The Gospel Coalition

I recently read this from Steve Brown and had to share it with you:
She was only twenty-six years old. She was a Christian working in a church. After college she had served for a year on the mission field. I didn't know her well, but I liked her a lot. She was a strong witness for Christ and she was an articulate spokesperson for evangelical Christianity. This morning I got the message that she had taken her life. I was absolutely devastated. I didn't understand.

As if that were not enough, shortly after hearing about her suicide I got a call from a man who listens to my radio broadcast. "Steve," he said, "I haven't told anybody in the world what I'm going to tell you. I have decided to leave my wife and I told God that if I get through to you, I would do whatever you told me to do."

I asked him what prompted him to decide to leave her.

He told me, "I became a Christian at fourteen and all my life I've been seeking to live up  to the expectations of others. I work full-time in a ministry, I teach the Bible, and everyone thinks I'm the model Christian. I'm just tired of it. I've decided to do something for myself for a change."

Let me share a letter with you that I received a couple weeks ago. There was no return address and the  person gave me no name.

Dear Stephen,

Please pray for me as I am on the edge--a total failure as a Christian. I have  failed as a husband and as a father. God has probably given up on me. I feel so very alone and abandoned. It's a horrible feeling that words alone cannot describe. Please don't judge me. Pray for me.

At first these three incidents didn't seem related. They were just about individuals for whom I prayed. But in the silence of my prayer it dawned on me that they all had the same problem: They all had created a false standard of perfection (or accepted someone else's standard) and concluded they couldn't live up to it.

What advice would you give them? If you had talked to the young lady before her suicide, or the man thinking about leaving his wife, or the anonymous correspondent--what would you have said?

Most Christians would say that they should try harder. The problem is that all three already had--and they were at the end of themselves.

Others would try to help them trace their despair back to some unconfessed sin in their lives--drawing a straight line between their spiritual depression and their spiritual failure.

And still others would tell them to have faith. And yet, they discovered that the faith they needed couldn't be turned on and off like a faucet.

But what would Jesus have told them? We don't have to guess: "Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give  you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).

Perfectionism (or performancism) is a horrible disease. It comes from the pit of hell, smelling like rotting flesh. Someone convinced these folks that they were called to measure up to an unattainable standard. They couldn't do it and each in his or her own way simply quit trying.

Nobody told them that Jesus was perfect for them, and because of that they didn't have to be perfect for themselves. They didn't understand that if Jesus makes you free, you will be free indeed.

Christian, please remember that Jesus plus nothing equals everything. That,
Because Jesus was strong for you, you're free to be weak;

Because Jesus won for you, you're free to lose;

Because Jesus was Someone, you're free to be no one;

Because Jesus was extraordinary, you're free to be ordinary;

Because Jesus succeeded for you, you're free to fail.

Preaching the gospel is the only thing that helps us take our eyes off ourselves and how we're doing and fix our eyes on Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. Jesus fulfilled all of God's perfect conditions so that our relationship to God could be perfectly unconditional.

You're free!


Comments:

Waiting « Allyanne

September 7, 2011 at 09:28 AM

[...] ~Tullian Tchividjian in “The Pitfall of Perfectionism“ [...]

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September 6, 2011 at 04:39 AM

[...] ~Tullian Tchividjian in “The Pitfall of Perfectionism“ [...]

Psalm 29 | To Show Them Jesus

September 3, 2011 at 07:31 AM

[...] your soul: from Tullian on why we perfectionism doesn’t work, click here Share this:ShareEmailFacebookPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

Christians & Pagans. | YourSpiritualQuest

September 27, 2012 at 01:29 PM

[...] yesterday posted by Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of Billy and Ruth Bell Graham. In The Pitfall of Perfectionism the point was made that as Christians we are free in Jesus Christ. Paul was such an effective [...]

[...] inverting the New Testament message they’re ostensibly based upon. The post is “The Pitfall of Perfectionism,” by Tullan Tchividjian, in which he begins with several poignant anecdotes borrowed from [...]

John Thomson

June 7, 2011 at 11:41 AM

Mitchell

To all of that I say 'amen'.

I may wish simply to stress that I am not counted as 'in the flesh'. I see myself as God sees me - perfect in Christ and seek to feed that new man I am and put to death that old man I am not.

Regards

Mitchell Hammonds

June 7, 2011 at 11:28 AM

JT,
I simply live my life imperfectly. I know my identity is in Christ... however there is a very real 'not yet' perfection that I cannot know. I love those around me as I can... I don't love them as I ought to. I have successes and failures. This is the reality of my life as a Christian. I will never speak of my 'Christian life' as though I have it together. I am content to know my life is hidden in Christ. I confess my failures and never naval gaze my successes (whatever those are). I will not take a measurement of "how I'm doing today vs. yesterday" but will make every effort to add to my faith Christian qualities laid out by the apostles. I too am a saint in Christ and a sinner in my flesh.

John Thomson

June 7, 2011 at 11:04 AM

Luther quote:

“O it is a living, busy active mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good things incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done this, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever. He gropes and looks for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Yet he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works.” (Preface to Romans.

Dallas Willard: “Grace is opposed to earning, but not to effort.”

Mitchell

If you are a believer then you are growing in grace and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. You have put off the old and put on the new and daily live with this as your goal. Yes you fail. Yes you rebel at times (sow to the flesh) but in believers the life of the Spirit prevails. You are learning to love more and more... to be more patient, kind, forgiving etc. You are finding out what it means to die to your sinful desires. Your speech will be better than it once was (even as it once was as a Christian). We say no to many films, books, activities, cds, we once found attractive. We put to death lustful thoughts we once savoured. We begin indeed to loathe much that we once loved or at least lived comfortably with.

My name is John Thomson and I’m a real saint growing into the reality of who I am in Christ. (In a sense we ought not to think of ourselves as 'sinners'(although we sin). 'Sinners' (post-resurrection) are people 'in Adam'. Labeling ourselves as 'sinners' can give us an excuse for sin (not that I'm saying this was your intention Mitchell). When we think of ourselves we ought to think of ourselves as we are 'in Christ'. We are 'called to be saints'. This is our position in Christ and one that gives us a standard to aspire to. We are to be holy as he is holy.

Incidentally, I think the key to 'Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect' is the phrase 'heavenly Father' Jesus is addressing Kingdom people, believers. He is speaking to folks who who God and who know him as Father. The key to pursuing holiness without a sense of condemnation and constant failure is to do so with a view to pleasing our heavenly Father rather than being afraid of a frowning Judge. This, of course, is why the constant exploring of the gospel is so important: it reaffirms our relationship of grace and frees us to serve in the newness of the Spirit (with joy and delight) and not in the oldness of the law (with fear of judgement and condemnation).

Mitchell Hammonds

June 7, 2011 at 10:33 AM

JT,
We can quote the Bible all day long. I don't disagree with the verses you quote. But as one who was raised in a Christian home my life is pretty much the same as it always has been. There is no dramatic outward change in the way I live as the result of my 'new life.' I think the culture in which many of these imperatives were given are extremes (i.e. worship of pagan gods, temple prostitution and so forth). I think Tullian's point, or mine anyway, is we still sin... daily... be it by commission or omission. Confess it and move on. You or I can't be sorry enough for the sin. Sometimes we want to sin knowing it to be wrong... if you can't agree with that then we can't understand each other. My name is Mitchell Hammonds and I'm a real sinner in need of real mercy... daily.

Mitchell Hammonds

June 7, 2011 at 10:12 AM

Barbara,
You're welcome. JT above quotes Matt. 5:48 as if we should find comfort in that verse... it should scare the life out of those who read it... and it does even on my best day when I think I'm doing fairly well. To be 'perfect' does not mean give your best effort for God... it means perfect. Which I cannot do at all. So now that Christ is my perfection I get to live imperfectly... which we all do anyway. Why this statement invites the charge from some that "what I really mean" is I can now live an unrepentant/unrestrained life is beyond me. I'm not Lutheran... but I love Martin Luther's take on the Christian life. There is no facade in how he describes the life of the Christian.

John Thomson

June 7, 2011 at 10:01 AM

More generally, an increasing unease is clearly felt by many that indicatives are occluding imperatives.

'I suspect, that there are schemes of theology that have an indicative but lack the grounds for articulating an ethical imperative that is based on the exhortations of Scripture '

Can we say as believers that ethical indtruction (in which the NT abounds) actually inspires us as believers to do good. Is it only law that condemns or is it a life to which our renewed hearts aspire? Is Christ's life for the believer a life one which merely accuses or is it one which attracts and is aspirational?

To quote Bird again

'- denies that exhortations in the OT/NT actually inspire us or drive us to do good. Now Imagine preaching through the Sermon on the Mount with this view. If I may caricature: "Don't worry folks, Jesus' doesn't actually expect any of you to do this stuff, he just said it to make you realize what rotten sinners you are and understand how much you need his imputed righteousness." Or imagine, preaching through James with this view. Hear again the fictive voice: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to believe more deeply in the doctrines of grace" (Jas 1:27 HPR [Hyper-Reformed Version]). Who could preach Matthew 5-7 or James 1:27 this way and get away with it?'

John Thomson

June 7, 2011 at 09:52 AM

Mitchell

I agree that our obedience does not make us acceptable to God. However, as believers, our obedience is pleasing to God and is indeed evidence his life in our souls (not only to us but to God).

Mitchell, your argument is not with me but with the texts I quoted and many more could be quoted.

We may not 'live the gospel' but we are to 'live lives worthy of the gospel'. We are to 'work out our own salvation with fear and trembling'. Christ is 'the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him'. There are necessarily 'things that accompany salvation'. If these things that accompany salvation are in us and abound then we 'make our calling and election sure'.

1Tim 4:16 (ESV)
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.


2Thess 2:13 (ESV)
But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.

We must 'strive for holiness for without it no man can see the Lord'.


Yes, emphatically, salvation is by grace alone but grace teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts. Yes we are saved by faith alone BUT the faith that saves is never alone. Faith not only looks it acts and works; Christian sanctification is not by faith alone (that is only looking and resting) but by faith 'working through love'.

See for a well balanced perspective: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/05/31/obedience-is-possible/

jj

June 7, 2011 at 09:24 AM

Yes, it is by grace that we are saved. If we never sinned again after repenting to God, we would still need His grace and mercy. It is still a gift of eternal life. Don't misunderstand Paul or the "other scriptures" as Peter warned us.

2Pe 3:14 Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.
2Pe 3:15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;
2Pe 3:16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
2Pe 3:17 Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.
2Pe 3:18 But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.

Barbara Thayer

June 7, 2011 at 09:12 AM

Thank you Mr. Hammonds for your thoughts. I agree with your conclusions
and insights. It is only by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone
that we can meet God's standards of holiness.

Mitchell Hammonds

June 7, 2011 at 08:44 AM

John Thompson,
This posting doesn't even come close to license. This is what you're hearing. Not once do I believe Tullian to be saying 'go out and sin that grace may abound.' What I do know is our striving for perfection is through faith. If it is Christ's perfection that justifies why would you even consider offering your efforts toward God as if He will accept you based on that effort... that is the very definition of pharisee. Our neighbors need our shoddy efforts... not God. We all need Christ's perfection... and we have it by faith not by our striving to be perfect. One believes 'the Gospel'... they don't live it.

John Thomson

June 7, 2011 at 03:00 AM

I'm with all those who say this comes very close to saying we are free to sin.

'Someone convinced these folks that they were called to measure up to an unattainable standard'

Well we are.

Matt 5:48 (ESV)
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

2Cor 7:1 (ESV)
Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion (perfection) in the fear of God.

Perfection will not be achieved but it ought to be pursued (through applying by faith and in the Spirit, the gospel to our lives).

Jean Weigel

June 6, 2011 at 11:57 PM

WE DO WELL TO REMEMBER, ICOR. 13 ~ AND THE GREATEST OF THESE IS LOVE! HOW ARE WE LOVING ONE ANOTHER? AND DO WE TAKE T-I-M-E FOR ONE ANOTHER, TO LISTEN AND SHOW THAT CHRIST LIKE LOVE. I LIKE THE OLD SONG; THE WARRIOR IS A CHILD~ BY TWILA PARIS WE ALL NEED EACH OTHERS SUPPORT OF ONE ANOTHER, IT'S HUGH.

PRAYERFULLY,
IN COMPASSION,
JEAN WEIGEL

J. Dean

June 6, 2011 at 09:19 AM

This is an interesting post, and it is very true that perfectionism is a dangerous standard to attempt to hold.

But antinomianism is just as dangerous.

Don't confuse grace with permission to sin. Romans 6:1 comes to mind.

Randy in Tulsa

June 6, 2011 at 07:50 PM

The illustrations in the article concern those who professed faith in Christ. So the article is intended to instruct the reader about true life in Christ. Given this presupposition, it is my opinion that Brown's teaching fails to square with that of the apostles. As one example, St. Peter affirmed that Christ has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. However, the grant was never intended to preclude effort anymore than the royal grant to a colonist in the 17th century precluded hard work of the land covered by the grant. Immediately after St. Peter describes the grant that is ours in Christ, he exhorts us to make every effort to add to our faith virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and selfless love. The exhortation to make "every effort" presumes obstacles, difficulties and struggles and all the other painful realities of life in the real world. St. Peter goes on to explain that, if we are faithful to cultivate and increase these kingdom qualities in our life, that which was granted to us will bear good fruit, echoing the promise in Deut. 28. St. Peter goes on to warn that, whoever lacks these hard working qualities is so nearsighted (indeed, so focused on herself or himself) that he is blind, having forgotten what he has been given. St. Peter concludes by (1)commanding us to be all the more diligent to make our calling and election sure, and (2) promising that, if we will continue to practice these qualities, there will be richly provided for us an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Perhaps, the problem with much of the modern church, including the reformed church, is not that it has been working too hard; the problem is that it has been allowed, and even encouraged, by its elders to become so unscripturally weak.

Steve Martin

June 5, 2011 at 07:32 AM

We do love Him. Our love is like a yo-yo, though. What is more important to focus on is His love for us.

And the freedom we now have (from religion) and for the neighbor.

Allen Hildreth

June 4, 2011 at 12:17 PM

Maybe this helps explain my OCD?

Craig Flemming

June 4, 2011 at 10:11 PM

When I think of what I can or can't do or what i should or shouldn't do I try to think of what Jesus has done and is doing for me my church and all around me. I gain a lot of perspective.
Lately I have realized the God isn't interested in my skills and abilities as much as my love for Jesus. Look at Jacob and Moses and Aaoron, not very skilled or brave, just obedient, mostly.

gloria Dyet

June 4, 2011 at 09:47 AM

I know someone who needs this right now.

Sharon

June 4, 2011 at 07:54 PM

Thanks for the article. I have spent many years tormented by every thought, decision, and action at any moment that it wasen't right. Surely Jesus did not die for us to be tormented. Certainly God doesn't want us to sin, but grace teaches us to say no to ungodliness. This grace place fills our soul with the deepest desire we have and that is to relax enough to really know him. I can say that that has been my past battle.....to relax enough to truly find the joy in knowing him. This is what joy filled christianity is all about, and leads to a contagious ministering to others and making a difference in this world.

paul st.jean

June 3, 2011 at 12:50 PM

Pastor
thank you good words.
what is the significance of being alive unto God? How does it help us in our pursuit of holiness? For one thing , it means we are united in Christ in all His power. It is certainly true we cannot live a holy life in our own strength, Christianity is not a- do-it-yourself thing.
"The Pursuit of Holiness" by Jerry Bridges pg.60

Christians and Pagans

June 3, 2011 at 12:50 PM

[...] article yesterday posted by Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of Billy and Ruth Bell Graham. In The Pitfall of Perfectionism the point was made that as Christians we are free in Jesus Christ. This is why Paul could be the [...]

Geoff

June 3, 2011 at 12:28 PM

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes..." (Romans 1:16 ESV)

The gospel message is the power of God for salvation because the gospel is the person and work of Christ Jesus. The gospel cannot be separated from Christ because He is its message. Also, because God's salvation is from first to last (I've been saved, am being saved, and will be saved on the last day) the gospel is something Christians need every day.

Pastor Tullian, thank you for putting forth the gospel always. I pray God will use you to help us not turn to a different gospel, like the Galatians, as we are too prone to do.

Barbara Thayer

June 3, 2011 at 12:06 PM

In reading some of the comments here, I am truly puzzled. There are a few that seem to always make negative remarks to anything that Tullian posts on this blog. There is a type of hyper critical spirit here that smacks of either perfectionism or legalism. I am not certain what or why? Do some of you have a serious issue with Pastor Tullian or his theology? Is it that you personally do not like him or what? This is not the first time I have sensed this. I realize we may not all agree on every aspect but there is a cutting edge to the words that grates my soul.

Having grown up with a perfectionistic mother, some of you have no idea what that does to your self-worth as a person. You feel you never measure up to your parent or to God for that matter. Coming to know that Christ loves me...that I cannot earn my salvation by any good works was very freeing to me as a person. It is NEVER a license to sin or be a sluggard in the faith as some would suggest. Jesus reminded the Pharisees that it was the letter of the law that kills but the spirit of the law that gives life. I see in this article the spirit of life.

I could never measure up to my mother's expectations. I knew I could never measure up to God's. Do I strive to be holy? Yes, with all my heart as much as I can but I realize that it must be the work of the Spirit to help me walk in holiness for I am weak in the flesh.

Until or unless you have walked in my shoes, you cannot appreciate how like a cup of grace this article is for me and others who have read it. In no way does this diminish Jesus Christ and the message of the Gospel which is GOOD NEWS to those who are perishing. I enjoy good discussion as much as anyone so I hope that we can extend God's grace one to another as we read and remark.

Friday | Favorites | June 3, 2011

June 3, 2011 at 10:46 AM

[...] The Pitfall Of Perfectionism – Tullian Tchividjian shares some insightful stories about Christian perfectionism. [...]

pduggie

June 3, 2011 at 10:19 AM

Because Jesus succeeded for you, you’re free to fail.

Because Jesus obeyed for you, you’re free to ... disobey? Obey?

[...] was recently made aware of a blog post by Tullian Tchividjian  (found here) that used this quotation: Because Jesus was strong for you, you’re free to be weak; Because [...]

patriciazell

June 3, 2011 at 09:29 PM

I would encourage these believers and others who are finding their faith systems crumbling beneath them is to go cry on God's shoulder and keep crying. Listen, the Bible is about power of God's absolute love--it is not about relying on other people to mediate our relationships with God. The Bible is about life, not about going to Heaven when we die. The Bible is about the power of what Christ accomplished on the cross, not about "conditional" forgiveness.

All of us are going or will be going through the baptism of fire where God consumes every bit of deception, loss, death, and destruction out of our lives. We will experience the power of His love demolishing the power of evil in our lives--we will be set free! We will cleave to God for He is our life (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).

[...] The Pitfall Of Perfectionism [...]

Rebecca

June 3, 2011 at 07:49 AM

This article struck a chord deep in my heart today.
By God's grace I came through that same crisis about 4 years ago. Only the Holy Spirit was able to counsel truly (you nailed exactly the advice I received from fellow believers when I fell apart), and He illuminated the very verses you quoted here
I learned that I was expecting my puddle of love for God to sustain and strengthen me for service (performancism - love that word!). When I finally apprehended His ocean of love for me personally, and allowed that to constrain my service, the freedom and joy burst forth. Outwardly, I changed very little, but the change in my heart was almost as radical as my salvation. To fully understand and live Galatians 2:20 gives a freedom that is free indeed.
To those who have expressed fears that this surrender permits a lazy Christianity, let me assure you that the exact opposite is true. I am more passionate about holiness, more inclined to pour myself out in service for others (because it is in reality the springs of Living water being poured through me now), and far closer to my precious Savior. A desire for excellence that glorifies God has replaced the desire for a perfect performance.
One last little thing. I can't tell you what a smile it put on my face to see Nelson Bell's great-grandson faithfully impacting the world for Christ. Dr. Bell is one of my heroes and it is a joy to see his descendants as passionate about Christ as he was.

Bridget

June 3, 2011 at 07:49 AM

Btw, thank you for this article, Tullian. It's a huge blessing..maybe not for everyone, but for perfectionists like me. I think it may be hard for people who are not super perfectionistic to understand the inner-workings of a mind that is. God belss you.

Bridget

June 3, 2011 at 07:46 AM

John Stanton,
I have struggled a lot in my own life with the fear, "am I really saved?" I still do. I've recently come to realize that this is due to my perfectionistic mindset. I was taken aback when my best friend told me that she dosn't ever wonder if she's truly saved or not. She's a strong believer, but has her failings too. It made me see that it is perfectionism that propels me to constantly obsess about this. It's not that I don't understand the substitutionary atonement of Christ, but that I'm always fixated on my failings as possible proof that I'm not His child. It's not a fun place to be. But I pray about it, and I believe He is in the process of setting me free from this mindset.

Scott

June 3, 2011 at 07:02 AM

I went back and reread some of these posts and I am unsettled because it is apparent that many don't understand the cost of discipleship. Amy Carmichael, the great missionary to India, said that missions is a chance to die. The Christian life is not easy. In fact, it is hard work (read J.C. Ryle's book called Holiness) ...we are called to pray fervently that God would fill us with His Spirit afresh each day so that we can walk in the newness of life and throw off the sin that so easily entangles us. Sin crowds out joy in life, but Christ frees us to obey which leads to intimacy with God and true joy. We see glorious accounts of weeping over sin throughout the Psalms because sin not only leads to death, it also clouds our relationship with God and threatens our closeness with Him. Cast not your presence away from me! David declared in Psalm 51. He was experiencing godly sorrow over his sin. The correct response to this sorrow is repentance. Repentance isn't confession...it's a thorough work that takes time and allows us to get right with God and then begin walking in the opposite direction through faith and Spirit-empowered obedience. This is plain to see in the Scriptures. Despairing Christian, wake up! Don't settle for a secular, low-bar Christianity that frees you to do nothing. There is no true joy or freedom in that. That is not the narrow road of Christianity. Instead, plead with God for initimacy with Him and empowerment through His Spirit that will free you to die to self and live solely for Him and His glory. And like Amy Carmichael, follow Christ's call to humble yourself and die. This is God's perfect and pleasing design, and though not easy, it is the path to life and joy in Jesus Christ.

Wendy Alsup

June 3, 2011 at 06:15 PM

John Stanton, your comment caught me. I'm sorry for the struggle you face and am praying that God would give you confidence in Himself. It seems that the very fact you are wrestling with Him over this topic is indicative of His pursuit of you as His elect.

Scott

June 3, 2011 at 06:12 AM

Very close to saying you are free to sin...at least that is how many will interpret it, and they will be assuaged of any conviction over sin the Holy Spirit graciously imparts. The cross is not just about freedom from sin...it is also about obedience to a new master. Yes, we may fail, but we strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14). And when we understand the love of a Father who singly and sovereignly snatched us out of death and into life because of His great love, we will strive for holiness and when we sin, we won't fall as far or stay down as long.

PGM

June 3, 2011 at 04:09 PM

The scriptures indeed say that we are simply to believe - and goes further to say that this "belief" is the work of God in our hearts- "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." (John 6:2) Yes, there is always the possibility that people might misunderstand "unconditional grace" as a means of a certain type of freedom that we really don't have; a freedom from "union". Here's what I mean … we are only freed from one union in order to be in another union. It is a transfer - from the old in order to be connected to the new. There is no in-between stage between these two unions. To put it another way we are never single. We are divinely freed from one partner to be with another. Christ has betrothed us to Himself. The Bible even describes this union in terms of marriage. "Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another--to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God." (Romans 7:4). People who are freed in this manner have been given His Spirit to draw close to Him in this holy and pleasing way by virtue of this new "union". This is the foundation and starting place on the narrow road. The broad-road continues to beckon people to trust in their abilities/works, or trust a false sense of freedom. But should we not declare the message of unconditional grace because it is often misunderstood or misappropriated? God forbid that anything deter the simple message of the cross in which our transfer is solely secured. Those who receive the message of unconditional grace unto Salvation have no need to worry, but only to embrace their beloved's promise based on sacred union- "…He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6).

Steve Martin

June 3, 2011 at 03:20 PM

We are fully sinful and fully justified at the SAME TIME.

That is what drove the Catholic Church nuts when the Reformers said it, and unfortunately it still drives many Evangelicals nuts. And that is because at heart they have the same theology as the Catholics do. 'A lot of God, and a little of me'. Only it usually ends up the other way around.

When there is no proper doctrine of the Sacraments (Baptism and Holy Communion), then you will inevitably be turned back in on yourself for your assurance of your salvation and that will either lead to pride or despair.

jj

June 3, 2011 at 02:49 PM

I sympathize with the perfectionists and think that we might be projecting our perceptions of pleasing men onto how God is pleased by us. We are told God is pleased by our faith, that true faith works love, love for Him and love for ourselves and for our neighbor, love as he gave us commandments to love. Love needs to be defined by God. He said the details of how to love Him and others are in the commandments. And this is not always "southern hospitality" kind of love where we just say pleasant things and pat each other on the back. This "kind" love is part of love but it is not all there is to love. We are told to help others that God says are needy. He also said, among many other commandments, in Lev 19:16-18 Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD.
Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.
Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

[...] i came across this link as i was reading over at A Holy Experience today….as usual, God knew what i needed to hear.  go ahead and check it out; you won’t be sorry you did.  http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/2011/06/02/the-pitfall-of-perfectionism/ [...]

paul st.jean

June 3, 2011 at 01:32 PM

Roger
I have been listening to Pastor Tullian for the past two years and believe. look to the bible as the Berian church did. I have not found anything unsciptural in what he says. I have grown as a christian I pray that God will lead you in your pursuit of Gods Truth in His Word.

Scott

June 3, 2011 at 01:29 PM

Hi Barbara,

Thanks for your honest comments. I'm saddened to hear about the experiences you had with your mother and I am thankful that you now know the love of Jesus. I also want you to understand that my comments, and some others I assume, are not offered out of hatefulness of personal dislike, but out of the convictions I hold close to my heart. I also would kindly ask that you will think more carefully before referring to my words as legalistic, if your thoughts were in any way a response to my post. Christ's blessing to you, Scott

Barbara Thayer

June 3, 2011 at 01:21 PM

Mr. Ball,
You haven't hurt my feelings but you certainly puzzle me. I do not read blogs to find theological and doctrinal answers. I look to my Bible for that and for references the Westminster Confession among other solid books. I do not see this pastor as preaching false doctrine. Besides, in this blog, he is quoting Steve Brown. Please spell out what you see as a false doctrine if you would. How is this Pastor crossing the line in his blog. I have seen your name as a frequent critic at this particular blog for a time now. State your position. Why do you keep coming back if you think this is not a good place theologically or doctrinally?

Tullian Tchividjian

June 3, 2011 at 01:02 PM

Roger,

Brother, I'm happy to host a blog. And while each blog is different, mine was NOT established by me for the purpose of hosting ongoing debates. Every time you post a comment you are either debating someone or challenging me (and your tone is often one of frustration and annoyance). Ongoing debate could very well be your understanding of what every blog should be about but it's not my idea and it's my blog. This is predominately a pastoral blog. If you disagree with my pastoral theology, that's fine. But then start your own blog.

If every time a certain guest came into your home he debated another guest or consistently challenged the host, you'd stop inviting him as would be your right because it's YOUR house. So I'm asking you kindly to follow house rules or else your comments will no longer be approved.

I don't mind at all questions and comments that disagree with mine. "As iron sharpens iron." But sharp, critical, and self-righteous toned comments won't be approved (and this applies to everybody)!

To everyone else,
One more comment about comments (I'm going to post something on this very soon): I don't have time to read all the comments. I’m really sorry if you ask thoughtful questions or request some kind of a response from me and I can't respond. I wish I could interact with you more in the comment section but I just can't. I really do appreciate your coming here and commenting here. This blog is for your spiritual benefit. And, even though I don't know most of you, I pray for you often.

Thanks for understanding.

Lynne

June 22, 2011 at 10:56 PM

It's incredible that I decided to check your blog tonight. About two and a half months ago, the wife of my former pastor committed suicide. She and her husband would have celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary this year. While I hadn't kept in touch with them, I had very good memories of their years at my church. He always spoke of her with such love. I feel certain she must have suffered from severe depresson, possibly untreated.

It was inevitable that I compared her senseless death with that of my dear friend Kay, who died six months ago after a long battle with cancer. Kay fought so hard to live. Her goal was to see her son graduate from high school in May of this year. I'm sure she was there in spirit, but such platitudes didn't really help her grieving family.

These women never met, but one threw her life away and the other was grateful for each day of life.

Barry

June 22, 2011 at 03:39 PM

Pastor EJA~ Thank you for that powerful testimony and reminder.

I'm so thankful for pastors like Steve Brown and Brannon Manning - The Ragomuffin Gospel et al.

Melissa W

June 2, 2011 at 12:57 PM

I have heard it said that we need to pray is if whatever it is that we are desiring is 100% up to God but work as though it is 100% up to us. For a perfectionist like myself, this type of statement drives me deeper into a works based mentality. It is so hard to grasp that there is nothing that can change my standing before God as His daughter. I wrestle with God's Sovereignty and how human responsibility fit together. Any wisdom out there?

Mitchell Hammonds

June 2, 2011 at 12:42 PM

Norm,
It is not license to sin... but ask yourself the question "Do I sin daily... even intentionally?" Even as Christians we need the forgiveness of Christ. I don't deny the newness of life but I think it works itself out in ways we aren't too familiar with. The forgiveness Paul spoke of brought the same accusation from those in his day that if this is the case we can live as we please... sinfully speaking. I think the problem is we see sin primarily as what we should not do when we sin equally when we fail to do what we ought to. Just some thoughts.

Jonathan Batteas

June 2, 2011 at 12:33 PM

These are heartbreaking stories indeed. I had quite a similar experience in my own life, where I had to actually come face-to-face with the fact that I was a failure, otherwise, I would still be under the misapprehension that Jesus came to give me the ability to, "be good enough." It is so heartbreaking because these struggles are really right on the cusp of recognizing how hopeless you really are, and our desperate need for Jesus' finished work, because our work will never be enough. It is only when we are truly broken,...when we come to the end of ourselves, that we truly come to Christ, and this not of our bidding. Christians should be more apt to recognize these situations as a reason for rejoicing, and opportunity, as God is getting ready to teach us something that can not be learned through mere academic understanding. We will never be enough, praise God that He is enough for us.

Barbara Thayer

June 2, 2011 at 12:21 PM

This was a blessing for me to read Tullian. My mother suffered from perfectionism and was a very unhappy person during much of her life. She loved the Lord but made being a Christian hard work. Just reading this helps me see just how freeing it is to follow Jesus Christ. Getting locked into a performance mentality holds you in bondage. We say to ourselves "God will love me if I perform". That kills and chokes the life out of our walk with Him.
Thank you for sharing this...many need to hear this.

Karen Thompson

June 2, 2011 at 11:52 PM

If we are to be perfect, where does that leave the Lord?
I understand the dangerous journey of perfectionism- thank you for this article, yet grieved at what proceeded the writing of your words. I shall pray for those 2 men and the family, friends and Body of Believers of this young woman who took her life...'who is without sin throw the 1st stone.'
How the Lord understands! Our perfect Jesus who received the tear soaked hair of one who was forgiven much. Read Ps 32 this morning...'Day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me...I acknowledge my sin unto Thee and mine iniquity I have not hid. I said, 'I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord and Thou forgiveth the iniquity of my sin."
May these dear brothers and sisters find the hiding place of the Lord as He 'compasses about them with songs of deliverence'
that NOT ONE should perish!
thank you for your ministry, and wisdom.

Steve Martin

June 2, 2011 at 11:40 PM

I know a young woman who was on that track of trying to become a better Christian. She told me that she was on the brink of suicide because of what these preachers were doing to her with the law. Holding it out as a carrot. One will NEVER arrive, in a church like that.

The truth is that we have arrived...in Christ. Sure, it's a battle and we must persevere...but Christ has done it all and He fights FOR US.

If you long for the freedom in Christ that He has won for you already, please read this fairly short article:

http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/

It's an easy way, designed by God, to get OFF the spiritual ladder climbing project that leads so many to despair...and worse.

Thank you.

Chase Key

June 2, 2011 at 11:37 PM

This is a message that encourages apathy and complacency. Jesus was a messenger of hope and self-improvement. An example AND an advocate for the weary. The pastor's message could be a lethal one for the vulnerable.

Norm

June 2, 2011 at 11:35 AM

This seems to come extremely close to saying, "Because Jesus was righteous for you, you are free to sin." Is that not what being free to be weak and to fail implies? I have trouble squaring this with Romans 6:1-14, where Paul calls us to walk in newness of life.

John Stanton

June 2, 2011 at 11:30 AM

Tullian,
I intellectually agree with everything you have stated, but it seems to me that the actual experience of this freedom is ultimately based on God's election (i.e., it is He who makes us free). As you just got done preaching from the book of James, the ultimate proof of God's saving grace in our lives is the fruit of the spirit being produced in and through us. Yet this is exactly where I fail to see such proof in my own life.

I can totally relate to the gentleman who wrote the anonymous letter, as my wife left me two years ago due to my failure as a husband. While I have claimed to be a Christian for all of my adult life, I now struggle with whether or not I truly am one of God's elect, as all my crying out to God during this dark chapter of my life has been answered with silence. I have read your book "Do I Know God", and I still can't answer that question for certain. I guess all I can do is keep calling on the Lord in the hope that He will eventually answer me.

In the meantime, it seems that one must try to do those things that would promote faith (i.e., read the Bible, pray, attend church, be involved in small groups/fellowship, serve, etc.), even though these "good" activities can certainly fall prey to a performance mentality.

John

Kp

June 2, 2011 at 10:54 AM

Thank you for this, and all your posts actually.

I struggle with this quite a bit. I end up trying to examine my life and figure out if i'm being fruitful, in my life and my ministry. I worry that if i'm not bearing fruit then maybe my faith isn't real, like I have to prove to God I love Him by being fruitful.

Thank you for these reminders to fix our eyes on Christ and on what He's done and not on ourselves. It helps reminds me to preach the Gospel to myself every day, that i need it as much now as i ever did.

Stephanie

June 2, 2011 at 10:45 AM

I love this post. So many in the church believe the lie of perfectionism. And the lie is perpetuated even on Sunday mornings when people show up perfectly pressed, perfectly jovial and friendly, when maybe their insides don't match their outsides. But yet we all try to put our best foot forward on Sunday mornings.

Church should be a place where people can come to just drink in God, nourish themselves, worship and be REAL. The body of Christ should be honest about their struggles and not perpetuate this false doctrine of perfection. Love love love this post.

[...] article really helpful in terms of helping me to engage with this issue a little more. Read it here. The danger for me is that I am such a perfectionist and even though I know it is unbiblical to [...]

Mitchell Hammonds

June 2, 2011 at 10:13 AM

Great post Tullian! I've heard it said (and wondered myself) if the "way that seems right to a man but in the end leads to death" is our thinking we can 'pull off' the Christian life and ascend to God by our efforts. Moreover, that Christ's yoke really is easy as he says and we make it difficult/hard by trying to make it the result of our own efforts/striving. Any thoughts for a "striving" southern baptist?

Mitch

[...] this the Pilgrim's regress being taught? I just read this blog. The Pitfall Of Perfectionism – Tullian Tchividjian This was referenced on Facebookand it totally shocked me. Christian, please remember that [...]

Robin Revier

June 2, 2011 at 05:37 PM

I will never tire of this message! It is the very breath that daily sustains my 'beautiful in Christ' imperfect self-
Hallelujah...what a Savior!

Russ LaPeer

June 2, 2011 at 04:58 PM

Wow!

Bill

June 2, 2011 at 04:26 PM

Wonderful thoughts, that was me until a few weeks ago. I've spent my life trying to live up to a standard that I thought God had. After 15 yrs in ministry, God allowed a door to be closed for a few years and I was devastated. I realize he allowed that to happen to bring me to a point where I had to depend on him and let go of my burdens and leave my burdens with him. I ready to walk away from my family and everything until my wife said something about my unreal expectations. She was right! God's desire for me was to let him carry the burden for me instead of me trying to carry the burden for the people I was ministering to. I have so much peace since I have let go. It is a daily process and I have to remind myself of that. I have buried perfectionism and have my focus on Christ.

All You Need is Truth | Gina G. Smith

June 2, 2011 at 03:43 PM

[...] I just read an article that a Facebook friend recommended entitled, The Pitfall of Perfectionism. Again, it was just what I needed to hear and is full of just the sort of things I need to be [...]

Mark

June 2, 2011 at 03:38 PM

Norm,
The grace/works relationship is tough to figure out and it probably takes a lifetime. DeYoung had a good post on exactly this issue this week. For myself, as I read through the epistles, Paul almost always (maybe always) begins his letter by articulating the gospel, what Jesus did for us. Then at some point, he writes "therefore..." and then teaches how the church is to live. The unconditional grace provides the grounds for holy living. In perfectionism, the holy living becomes grounds for grace. This is empty moralism/legalism and leads to death. Good works done to merit God's favour are filthy rags, but good works done for the joy of serving the God who saved us are beautiful acts of worship.

Kristine McGuire

June 2, 2011 at 02:42 PM

Thank you for this post. I was one of those people who had the false idea that to be Christian I had to be perfect. My life became a struggle of legalism and eventually I broke apart. I turned to witchcraft, goddess worship, being a medium, and a ghost hunter before God reminded me of His love and mercy. He brought me back to relationship and freedom in Jesus Christ. So many people struggle with this idea they have to be perfect. Thank God Jesus provides the way out.

Bill N.

June 2, 2011 at 02:19 PM

Well said indeed! Do we REALLY believe in God's grace?

A book that haas been very helpful to me in thie area was "Transforming Grace" by Jerry Bridges...

Trina Lewis

June 2, 2011 at 02:08 PM

The Gospel is God's power that saves us from every enemy. Thank you for preaching the gospel. Thank you for revealing the mystery of God Who was hidden from other generations and ages. Thank you for declaring Christ in us; our Hope of God's glory! Pastor Tchividjian, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might!

David L.

June 2, 2011 at 01:45 PM

amen and amen.

Jerrod

June 2, 2011 at 01:36 PM

Tullian, what an amazing post and thoughts. You know, I used to suffer from such a disease but it wasn't until I started saturating myself with the doctrines of grace that I was cured. May more men and women continue to be raised up and proclaim this radical, scandalous, heart-captivating truth.

Jana Winn

June 2, 2011 at 01:34 PM

Melissa,
The great study of God's sovereignty verses human responsibility is one that will drive you to the edge if not careful. I do very much believe in His great sovereignty but perspective is everything. This may sound like a silly analogy but think of those "wonderful" knitted Christmas sweaters lol...when you look from the underneath it is all messed up and you can hardly tell there is a picture. But when you look down from the top it is a perfect display of color and beauty. Please remember our perspective in the big picture is fuzzy but we know that in the end all things work together for His good. Just take it one day at time for no man knows what tomorrow may bring. Reflect back and see the beauty of the Lord and how He has worked in you and give Him the glory! God's sovereignty will bring you great peace and comfort once you learn to submit under it and trust regardless. I hope this has shed a little light of understanding.

PastorEJA

June 16, 2011 at 01:04 PM

About two Sundays ago one of our members testified in church about how God miraculously saved his families home from foreclosure. The battle had ensued for a few months before the breakthrough came. He saw the hand of God in every detail.
But he confessed that at times the stress was so great he began having thoughts of suicide.
By the grace of God he got through those moments.
After the testimony, my wife stood and asked if anyone in the congregation that day was struggling with suicidal thoughts.
Sure enough, tears flowed and hands went up.
They came to the front for prayer.
As I prayed for them, your blog post came to mind.
I asked one young person standing there if they were trying really hard to be perfect.
They nodded 'yes'.
'But you keep failing?' I asked
'Yes'.
'Your trying hard to be a like your mom and the other Christians you see around you? You see them as perfect but your not?'
Another tearful 'Yes.'
That was a moment of breakthrough for them.
They began to see that God did demand perfection from us, but since none of us could ever meet that demand, God Himself provided it for us through Jesus Christ.
After prayer, I read the post to the entire congregation.
The part about us being free to be weak, ordinary, etc., was totally liberating. The pressure was off trying to impress others and to keep up with the spiritual 'Jonses'.

Thought I should post this as an encouragement to you, Tullian. Keep posting.

[...] “Perfectionism (or performancism) is a horrible disease. It comes from the pit of hell, smelling like rotting flesh.” writes Tullian. [...]

A hodgepodge of links | Enough Light

June 12, 2011 at 05:35 PM

[...] The Pitfall of Perfectionism. I am always challenged by Tullian Tchividjian’s blog. This post particularly so! Perfectionism is a horrible disease…Take your eyes off of yourself, and fix your eyes on Christ. [...]

Abusing grace « John Meunier

June 10, 2011 at 03:09 PM

[...] Graham Tullian Tchividjian recounts the common anti-Arminian case against holy [...]

[...] The Pitfall of Perfectionism (by Tullian Tchividjian) Perfectionism (or performancism) is a horrible disease. It comes from the pit of hell, smelling like rotting flesh. Someone convinced these folks that they were called to measure up to an unattainable standard. They couldn’t do it and each in his or her own way simply quit trying. Nobody told them that Jesus was perfect for them, and because of that they didn’t have to be perfect for themselves. They didn’t understand that if Jesus makes you free, you will be free indeed. [...]

PastorEJA

July 15, 2011 at 10:01 PM

Kim,
God has not rejected you. Your husband is not (nor does He speak for and represent) God. His (your husbands) rejection (or acceptance) of you does not reflect God's grace toward you.
God's acceptance of you is based on WHAT CHRIST HAS DONE and not on what you or anyone else has done or not done.
We all blow it.
God's acceptance of you is not based on YOU. It's based on His FULL acceptance of Christ and what He has ALREADY DONE for you.
If you've accepted Christ, God has accepted you. No question.

Now I don't know your husband. But if I venture forth, I might say
he seems selfish and possibly abusive.
He needs God's grace. He needs God's acceptance. I'm not sure he has that right now.

Kim

July 15, 2011 at 08:54 PM

I need to print this out and read it over and over. I need hope.

My husband committed emotional adultery a few years ago and recently I discovered he has now indulged in out-and-out sexual adultery. The way he explained himself is to blame me for not being the perfect wife. And now the counselor is chastening me for not forgiving perfectly (he mechanically repeated words of repentance for her but at home it is clear he has not returned to the Lord or to me.)

I spend most of my time repenting of not dealing with this perfectly... feeling hurt and pain and not being joyful and content. I don't want to wallow or be bitter - but it is hard when living with a man who puts on a false front of mature Christian husband and father for the world while at home his wife and children are dealing with his neglect and anger and hypocrisy. Anything he does wrong is somehow our fault for not being the perfect spouse and children.

Feeling such rejection from your beloved makes it hard to believe my heavenly Bridegroom loves me unconditionally. Since I continue to sin and have strong negative emotions, has God rejected me as well??

Christians and Pagans - Kristine McGuire

August 17, 2013 at 08:24 AM

[...] article yesterday posted by Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of Billy and Ruth Bell Graham. In The Pitfall of Perfectionism the point was made that as Christians we are free in Jesus Christ. Paul was such an effective [...]

[...] Rich, You are right that it's a problem with conversion. That was what was so frustrating with Tullian's post on perfectionism that Randy (puritancovenanter) posted about a few months ago. At least some of the people described [...]

[...] far. (To my recollection, what caused me to focus a little more on this question to begin with was this post, which is raised so many questions for me that it would likely require an entire post in [...]