Striving for Perfection
Read Philippians 3:12-13 (ESV)
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead...
Are we capable of being perfect apart from Christ? When we become Christians, do we immediately become perfect people?
Do you consider yourself a perfectionist? If you do, chances are striving for perfection has left you feeling prideful, anxious, or frustrated. Perfectionists are prideful when they feel like they can do everything right and their way is the way. Perfectionists are often anxious because they take on a weight that they weren’t meant to carry. They feel as though everything is riding on them and if they under-perform, they are failures. And of course, perfectionists are often frustrated because this world is not perfect and neither are they. No matter how hard they try, they are imperfect. They can’t make other people or their circumstances perfect either. Perfection is not attainable—yet.
In today’s verses, Paul acknowledges that he is not perfect but he presses on toward perfection anyway. What does he mean by perfection? Christ-likeness. Jesus is the only perfect man who ever lived. As God, Jesus is completely holy. Spotless.
The goal for every Christian is to become like Him. But the reality is, this goal is not attainable on this side of heaven. On earth, we will continue to stumble and fall. We will still sin and fall short of God’s glory. But Paul says that doesn’t mean we should quit running the race. We shouldn’t give up. We should press on. We should keep on pursuing the lofty goal of being like Christ because when we reach the finish line, perfection is the prize! We will be like Him!
Paul said that pursuing Christ was his singular focus: “one thing I do.” In order to do this, he first had to forget what was in his past. He had to forget all of his past religious achievements and zealous law keeping because it wasn’t sufficient to save him. He also had to forget the grave sins that he committed persecuting Christians because those sins died with Christ on the cross. He could not be distracted by living in the past. He had to put his past behind him and focus his efforts solely on living for Christ in the here and now. By forgetting what was in his past and striving for excellence every day, he drew ever closer to being perfectly like Christ in the future.
Friends, Jesus is our perfection. He won it for us on the cross. There is nothing we can do to be perfectly righteous on our own. But that doesn’t mean we give up! That doesn’t mean we quit. And it doesn’t mean that our efforts to be obedient go to waste. But it does mean, that in our striving for perfection and aiming for excellence, we don’t have to be anxious or frustrated, and we certainly shouldn’t be prideful.
We didn’t do anything to deserve it and it doesn’t depend on us. He makes us perfect. He conforms us to His image. He makes us like Himself. But we participate in the process—one foot in front of the other. I can rest in the fact that “Jesus Christ has made me his own” and so can you. He did the perfect work. We just have to stay the course.
Jesus, You are holy, blameless, and perfect. I long to be like You. Strengthen me so that I can continue running my race in obedience to You. Amen.