I grew up with an idea I never knew was disabling my ability to live in freedom. That idea was perfection. This idea burrowed its way in under the guise of “holiness”. Furthermore, it focused 90% of its energy on externals - the length of a man’s hair or a women’s dress, whether or not you went to the movies, danced, or drank wine.
Western civilization got their idea of perfection from the Greeks who associated it with outward form (or how something looks on the outside). The idea of perfection gave way to “perfectionism” which still defines purity as something you do on the outside. This has deceived Christians in all walks of life into a legalistic “pass-fail” Christianity that leaves them in a perpetual state of guilt. When someone is paralyzed by perfection, they view God more like a prison warden than a father. Christianity is lived in the light of Heaven and Hell instead of relationship. Fear and control becomes the centerpiece of their religion, and others are judged on a sliding scale of how closely the rules were followed.
I once heard one man tell another that he was committed to “never to sin again”. The other man responded saying, “Id like to see your track record in a month”. This is just another side effect of being paralyzed by perfection. You become a Pharisee. A Pharisee was a person whose life was marked by strict adherence to the law. God’s love and approval was based on obedience to the law. The Pharisees were so paralyzed by perfection that when Jesus came on the scene, they did not recognize Him as the Messiah.
Though I am convinced that purity does affect the outside, it is possible to fix up the outside without addressing the inside. Jesus was adamant on this point describing the Pharisees as weather-bleached tombs filled with dead bones.
“Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”
Mark 7:14–15 (NRSV)
How does someone who has become crippled by perfectionism become free?
I can only tell you, being a former “Pharisee”, that for me deliverance came when one day I was praying and thinking on the scripture “If God be for us then who can be against us”. I began to weep because I couldn’t get past the first part: “ If God be for us”. At that time of my life, I came to the realization that God was not staring down from heaven with a perpetual frown waiting for me to slip up, but “God is for me”.
From that point on, the motive for holiness and purity in my life changed from fearing divine judgment to giving Someone who loved me without condition what He truly deserves - my life.