Americanized Christianity and Theological Chaos

Does Perfectionism go along with the Christian Life?

Perfectionism can kill, as author Khristi Adams points out:

· I wanted to be a woman of God so badly. When people would ask me what or who I aspired to be, I always responded, “a woman of God.” I would read and quote Proverbs 31, attend women’s conferences, and read books on what it meant to be a virtuous woman. In my journey down the road of biblical womanhood, I heard countless messages on feminine virtue, purity, gentleness, and nobility. I remember feeling like an utter and complete failure, unable to achieve any of those things in their completeness. I was devastated further each time I fell short of the “woman of God” standard. Truthfully, I was chasing an image, a fantasy. I was so busy chasing this unattainable ideal that I denied the very parts of me that made me who I was. I listened to those girls as they described an unreachable standard of womanhood, the person they were all hopelessly striving to be. I was heartsick, because they were all so eager to be her, the “woman of God,” that they didn’t realize that she was already them. I realized that I didn’t want to watch them journey down the winding road of shame and disappointment the way that I had.

As Adams correctly points out, this is not only her experience but the experience of many sincere Christians. And understandably so! Christ is perfect, and despite all of our strivings, we will never reach this standard. Result – shame, guilt, despair, and doubts about the entire Christian enterprise.

What then is her answer? Stop aspiring for Christ-likeness:

· We don’t have to aspire to be anyone other than who we already are. From there, God molds us into who he intended for us to be.

Adams is correct that “God molds us.” Any of our spiritual fruit is the fruit of the Spirit, but this doesn’t mean that we have no role to play. There is a place in the Christian life for striving or aspiring. The Apostle Paul affirmed this fact:

· Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

This doesn’t mean that there was anything uncertain about Paul’s salvation or his heavenly destination. Instead, it shows that striving has a role in our lives.

Peter specified the same thing:

· But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16)

We have no option but to aspire! Admittedly, this sounds burdensome, even depressing. As Adams eloquently points out, we have repeatedly tried this and utterly failed. However, failure isn’t our divinely promised inheritance. Does God want us to suffer in this manner? Perhaps we are reading Scripture wrongly? Instead, we are reading Scripture incompletely.

While our Lord’s ultimate goal for us isn’t despair and self-loathing, the road to glory must pass through the valley of the shadow of death, where we are humbled:

· And he [Jesus] said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3-4)

Humility is the soil through which all of our fruit grows. Jesus’ disciples asked Him for more faith. He answered that great faith is the recognition that we are never deserving of the slightest thing from our Lord:

· “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'” (Luke 17:10)

Jesus only ascribed “great faith” to two people, both of whom demonstrated uncanny humility (Mat. 8:8-10; 15:28).

How does our Lord humble us? By showing us the extent of our sin and unworthiness:

· Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every [boasting] mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable [humbled] to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become [humbled and] conscious of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)

He tells us that we have to be like Him and how to do it by following His commands. However, we fail miserably and feel shamed, but this is needful. How? To receive the blessings God wants to give us:

· “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)

We are not going to humble ourselves to admit our utter destitution if we think that we are truly spiritual and, therefore, deserving. Instead, we have to realize that we are sinners in need of the sheer mercy of God if we are to be exalted.

How do we endure in our humbled, self-despairing condition? By knowing the extent of God’s love for us (Eph. 3:16-20) and His forgiveness:

· If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)

This endears us to Him. Only when we see our pathetic condition can we also come to adore our Savior as we ought. Actually, this is liberating! He has freed me from trying to prove, even to myself, that I am worthy, that I’ve got what it takes, or that I am a superior Christian. Rather, we come to realize that it is all about Jesus, as it should be! He (not we) has become our righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).

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Daniel Mann

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