A Functional Imperfect Perfectionism?

In this life we will be far from what we long to be and that which Christ will ultimately and instantaneously make us in glory

The idea that “men demand immediate, tangible results” is also observable in our day by a consideration of the many efforts to rid society of particular injustices. Where there are noble calls to end gun violence, abuse, political corruption, sexual deviancy, racial inequality, abortion, etc., men can unconsciously convince themselves that a complete purgation of cultural injustices is attainable in this life. In these demands, there is–no less than in the demand for our own consummate sanctification–a quest for immediate and tangible results. Ironically, those who strive after perfectionism in cultural sanctification often reject any notion of the possibility of perfectionism in personal sanctification.

 

There is a functional perfectionism that can subtly creep into the minds and hearts of even those who adamantly reject any idea of instantaneous sanctification in a believer’s life. On one hand, it is altogether possible for us to convince ourselves that we have out-sinned the grace of God or that God is no longer at work in our lives, based on misunderstandings about the progressive nature of sanctification. We love the extraordinary observable expressions of growth in grace, but are plagued by the less spectacular and less observable works of God. On the other hand, we can convince ourselves that we are not that sinful because we avoid particular sins that we deem vile, while allowing myriads of “respectable sins” to go unchecked.

In his Studies in Perfectionism, B.B. Warfield observed that a gravitation toward various forms of perfectionism rests on the insatiable desire for the immediate:

“Men are unable to understand why time should be consumed in divine works…Men demand immediate, tangible results…They ask to be themselves made glorified saints in the twinkling of an eye. God’s ways are not their ways, and it is a great trial to them that God will not walk in their ways. They love the storm and the earthquake and the fire. They cannot see the divine in ‘a sound of gentle stillness,’ and adjust themselves with difficulty to the lengthening perspective of God’s gracious working. For the world they look every day for the cataclysm in which alone they can recognize God’s salvation; and when it ever delays its coming they push it reluctantly forward but a little bit at a time. For themselves they cut the knot and boldly declare complete salvation to be within their reach at their option, or already grasped and enjoyed. It is true, observation scarcely justifies the assertion. But this difficulty is easily removed by adjusting the nature of complete salvation to fit their present attainments. These impatient souls tolerate more readily the idea of an imperfect perfection than the admission of lagging perfecting. They must at all costs have all that is coming to them at once.”1

When we are heavy-handed with other believers when they stumble, it reveals strains of self-righteousness in our own hearts. When we speak ill of other believers because they struggle with some particular sins with which we are not beset, we reveal that we believe that we have attained “an imperfect perfection.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains the way in which a standard of “imperfect perfection”  functions when he wrote:

“We insist on judging ourselves and one another by particular sins, good works, talk, etc. These are our categories. We speak of people as being respectable or not respectable, or we speak of them in terms of certain particular sins and their precise way of committing them, thereby confusing the whole issue and forming only a superficial judgment.”

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