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Perfectionism vs Perfection

The word ‘perfect’ is a word many people shy away from when used in the context of human beings. However, is the world’s definition of perfection the same as the Bible? Many today struggle with what the world refers to as perfectionism. Verywellmind describes this as:

Perfectionism is the drive to appear, feel, and be perfect. Although society generally views perfectionism as a positive attribute, it also can have negative effects.

A perfectionist has “excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations.”1 They insist on perfection and accept nothing shy of flawlessness. This can manifest as criticism of self and others and in attempts to control situations and people. (1)


This definition shows how striving to be ‘perfect’ by our own personal standards can be quite dangerous. A lot of people strive to be the perfect student, employee, spouse, child etc; while others strive to have the ‘perfect’ appearance in body, career, or life in general.  Yet, a person’s personal standard or goal for perfection is not God’s standard for perfection.

There are many who are conditioned to believe they need to be a certain way in society in order to be accepted, respected and even praised. A lot of these driving factors stem from wounds within a person’s soul from childhood and their adult years. Deep down inside, perfectionists feel worthless, inadequate and fake, or imposters. They see the faults within themselves and do everything they can in order to make sure others don’t see them this way. Always hoping one day when they have accomplished enough, or when they achieve their goal they will feel/be good enough, hence the criticism and negative thoughts they have about themselves and others.

This is perfection based on the standards set by society, parents, teachers, mentors and even oneself. Trying to conform to these standards means one is trying to conform to the ways of this world. The Bible tells us not to be conformed to the ways of the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (ref Rom 12:2).

Oftentimes people focus on making sure their outward appearance is up to standard. However, Jesus Himself, rebuked the religious leaders of His time, saying they appeared righteous on the outside, but were filled with hypocrisy (which means to act/pretend) and lawlessness (ref Mat 23:27).

We see this account when Samuel went to Bethlehem to anoint the new king over Israel. He was basing it on appearance and thought it was Jesse’s oldest son Eliab, but it was actually his youngest son David. God told Samuel He doesn’t look at the outward appearance like man does, but He looks at the heart (ref 1Sa 16:7). David was a man after God’s heart as he kept God’s statutes and was blameless before the Lord (ref Psa 18:22-23).

There were men in the Bible who were regarded as perfect including Noah (ref Gen 6:9), and Abraham was also told to walk before the Lord and be perfect (ref Gen 17:1). Jesus Himself, when giving the sermon on the mount, said to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect (ref Mat 5:48).

One of the Hebrew words for perfect is tâmı̂ym, and when used in a moral sense, this word is linked with truth, virtue, uprightness, and righteousness (ref Jos 24:14; Psa 18:23 [24]; Pro 2:21; Pro 11:5). True perfection has to do with an understanding. The root word to tâmı̂ym is tâmam, which the Ancient Hebrew Lexicon Bible defines as: someone or something that is whole, complete or full; one who is mature and upright as one who is whole. [2] Perfection, from a Hebraic and biblical standpoint has to do with being complete and mature, showing there has to be an understanding in order to be perfect. 

Paul said he speaks the wisdom of God to those who are perfect:

1Co 2:6 Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:

1Co 2:7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:

1Co 2:8 Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

1 Corinthians 2:6-8

Paul also said he speaks the wisdom of God in a mystery. The Greek word for mystery is mustērion, which Thayer’s Dictionary defines as: the secret counsels which govern God in dealing with the righteous, which are hidden from ungodly and wicked men but plain to the godly. Mysteries are the secret counsels of God, showing that being perfect has to do with having counsel/wisdom from God. 

The Greek word for perfect is téleios and means to be complete in various applications of labor, growth, mental and moral character. Also specifically of persons meaning full age, adulthood, full-grown, of persons, meaning full-grown in mind and understanding (1Co 14:20); in knowledge of the truth (1Co 2:6; Php 3:15; Heb 5:14); in Christian faith and virtue (Eph 4:13). [3]

Word Study dictionary continues to explain the difference between God’s perfection and mans:

Téleios can be used in a relative or absolute sense (Mat 5:48; Mat 19:21). God’s perfection is absolute; man’s is relative. The téleios is one who has attained moral maturity, the goal for which he was intended, namely, to be a man obedient in Christ.

The Apostle Paul said to be mature in our understanding (ref 1Co 14:20) has to do with our mental growth, showing that true perfection is not found in trying to act or be a certain way, nor is it done by our own strength. It is when we understand the knowledge and counsels of the Lord that our mind can be renewed from a wrong way of thinking and acting, to the correct way of thinking and acting – being righteous. When someone is righteous, or has a correct way of thinking, then they will walk in obedience in Christ because their mind has been renewed with understanding. 

Perfection doesn’t mean mistakes will never be made as we are still in a learning process. However, rather than bring condemnation, as perfectionism does, true perfection means we are maturing and seeking right understanding, teaching and the counsel of God in order to change our way of thinking.


  2. Word Study Definition for perfect (Strong number H8549)
  3. Word Study definition for perfect (Strongs number G5046)
  4. Thayer’s Definition for righteous (Strong’s Number G1342)

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