the influence of our circumstances and our emotional response to them at any given moment. We are, as the Bible calls it, “double- minded”. If we are doing what’s good and right we FEEL saved. But if we make a mistake or choose unwisely or are not intentional about maintaining that sense of our heart-connection to God, we FEEL unsaved. Satan uses this double-minded immature, emotion-based, imperfect love based on the cultural definition of love as a feeling……effectively playing us as if we were a red rubber ball on the end of an elastic band, batted back and forth across that dotted line with the bolo paddle by his tools of discouragement, fear, negativity, shame, resentment, etc. We vacillate back and forth in doubt about our salvation in response to our emotional condition. We must learn to “fill in the dotted lines” created by precarious emotions ……..creating an impenetrable boundary against which Satan’s ploys cannot succeed.
1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love; but PERFECT LOVE casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.”
Perfection in LOVE brings freedom from doubt and fear. Once we understand and embrace the commandment to “LOVE the Lord, your God, with all your HEART, with all your SOUL, with all your MIND, and with all your STRENGTH” (Mark 12:30), we have victory over Satan’s skill in playing on our double-minded emotions. We allow the Holy Spirit to take charge of our lives, transforming our mind by the power of the Spirit so that our emotions come in line with what we know about God and our relationship to him as his precious children. We can embrace Paul’s invitation to be blessed by being “sanctified wholly – spirit, soul, and body.” Being sanctified wholly means being perfected in love—loving with all of one’s HEART, SOUL, MIND, and STRENGTH and knowing that we are fully loved in all of those aspects by God. Having been made righteous in Christ through faith by grace, we begin to live into that righteousness as we study the Word and know God’s character. We are made wholly sanctified over time. This is the truth of how we are loved by God and how God desires us to love him……with all of who we are…..and such truth brings freedom from fear and doubt!
Pursuit of perfection as the world defines it, through superficial appearances and measuring ourselves against one another or the culture’s standards, leaves us hollow and feeling like we’ll never measure up. Pursuit of perfection in love as defined by God works from the inside out and becomes a reality into which we can live in victory and joy!