This post is a bit of a departure from my regular posts about being in health and eating real, whole foods, but it is related. Many times, when we start a lifestyle of health, we become very rigid. Perfectionism creeps in. Who here is a perfectionist? Always trying to do the right thing, always wanting to please others? I’m here to tell you that you can stop trying to be perfect.
Where Does Perfectionism Come From?
Being a perfectionist is so rewarding. Not only do you get to work yourself to exhaustion, you get to lord it over others who don’t do things as perfectly as you do.
And the biggest reward? You just know that God is looking at you and smiling, so pleased with all your effort.
Right? No? That’s not how it works?
Then why do we still do it? Why do we feel compelled to be perfect?
It all goes back to Cain and Abel.
In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:3-7 NIV)
Cain got all down in the mouth and pouty when God didn’t accept his offering. Making it even worse for Cain, God accepted Abel’s sacrifice. From Cain’s viewpoint, he had worked so hard to raise those crops that he brought to God. For a perfectionist, this is the ultimate disappointment, not having your work and your effort recognized.
What was the difference between what Cain did and what Abel did? Hebrews 11 tells us.
By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead. (Hebrews 11:4 NIV)
The difference was faith. Abel believed what God had told them about sacrifices, that blood must be shed (Leviticus 17:11, Hebrews 9:22), and he offered an appropriate sacrifice. Cain decided to offer his own efforts instead.
What Perfectionism Does to Us
Perfectionism drives us to make decisions based on fear of failure, fear of making mistakes, or on other people’s opinions about us. We want to be flawless in everything so no one thinks badly of us. The problem is, the one who ends up thinking badly of you is you! Ironically, the compulsion of perfectionism causes us to feel imperfect.
The reality is that perfectionism is fear. We are afraid of rejection, criticism, failure. So, we do everything in our power to avoid them. And when we can’t measure up to this new level of perfection that we’ve set for ourselves, we shift the focus and the blame onto others. “Look at what Johnny’s doing!”
At the heart of perfectionism is the desire for love and acceptance.
Righteousness is to be fully accepted by God. Perfectionism is self-righteousness. What happens is you set up – many times, unknowingly – a system of right and wrong for yourself and those around you. People who don’t live up to your expectations disappoint you and you pass judgment on them.
In Romans 10, Paul describes this concerning the Israelites.
For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. (Romans 10:3-4 KJV)
We no longer need to keep a law to earn righteousness; Christ did that for us. But many times, we act as if we didn’t know this and set up our own systems of righteousness.
Those who are self-righteous view themselves as better than others. Since everyone else messes up, how could they possibly be trying as hard as I am? This is also known as Phariseeism.
And as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him [Jesus] to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat. And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first washed before dinner. And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening [extortion, robbery] and wickedness. Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also? But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you. But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them. (Luke 11:37-44 KJV)
Phariseeism, self-righteousness, perfectionism, are all about outward appearances.
Here is what Jesus said about it.
Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5 KJV)
Jesus said that the same measure we use against others in judgment will come back to us in judgment. Not from God, but from man. If you are experiencing judgment from others, consider what judgment you are giving to others. Perfectionism is hypocrisy.
Doomed to Fail
The problem with self-righteousness is that man can never be righteous by his own works, so by definition, perfectionism is doomed to fail.
Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said [to Job], Can a man be profitable unto God, as he that is wise may be profitable unto himself? Is it any pleasure to the Almighty, that thou art righteous? or is it gain to him, that thou makest thy ways perfect? (Job 22:1-3 KJV)
The NIV of verses 2 and 3 says,
Can a man be of benefit to God? Can even a wise person benefit him? What pleasure would it give the Almighty if you were righteous? What would he gain if your ways were blameless?
Our trying to be righteous by our own works means nothing to God. It doesn’t give Him any pleasure. That’s a dagger to the heart of the self-righteous. You mean God doesn’t care about all the work I do to make myself approved in His sight?
But, I try so hard. I just want God to accept me and love me.
“I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” (Jeremiah 17:10 NIV)
Oh, good, He’ll see how hard I work and accept me!
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. (Romans 3:10-12 KJV)
It’s very disheartening for a perfectionist to hear these words.
So, if all our efforts to become righteous, accepted, in God’s sight, fail, what can we do?
The Righteousness of God
First, remember that righteousness is credited to your account, so to speak, by faith.
What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified [made righteous] by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. (Romans 4:1-3 KJV)
Glorying in yourself because of your works fits with the model of perfectionism. Perfectionists love to praise themselves for their hard work.
But God says that righteousness comes from believing God. Keep reading.
Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision [works of the flesh], or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised. For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law [works], but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara’s womb: He [Abraham] staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he [God] had promised, he [God] was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him [Abraham] for righteousness. (Romans 4:4-22 KJV)
What is it that we are to believe? Keep reading.
Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification [our being made righteous]. (Romans 4:23-25 KJV)
Our Response to God’s Righteousness
Righteousness comes by faith, by believing on him whom God sent (Jesus Christ, the Messiah). Still want some works to do?
Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. (John 6:28-29 KJV)
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10 KJV)
There’s your work: believe on Jesus Christ and his finished work. We have to do this every. single. day. Still have some time left that day? Then, do the good works God has planned for you.
Will doing these good works make you righteous? No.
Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? (Acts 15:10 KJV)
Trying to keep the law of good works puts a yoke on us. It weighs us down. It also tempts God because it disregards the finished work of Jesus Christ.
Only faith in Christ makes us righteous. So instead of trying to perfect ourselves, we change our mindset to accept that we are already righteous and that the good works we now do are done in thankfulness to God for making us righteous.
Changing Your Thoughts Changes Your Ways
Changing your mindset about righteousness, perfectionism, Phariseeism, means recognizing that track, that groove, in your mind that runs on a seemingly endless loop. Are you replaying events in your mind? Sometimes, I’ll “replay” events that haven’t even happened! Ask God to point out these thoughts to you as soon as you start down that road, so you can change the thoughts immediately. It will take repetition, but if you ask God to help you, He will.
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they [the weapons we fight with] have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NIV)
Strongholds are thoughts that are entrenched, those grooves or tracks I mentioned. You are in control of your thoughts. Just because a thought comes into your mind doesn’t mean you have to keep thinking it. We are to bring those thoughts to Christ.
Treat yourself with kindness as you’re learning to change.
For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself [the priest] also is compassed with infirmity. (Hebrews 5:1-2 KJV)
The NLT of verse 5 says,
And he is able to deal gently with ignorant and wayward people because he himself is subject to the same weaknesses.
Priests were to treat the ignorant and the wayward with kindness. Today, we are a priesthood of God.
Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5 KJV)
The self-righteous are ignorant and wayward. So, be kind to yourself. Be compassionate to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up.
Changing your thoughts will lead to your ways changing. (Notice I didn’t say that you change your ways; see Romans 12:2.) Behavior follows identity. Start to believe your righteousness in Christ and you will stop behaving as a perfectionist.
Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. (Galatians 1:10 NLT)
You are Righteous Now!
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6 KJV)
Your righteousness, your acceptance, by God has everything to do with what Jesus Christ did. All you do is accept what he did. That’s it. That’s righteousness. No more working to prove yourself good enough for God. Jesus was the one who did that. He proved that he was good enough for God. You simply believe that he did it and God transfers Christ’s righteousness to you.
But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:30-31)
Your righteousness is of God in Christ. All glory goes to Him!
Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the LORD: (Psalm 118:19 KJV)
The gate is open! Go in! Enjoy your righteousness!
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33 KJV)
Seek God’s righteousness, not your own.
You have access to God Almighty (Romans 5:2, Ephesians 2:18, Ephesians 3:12).
There are pleasures forevermore at His right hand (Psalm 16:11), where you are seated (Ephesians 2:6)!
You are blameless and perfect in His sight (Ephesians 1:4, Philippians 2:15)!
Stop trying to be perfect and start enjoying being a perfectly righteous child of God.
Learn more in my new book, Be in Health: Bible-Based Health Restoration: Living in Harmony with God’s Ways Regarding Health. Available now.