Stop Being Perfect, Start Being Holy

Written by Janel Breitenstein, USA

I remember a time back in high school, running hard after God. I thought if I could have one thing in the world, it was holiness. Maybe it sounds to you like it did to me: Intently focused on God. Uber-spiritual, even.

But looking back, I actually think what I wanted was to be perfect.

I am some form of a perfectionist. WordPress says I revised my last blogpost no less than 13 times. I am often obsessive, in fact, in my attempts to please people. (One of my friends laughs because when she arrives at my house, I always run to place a hand towel in the bathroom—all because she asked me for it on one occasion.)

This year, about two decades after my high school quest, I finally realized this: The only reason I wanted to be a perfectionist was that I detested my own failure. But I didn’t hate sin and weakness in me because it grieved God; I hated it because I thought I was better than that. It was a chip in my façade, a chink in my armor. I didn’t hate sin because I loved God; I hated sin because I loved myself. I loved my own achievement, my own goodness, my own . . . righteousness.

Maybe you’re wondering: Is there anything wrong with wanting to be perfect? Doesn’t God say to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”? Shouldn’t we have zero tolerance for our weakness and sin?

But you see, my craving to be unchained from weakness was cleverly cloaked in the right lingo of “holiness.” And the god of my quest was myself. Insecurity oozed around my failures. It leaked out when I didn’t meet my ideal. My husband pointed out that pride and insecurity are actually the same sin. Both place my sense of value—or lack thereof—in my ability to achieve my goals on my own.

When I don’t meet my ideals, I feel inferior and insecure. When I’m meeting my standards? I’m on top of the world . . . and likely feeling a bit superior. Neither pride nor insecurity is based on God’s acceptance of me or His value of me, apart from what I bring to the table.

But now, I have started to see holiness less as being free of wrong and weakness. I no longer believe that it strictly lies in the perfection of my outward behavior. After all, my heart’s kind of a rotting onion: the further I peel into knowledge of myself and God, the more underlying junk of my own is flayed open.

American Pastor and author J.D. Greear writes: “There are only two kinds of religions: those that teach you to obey in order to be accepted; and those that teach that you obey because you are accepted. In every story . . . from the Bible . . . God confronts attempts at self-salvation.”

Jesus earned my verdict. He says I’m accepted. I’m cleared. American pastor and theologian Timothy Keller writes that in Christianity, “the verdict leads to performance. The performance does not lead to the verdict.” When I accept Jesus’ verdict of “innocent” for me, God says to me what He did for Jesus: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Rather than motivated by fear—of failure, weakness, not being accepted—holiness is now motivated by faith that I am unconditionally, overwhelmingly loved, accepted, and thankfully not in control. It means I’m no longer trying to save myself. Instead, I’m allowing God to save me. My holiness flows from acceptance rather than insecurity.

Rather than strict control of my outward performance, holiness now feels like an act of worship, a jealousy for my life to be only His. True holiness, I think, has God as its source and object; perfectionism has myself as its source and object. You could say my behavior now emerges (yes, through self-discipline) from a genuine love for God, rather than a feverish clawing for His acceptance.

This means that when I really bite it bad—snapping at my husband, say, like I did the other night—I don’t have to be devastated because I acted like a “bad wife”, or because I behaved in a way inconsistent with my good character. If my mouth speaks out of the overflow of my heart (Matthew 12:34), I need to acknowledge that this is who I am: a sinner. I can confess to my husband without trying to blame-shift or deny or justify my tacky talk. I can ask his forgiveness. And I can lay my head on the pillow knowing that God’s changing me from the inside out. But my worth can remain super-glued to Jesus’ verdict for me in God’s courtroom.

Honestly, His performance is a lot more reliable than mine. My ability to achieve seems to melt away in the presence of that kind of perfection. Ultimately, I’m less and less focused on me and my rather sketchy (hand-towel-deprived) performance.

Holiness is, in fact, an utter reliance on performance—on perfection. Just not mine.

ODJ: starting points & end results

February 2, 2016 

READ: Judges 17:1-13 

In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes (v.6). 

In the movie Castaway, a man was stranded on a desert island for 4 years following a plane crash. After his rescue, the authorities told him that their Castaway, a man was stranded on a initial efforts following the crash had failed because they had searched in the wrong area—thinking that the plane had gone down 400 miles from where it crashed. Since their starting point was completely wrong, they had little chance of success even though their efforts were admirable.

A man named Micah also wrestled with the proper starting point. He wanted to worship God, but he went about it in the wrong way. When he returned 1,100 pieces of silver he had taken from his mother, she had an idol created out of 200 of the coins. She said that the silver was “dedicated” to God and that the idol was in “honor” of her son (Judges 17:3), but she, and Micah, should have known this was an affront to God (Exodus 20:4).

What’s more, Micah decided to make his own private shrine to God (Judges 17:5). Then he made images to go into his “temple.” This went completely against God’s commands, but perhaps it looked right and reverent to him. Micah even found a real Levite priest and employed him (vv.12-13). God will surely bless me, Micah thought. I can now receive all I want through this convenient way of worshiping Him.

But was it acceptable? Look at Leviticus 10:1-3. Nadab and Abihu offered “the wrong kind of fire” to God with deadly results. What did God truly desire from Micah? Worship that showed that he loved God with all his heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5).

That’s our starting point: Love the God who loves us. We’re called to worship Him and reflect the love He’s lavished on us. May we do that well today!

—Russell Fralick

365-day-plan: Exodus 3:1-22

Read John 4:24 and consider what it means to worship God “in Spirit and in truth.” 
What does it mean for you to love God with all your heart, soul, and strength? How will you display the fullness of His grace and love today? 

(Check out Our Daily Journey website!)

ODJ: God’s house

August 19, 2015 

READ: Haggai 1:2-15 

Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins? (v.4). 

The demise of the high street shop is one of the most visible signs of the recession in the UK. As you walk down the main street of many towns, you find shop after shop closed and shuttered. Some city councils have recognised the negative social impact of the flopped shops and have installed facades featuring pictures of open stores to try to create the impression of a thriving community. The clever marketing trick might work for those driving down the street, but if you try to walk into one of the false shopfronts, you quickly realise there’s nothing but an empty building behind the image.

By the second year of the reign of King Darius, God’s house had been destroyed and lay in ruins (Haggai 1:4). The people were so caught up with building their own houses that they weren’t taking time to work on God’s house—the temple (v.2). The consequences of their negligence left them wanting: they planted, but harvested little; they ate, but were never satisfied; they drank, but remained thirsty; they put on clothes, but couldn’t keep warm; and their wages seemed to disappear as though they were placed in pockets full of holes. They hoped for rich harvests, but remained poor (vv.6,9, 2:16-17). Their preoccupation with self and lack of love for God were reflected in the dismal state of the temple.

—Ruth O’Reilly-Smith

365-day-plan: John 11:37-57

Read 2 Corinthians 6:16 and Ephesians 2:22 for more about how we are God’s house on earth—representing Him in our bodies through the Holy Spirit. 
How have you neglected your personal version of God’s house? What will it take to reflect Him authentically through your body? 

(Check out Our Daily Journey website!)

ODJ: bad religion

October 8, 2014 

READ: 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 

So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view (v.16). 

In his landmark books Soul Searching and Souls in Transition, sociologist Christian Smith surveyed American young adults and found that most held to what he called “Therapeutic Moralistic Deism”. They’re deists because they believe God doesn’t interfere in our lives unless we need His help to solve a problem. They’re moralistic because they believe God wants us to be good and kind to each other. And their view is therapeutic because it makes them feel good about themselves.

Their view of God can be summed up in this erroneous thinking: I am starring in the role of God because I determine what goodness is required for heaven and then determine that I meet this criterion. I am free to live as I please, all the while believing there is a deity who believes in me.

But as all of us will find out the moment we die, we’re not God. God has a true standard of holiness and love (1 Peter 1:16; 1 John 4:8), and He can’t be satisfied with anything less than perfection.

This starting point is essential for understanding the gospel. As Paul explained to the Corinthians, God the Father met this high standard when He gave His Son, “who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Together, God the Father and God the Son sent the Spirit, who made us into a new creation. “The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (v.17).

With the Spirit’s help we will grow in holiness and self-giving love, which God says is what true religion has always been about: “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you” (James 1:27).

—Mike Wittmer

365-day plan› Acts 2:14-40

Read James 1:19-2:26 to learn what true religion looks like. 
Do you know anyone whose religion is “therapeutic moralistic deism”? How might you begin to lead that person to Jesus? 

(Check out Our Daily Journey website!)