Are there Bible verses on perfectionism? What does Scripture teach us about the problem of perfectionism?
Over the years I’ve talked with many people who struggle with perfectionism. I myself have had problems with it. In my own life and as I have helped other in psychotherapy and spiritual mentoring I have found that God’s Word gives us great hope on how to get out from under the burden of perfectionism.
Maybe Perfectionism is a Good Thing?
Jesus taught us, “Be perfect” (Matthew 5:48 and 19:21). Maybe perfectionism is not a burden but something for us to strive for? Certainly we all know many people who have succeeded greatly, seemingly because of their perfectionism. But at what cost? And was this true and lasting success?
God alone is perfect and his perfection is manifested in Jesus Christ. To receive Christ into our life is to receive his perfection so that God accepts us as righteous because of Christ. Then this righteous needs to be worked out in our lives so that we actually take on the character of Christ. This is a process of being perfected by God’s power as we trust in the Lord Jesus and train ourselves to grow in godliness.
Being perfected in the character of Christ is different than what is ordinarily meant by perfectionism. Perfectionism is a manifestation of anxiety, straining to be ideal or to have an ideal experience of some kind.
The perfectionists of the Bible are the Pharisees. Perfectionism goes with legalism, pride, and judgmentalism. Obviously, this is not a good thing!
The word of hope in the Bible for perfectionists is grace. It’s by relying upon God’s grace that we are free to be ourselves before God and then by his power through Christ to become more than ourselves, to become like Christ. “It’s by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:15).
But what is grace? Most students of the Bible have an immediate answer, “unmerited favor.” This is not a good definition. It conjures up the idea that their is a ledger in heaven of all our sins and good points that shows us to fall way short of God’s standard and that this problem is solved by Christ’s death for us on the cross. Of course, this is true! Trusting in Jesus Christ for our justification is essential!
But grace as unmerited favor is a very limited concept. It puts God’s grace in a place that seems far away and for later when we die. But we need God’s grace today! We have hurts and challenges today. We are surrounded by people in need. We have work to do today. Are we to do all this in our own strength? Is the hope of heaven when we die enough to empower us for all we need to deal with today?
A better definition of grace is provided by Dallas Willard. “Grace is God acting in our lives to do what we cannot do on our own.” Grace is for today! Grace is knowing Jesus in interactive relationship today (2 Peter 3:8). Grace is power for living well today! (See Paul’s Ephesians 3 prayer as one of many examples in the Bible of grace and power being pared together.)
Bible Verses on Perfectionism
(All these Bible verses are from the NIV84 unless indicated otherwise.)
Learn to Live in God’s Kingdom Today
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).
Our Self-Reliant Efforts to be Perfect are Sinful, Pointless, and Problematic
“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (Isiah 64:6).
Perfectionism Appears Wise, but Has No Value
“Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: `Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence (Colossians 2:20-23).”
Trust in God to be Made Perfect
“It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect” (Psalm 18:32).
God’s Grace is a Gift, Our Good Works are a Response that He Enables
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Jesus Gives us His Righteousness and Grows us to Live it Out
”Because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14).
Rely on God’s Perfection as Your Refuge
“As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 18:30).
Receive the Beautiful Gift of God’s Splendor
“And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign Lord” (Ezekiel 16:14).
Don’t Try to Look Ideal, Develop Inner Beauty
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:3-4).
Live Out of Your New, God-created Self, Not Your Old, Deceitful Self
“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Ephesians 4:22-25).
Clean Your Soul, Not Your Image
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Matthew 23:25-26).
Admit Your Weaknesses to Experience God’s Grace and Power
“But he said to me, `My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Confess Your Sins to Christ’s Ambassadors to Be Healed
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).
Look to God’s Perfect Law to See Who You’re Meant to Be
“Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:23-25; see also Psalm 19:7).
Live out of Your New Heart that Wants God and His Will, Not out of Obligation
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:26-27; see also Philippians 2:12-13).
Focus on the Process of Growing (Being Perfected) in Holiness by Grace
“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6; see also Philippians 3:12, 2 Corinthians 7:1).
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48; see also 2 Corinthians 13:11).
Don’t Procrastinate, Act Now to Enjoy God’s Favor
“I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
Live in Reality: Avoid “All Good” and “All Bad” Extremes
“Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise – why destroy yourself? Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool – why die before your time? It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes” (Ecclesiastes 7:16:18; see also 1 Corinthians 13:6).
Live by Spiritual Values, Not Religious Legalities
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:23-24).
Fear God, Not People, Then Discover His Loving Care
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:4-7).
Trust in God’s Perfect Love to be Perfected in Love
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).
Seek to be United with other Christians
“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Corinthians 1:10).
Help Others to Grow into God’s Perfection
“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ” (Colossians 1:28).