Growing in Grace: The incredible gift of sanctification
Take a moment to identify your inner perfectionist.
It’s in there somewhere, even if you don’t have to deal with it every day. You might not classify yourself as a perfectionist, but if you’re human, then there’s something in you that wants to make things “just right.” Maybe you’re like me, an unlikely perfectionist. The kind of perfectionist that’s still a little sloppy sometimes, that forgets details and has a messy workspace. My inner critic pipes up when I least expect it. It’s unpredictable, but it’s never silent for long.
Often, perfectionism is considered a negative thing. I suppose that’s because it can be hurtful, even crippling. That critic inside of us can make us beat ourselves down and judge the people around us. It can make us discontent, frustrated and restless. But I’d argue that this deep-rooted desire for rightness is not a bad thing at all. It’s only twisted, stretched out of shape and swollen large and ugly in our sinful hearts. But aren’t we the offspring of a God who is a perfectionist? He is perfection Himself. He’s the God who formed this lush, intricate, wildly creative cosmos and said, “It is good.” He’s the one who looked at a lonely man in a garden and said, “It is not good.” And he wouldn’t rest until he had accomplished everything, put every aspect of His creation to rights.
He made things perfect. We’re the ones that wrecked it. And now each one of us is flawed, inside and out. We’re left with that desperate yearning for things to be right, but we don’t have the power to fix anything. So our own perfectionism turns on us and becomes a tool of guilt, an obsessive habit that could destroy us if we let it.
That’s where grace comes in. Grace softly frees us from the slavery of fruitless striving. And yet it acknowledges our desire for righteousness and gives us the power to grow. Grace strips away the pride, the concept of self-help, and points us down a path of humble, reliant diligence.
That’s the glory of the gospel. God knows us, through and through. He knows that we want to earn our salvation – and that it’s impossible for us to do so. He knows that we’re trapped in hopeless cycles of sin, and that we want, deep down, to be free. And so He invites us on an incredible journey with Him. Gently, He humbles us, accepting us in spite of ourselves. And He doesn’t stop at justification. He loves us too much to leave us messed up and defeated. Guiding us with His Word, gifting us with His spirit, empowering us to defeat every temptation, He makes it possible for us to lead lives of honesty, kindness, holiness and joy.
So, this perfectionism – it can be used for evil, but its origin is good. It’s a legacy from the garden, a desire to do things well, to make things the way they ought to be. Surrounded by grace, we are to use this longing as an impetus for growth. It’s no longer just a crushingly hopeless struggle. We don’t need to listen to the voice of shame that babbles on like a broken record and saps our strength. Instead, we throw ourselves on the mercy of Christ, the perfect Lamb. His blood has done away with our sin – past, present, future. He has draped His white righteousness over every act of rebellion. So this journey, this quest for virtue, is not a thing of fear or of shame or of dogged, lonely effort. It’s an adventure, a love story and a fight that will certainly end in victory.
So we don’t despair. We look to Christ. We grasp His grace, hold it tight, while it clings to us even tighter. And we take a step.
I’d love to hear from all of you about this. How do you find that perfectionism cripples you in your Christian life? How does it help you? And what are the things that help you to silence the voice of self-reliance and lean hard into grace? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.