Are you a perfectionist? Or if not, do you sometimes have the vague notion that you could do more to be a better person and follower of Christ? If you fall into either group, rest assured, you are not alone! For through God’s grace that is offered to us all, we all have planted within us the desire to truly be the people God calls us to be.
At the end of his letter to the Philippians, Paul shares his own understanding and experience with the notion of perfection. He recalls his life before his conversion to Christ as a classic perfectionist as he attempted, and in his own mind at the time succeeded, in becoming the perfect Pharisee, with all the right practices, all the right teachers, and all of the accompanying self-righteousness. But then he says that when Christ came into his life, all of those accomplishments meant nothing anymore as he turned his life toward the example of Jesus. His new understanding was that true perfection is a spiritual issue, and that we are constantly on a path to perfection throughout our lives that never really ends until we go on to true and eternal perfection in heaven. The famous analogy he uses is that this journey is like running a race in which we are constantly striving for the finish line.
For us, these words offer both comfort and challenge. On the one hand, we are assured that we don’t have to be perfect, and that God loves us even in our imperfections. On the other hand, Paul is clear that we are constantly to be striving toward being more like Christ in how we live and how we treat other people. And as we see in Philippians, he gives us some specific spiritual practices to develop and use in order to advance in that never-ending race.
My plan is that we will spend the last two Sundays in November examining this “path to perfection” that Paul lays out before us. My guess is that if you struggle with perfectionism in any way, you will find something helpful in his words