Perfectionism, in the History of Christianity, is defined by the New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, as “The teaching that moral or religious perfection (in some cases sinlessness) is not only an ideal toward which to strive, but a goal attainable in this life.” John Wesley was a serious champion of perfectionism and through his influence in reached across the Atlantic and found serious advocates in America. The dictionary goes on to say, “In America a form of perfectionism was advocated by Asa Mahan and C.G. Finney in the first half of the nineteenth century. At midcentury there emerged from Methodism the American Holiness Movement, a more revivalistic and rigorist advocate of Wesley’s perfectionism. From this developed the Church of the Nazarene, the Wesleyan Church, some forms of Pentecostalism, and other modern advocates of perfectionism.”

One cannot help but remember Paul’s struggle with sin in Romans chapter 7. He explains how the things he knows he should do, he doesn’t do. He admits that the things he knows he shouldn’t do, he finds himself doing. At the end of his wrestling with the presence of sin in his life he says, “wretched man that I am!” We also might notice that John tells us in his first letter that if we say we have no sin, we lie. Further, the New Testament (and the Old) are filled with exhortations and warnings to believers against sin. It seems obvious to me that sin is a real possibility in the life of even the strongest believer. The instructions contained in the New Testament for living a disciplined life not only imply a possibility, but a probability. Trying to live a perfect, sinless life inevitably ends with increased guilt and shame. Perfectionism makes you miserable as well as everyone around you! None of us can live up to a perfect standard.

The wisest man in the world, Solomon, warns us in his writings of the dangers of trying to be perfect. In Ecclesiastes 7:16, the New American Standard translation says, “Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself?” I like the way the New International Versions puts the last part of this verse: “…why destroy yourself?” God’s Word for Today puts it this way: “why make yourself miserable.” Four verses later, he writes, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” We do not live by works, we live by God’s grace. We all wrestle with sin and will until we die. After Paul wrestles with his sin nature in Chapter 7, he reminds us of this profound truth in the first verse of Chapter 8. He writes, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”