The Pitfalls of Perfection

Recently I’ve come across and a bow and began shooting arrows. Don’t worry – no one is in danger, and yes, there is a target to hit! 

Now, I’ll be honest… I’m not the best. It takes a while to learn how to shoot the target accurately. At first, I was excited to hit the bag itself! After some time, I would hit the center more frequently. Then there was that moment when I hit the smallest point of the center, the bullseye. Oh yeah! I seem to have finally got the hang of it. That is until I shoot the next arrow as it flies over the target. Oh well. 

I realized how easily I could miss the mark. My goal each time is to hit the bullseye, but I cannot consistently do it. Sure, I need more practice, but I still wouldn’t be able to shoot an arrow dead-center every time. No way! 

What is fascinating is that the word for “sin” in Greek is hamartia, meaning “missing the mark.” 

Therefore, there is a standard to be met if transgression doesn’t accurately hit the target. What, then, is the ‘bullseye’ if sin doesn’t hit the precise goal? 

PERFECTION. Wait… really? 

Jesus states in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” These words directly come after Christ tells His disciples to love their enemies. These are not easy words to swallow! In its message called ‘the Sermon on the Mount,’ Jesus is essentially ‘raising the bar’ for Christians. It’s not enough to be perfect by not committing adultery; you cannot lust at another person. (Matthew 5:27-30) It’s not enough to be obedient by not killing someone; you cannot harbor anger in your heart. These standards seem impossible to the fainthearted and naïve to those who try to accomplish them. 

Here’s where my struggle lies – I want to “hit the mark” consistently. I don’t want to sin; I want a bullseye – every single time. I want to strike that arrow at the bullseye over and over and over again. How do we reconcile the fact that we are fallen creatures and yet, are expected to be perfect? How is one supposed to hit the bullseye every time while knowing that a person can be prone to ‘missing the mark?’ 

It is between this tension of being perfect and struggling with the nature of sin that I want to expand upon. If you are a perfectionist or desire to be excellent in what you do, I am sure you can relate! If you see the word ‘perfect’ and don’t feel like you measure up, there is hope for you as well. My prayer is that you can understand the pitfalls of perfection so that it doesn’t trip you up in your pursuit of Jesus. 

  1. A pitfall of perfection is… believing transformation in your life is unattainable. 

It is tempting to give up the pursuit of perfection since it seems impossible. Why try if only to fail? Is God only setting up standards too high for anyone to hit? 

And so, first, we need to establish a proper definition of perfection that will reshape our thinking and give us hope. The word ‘perfect’ is rich in meaning such as 1) to finish or complete; carry something to an end. 2) to fully inform; completely skilled. 3) complete in moral excellencies.[1] These definitions are different than what people believe since perfection is synonymous with sinlessness. While this can be true, especially of God’s nature, it should not be our main focus! 

For example, when Jesus said that we are to be perfect in Matthew 5:48, He spoke of a maturing aspect of our walk with Him. Meaning, Christ wants us to be morally complete in the sense of the word. While these standards seem high, being ‘perfect’ radiates the character of Christ within us. If you show love to your enemy, this is different than what your enemy would expect. They would expect retaliation, being canceled, and gearing up for a fight. Instead, the love disarms your enemy and allows the love of Christ to change their life. This radical shift in living is what ‘perfect’ looks like. 

The pitfall is thinking that because you are not sinless, you are not growing in Christ. This mentality will keep you trapped and defeated as you measure to an impossible standard since Christ is the only one who never sinned. A better way to think is how you are maturing in aspects of the faith to be whole or complete. And don’t forget – we are all a work in progress! 

2. A pitfall of perfection is… assuming proper behavior equates to righteousness. 

Since childhood, it is natural to be rewarded based on our behavior. If you finished your chores, you got a treat. If you didn’t beat up your sister, you didn’t get a time out (okay, that last one was just for me). It can be tempting to measure outward conduct as a model for perfection. 

However, behavior modification is precisely what the Pharisees struggled with. They were known as the teachers of the law and built a set of rules to make sure that they did not break the law. Their devotion to rule-following created a standard of perfection known as legalism. While they could recite the law by memory, they did not value the heart of the law. 

What Jesus did by speaking on the Sermon on the Mount was to address this matter of righteousness when it comes to the Mosaic Law. Jesus interpreted these well-known laws not by its letter – as the Pharisees did – but by its Spirit. And accordingly, if one wants to be ‘perfect’, it’s not only what you do but if your heart is in it. 

The trap is to measure yourself according to your works and base your level of ‘righteousness’ on what is seen. This leads to a never ending pursuit of never being good enough! Instead, think of your motives as to why you follow Christ. If you are ‘missing the mark’, be repentful and ask the Lord for your heart to match your obedience to Him. 

3. A pitfall of perfection is… not having enough grace for yourself. 

It is easy to have grace for a stranger since I do not know the full extent of their struggle. But when it comes to myself, I am my biggest critic. Far too often, I have a ‘mental checklist’ measuring my performance of the day. For some reason, I think back to what I could have done better and why I didn’t accomplish everything in front of me. It seems an unhealthy evaluation leads to unnecessary self-condemnation. 

Here’s where I need to come back again and again: God is a God of grace. Even if we didn’t hit the ‘bullseye’, it’s okay – God still loves you. Although you took aim and missed badly, it’s alright – God has a plan. He always does. 

Part of that plan gives us access to Him in our deepest need, when we are the furthest from thinking we are perfect. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Since we are children of God, He allows us to enter His throne room through prayer. We don’t have to ‘have our act together’ when we ask – that is what the throne of grace is for. We can be confident knowing that He will give us what we need. 

God is so gracious; He has more arrows for you to shoot. The Lord is all about second chances, even if we don’t think we deserve it. That’s the beauty of grace – no one does! So we must extend grace to ourselves to brush off the mistakes and the mishaps and try again. Each day given to us God is saying, “Here’s another shot.” Let’s take aim, shoot, and live up to the calling Christ has called each of us.

“But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it”… as a reason to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (Ephesians 4:7, 1) 

Have a blessed week! 

  [1] https://av1611.com/kjbp/kjv-dictionary/perfect.html

2 Comments

  1. Wow, Nathan. What a great blog. It has always been so difficult for me to accept God’s grace. So thankful
    that our God is a God of 2nd chances. Blessings. Margie

    1. Author

      Thank you Margie! I am grateful that God is a God of many chances, His grace is enough for all of us!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *