Teaching to Learn and Learning to Teach

Perfectionism, Guilt, and a Savior

There is no such thing as false guilt. We are all guilty. The Scriptural idea of guilt is the actual state a sinner is in as the guilty party. My feeling of guilt, however, may or may not correspond to my actual guilt. My problem was I had set up my own kingdom with my own laws and when I failed to keep them I felt the need to pay or blame. Jesus didn’t die to make me sovereign, for me to be perfect at everything I do or for me to be praised by others. He didn’t die so that my will might be done, so I didn’t run to the cross when I came up short, but the cross is where I needed to turn.

Piper speaks of this sense of guilt or shame and of the true guilt behind it:

We are so focused on the sense of guilt that comes from failing in front of other people’s eyes, that we fail to recognize our true guilt of being “self-centered” rather than “God-centered” (134).

Another author speaks of what sin truly needs to be repented of in this case:

Setting up one’s own standard is not only pride that needs to be confessed and repented of, but it is god-playing the “essence of sin” (Freedom from Guilt, 15).

This world isn’t meant to be perfect. I’m not the one who is supposed to be in control. I sought to be perfect, almighty, provider, with infinite resources and all wisdom. This is God’s role. He is the one that should get the glory and will get the glory and that might happen through my failure rather than through my accomplishments (Psalm 76:10; Acts 4:27-28; II Cor. 3:4-5; 4:7)” (Overcoming Fear, Worry, and Anxiety 98). God never promised I would be perfect, but He has promised to work everything, even my failures, for my good and His glory (Romans 8:28-29;  Overcoming Fear, Worry, and Anxiety, 98). I wasn’t meant to be perfect apart from Christ (I Cor. 2:6; Phil 3:15; Col 2:10). I needed to repent of perfectionism that sought a coup d’état and when I did that I took my place as a loyal subject who is living for the Sovereign’s kingdom purposes.

His opinion and his standards are really what matter and those have been met in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. If I seek my own kingdom or my own righteousness, I will come up short, experience guilt, and payment will be required. This will affect all of my relationships as I will seek to punish those who frustrate my plans. When my kingdom fails with no one to blame but myself, I might then try to punish myself or to run to escape the guilt. Everyone has an ingrained understanding that they are guilty of a penalty because of sin, “consequently, some people nurse their regrets and cling to their grief… to punish themselves. Unconsciously they want to pay for their sins” (Here’s How You Can Handle Guilt, 9). The other option, would be to turn to the Savior who already paid the penalty for sins.

It seems at first that one who has set up their own standards could not turn to the savior because he didn’t die for their standards and their kingdom, but all are truly guilty before God. The fact that Christ did not die for my kingdom and yet I was setting up my own kingdom was exactly
what I was guilty of and what I needed to repent of. Satan would love to tempt me to be so focused on feelings of guilt from violating my own law that I don’t look to Christ to forgive my pride, arrogance, and my self-sufficiency. He would like me to continue to contemplate my own lack of perfection, instead of turning to Christ’s perfection being imputed to me. He would like me to continue to strive for self-sufficiency instead of seeing the sufficient completed work of Christ who rose again and is seated in the throne room of God. He would like me to continue to strive to “serve” people in a way that brings glory to me and shows me to be the provider instead of a way that is dependent and points to Christ.

Once I recognized my idolatry, my pride, my arrogance of setting up my kingdom against God’s, I realized that was what I needed to take to the cross. Jesus died to pay for that. He died so I didn’t have to live that kind of a futile life. He died so that I might stand complete in Him. He died so that I could make much of Him and not of me. This was liberating. My sin and pride, my laws and rules, had kept me from turning to Christ, but that is exactly where I needed to turn. Not to confess my failure to keep the refrigerator well stocked or to keep every machine in the office running but to confess my self-sufficiency, my independence, my pride, my glory-seeking, and my people pleasing. When I turned to the cross, I tasted of the truth of Jesus’ words, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”


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