The Perfect Pursuit of Holiness

My prayer for myself this year is that I would faithfully pursue holiness, not perfectionism. The definition of perfectionism is “the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.” In the perfectionistic cycle of trying to be perfect, failing, and responding in despair we begin to focus more on what we think about ourselves than what God thinks about us. What a tragedy! The pursuit of perfectionism has stolen so much from me in the past. It has turned my eyes from what the Lord thinks of me and has held my mind in bondage, paralyzing me because I have been so afraid of the results of imperfection and the lack of control that comes with it. The Lord does not want us to live in this bondage to perfectionism; He wants us to live in freedom as we pursue holiness without fear. We can battle anxiety that comes with perfectionism by pursuing holiness rather than pursuing perfection. Christine Hoover says, “As a recovering perfectionist, I sometimes confuse holiness and perfection. Rather than try to reflect on God’s grace or allow its natural compelling work in my life (holiness), I try really hard to do godly things, produce spiritual fruit, and live a neatly tied-up life (perfection).”
 
My goal in this post is to show why we should pursue holiness rather than perfection and further explain how the two are different. I first want to examine a commandment from the Lord that may seem to challenge what I am saying and further explain the Biblical implications behind this commandment.
 
“You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” - Matthew 5:48
 
As Christians, we understand and accept that this commandment is impossible for fallen humans to fulfill. So why did Jesus say it and what is the meaning behind it?
 
To understand we must go back earlier in the chapter. Here Jesus says, ““Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” What this means is that Jesus Himself came to perfectly fulfill the Law on our behalf. He offered Himself up as a sacrifice to fulfill God’s requirement for perfection. Our faith in Christ then unites us with Him who justifies. Therefore, through faith in Jesus and His death on the Cross our perfection and righteousness in God’s sight has already been purchased and we are free to pursue holiness and sanctification imperfectly.
 
Before I expand on the differences between holiness and perfection I also want to bring to light Romans 6:1. Here, Paul says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”
 
I want to be clear that ending our pursuit of perfectionism does not mean that we become complacent with sin. When we truly understand the price the Lord paid on the Cross, we would never dare to abuse His grace. While we should never aim to sin, the sinful nature we were born with means we continue to sin (hopefully less and less as we get closer to Heaven) until Christ comes to restore everything back to Himself. Pursuing holiness and being free from the grip of perfectionism means that when you inevitably fall short you no longer have to identify with the wretched nature that has caused you to sin. When you pursue perfectionism, you are identifying so closely with the idea of being perfect that when you fail it is debilitating. When you are pursuing holiness and fall short, you can rejoice in knowing that you are no longer defined by your old nature (Galatians 2:20). You can hate your sin and allow it to humble you and lead you to rejoice in the new self that was bought with the blood of Christ.
 
With that being said, I now want to address the difference between the pursuit of holiness and perfectionism.
 
 Our pursuit of perfectionism causes us to look to ourselves rather than Christ.
 
When we pursue perfectionism, we are relying on our self to earn something. Sometimes we are trying to earn God’s love. We depend on our own perfection to purchase righteousness in God’s eyes, rather than accepting the sacrifice Jesus made on the Cross to be the only thing we need that justifies us to the Father. Other times, we pursue perfection to look more impressive in the eyes of those around us. Regardless of the root, we are looking to ourselves and not to Christ to live in a way that is honoring to God. Hebrews 10:14 says that, “by a single offering [Jesus] has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” The gift of the Cross allows us to pursue sanctification imperfectly, looking to the example of Jesus and thanking Him when we fall short for the marvelous sacrifice He made. The pursuit of holiness turns our eyes away from ourselves and towards Jesus and the gift of the Cross.
 
• Perfectionism is fueled by fear. Holiness is fueled by love.
 
When I am struggling with the pursuit of perfectionism, I am constantly gripped by fear. Fear of what others will think of me. Fear of the results of imperfection. Fear of losing parts of my identity that I have put in my own ability to be perfect. 1 John 4:18 says that perfect love drives out fear. Perfect love and the gift of the Cross cast away the fear of God’s wrath when we fall short of His glory. Therefore, holiness can be and should be fueled by love rather than fear. It is by God’s love for us that we have the ability to be holy and it is our love for Him that should lead us towards holiness and away from sin.
 
• Perfectionism keeps us in bondage. Holiness is freedom.
 
Perfectionism often feels weighty. If you struggle with perfectionism, you know the feeling of being frozen and afraid to act due to the fear of imperfection. You may have thought to yourself, “Better to not do something at all than to do it imperfectly.” The enemy is really sneaky, and I fully believe he can use perfectionism to keep us from what the Lord is calling us to do and keep us from living in freedom. The pursuit of holiness on the other hand is true freedom. We used to be slaves to sin, but through Christ we were set free to become slaves to righteousness (Romans 6). What a beautiful paradox. Living in holiness is therefore living in freedom from sin. Does this mean we will never sin? Of course not. But it means that we are free to be righteous and free to still stand before God as Jesus covers our sin when we fail.
 
Hebrews 12:1 tells us to “lay aside every weight… and run with endurance the race that is set before us.” This year, let us cast off the weight of perfectionism. Let us live in humility as we realize we could never earn for ourselves the righteousness bought on the Cross. Let us pursue holiness as we turn our eyes towards the Cross and thank Christ for the freedom to fail as we are continually being sanctified for the rest of our lives.
 
 Author | Haley Blanchard

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