In elementary school I had a friend named John who was the only Christian I knew who was my age.
He always seemed so proper, listened better to the teacher than me, and was not allowed to watch the same movies that I was watching at home.
I even remember his mom would cut the crust off of his sandwiches. What I didn’t like was that he would call the rest of us out when we got out of line in some way in class.
He was the example I would think of when I imagined a “good Christian”, someone who valued or was trying to have the “perfect” behavior over having close friends. Let’s just say, it was not that appealing to me.
I realized when I studied the Bible for myself that it is not the kind of person God wants us to be – to just be proper or act right. However, in the last 20+ years of being a Christian, I find myself often trying to be perfect and proper instead of working on having the right heart.
There was a young man in the Bible who was making the same mistakes I and others can make as well:
Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life ?”  “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony,  honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”  “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”  Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Matthew 19:16-22 NIV
This young man in the Bible is an example for all of us. He was seeking after God and was seemingly a good, religious man. He tried to live a moral life, and he took the chance to meet with Jesus when given the opportunity.
However, he was in a trap that I can find myself in. He was trying to be good, or “perfect”, by doing everything right (following all the commandments). Jesus even picked up on his desire to be perfect and spoke to that when he responded with a challenge he could take.
This man thought somehow by striving to not make any mistakes spiritually, that would get him somewhere. But since he was not focused on God, he did not gain anything from these moral decisions and in fact missed out on his chance to be a disciple of Jesus.
Jesus offered him an opportunity to transform, to change his priorities and heart and follow God. Instead of embracing his imperfection and taking Jesus up on his offer, the young man left, unwilling to let go of his perfection-seeking.
Perhaps he loved sin more than he wanted to admit or loved his possessions more. More than likely though, Jesus asked him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good…” because he knew the young man got his confidence from his behavior before he even asked.
Jesus was trying to help him see that we don’t get right with God through goodness – “No one is good but God alone.” Jesus was inviting him to let go of his unhealthy “need to be perfect”. But he never had that chance because he sadly walked away.
In this article, we are going to talk about letting go of having a “need to be perfect” perspective and instead embracing who we truly are. This can help us develop honest, meaningful relationships that enrich our lives and make a difference in the lives of others, so we get out of the behavior trap.
Embrace the imperfections
Get rid of the “Good Guy” or “Good Girl” syndrome
Some of us have a hard time recognizing when we have a sin or failing in an area, even when it is obvious. At times like this, we need to remember what Jesus taught the young man above, that no one is good, except God.
Do you ever feel offended when someone questions your motives, wanting to retort, “Do you understand what a good person I am and that I would never have an evil intention?”
Or maybe when someone is sharing their mistakes, sins or shortcomings, you have a hard time understanding or relating and instead have a sense of pity for the poor soul? If so, you may be struggling with Good Guy or Good Girl Syndrome.
Here are a few other symptoms that you can reflect on for yourself:
- “Good guys/girls” can also have a hard time admitting anything negative like anger, resentment or lack of care.
- One classic telltale sign of wanting to be perfect is getting stuck in the “shoulds” – what you “should feel” or “should do” while the truth of what we really feel and really do gets clouded.
- We look for approval from others, try not to make mistakes and look down on others (or ourselves) for not achieving perfection.
Growing up with older siblings, I had the benefit of watching their mistakes unfold before my eyes and vowed to not make the same ones. I wanted to be good, make my parents proud and achieve to be better than my siblings.
Though I ended up achieving the title of “my good one” from my mom, it didn’t mean that I had any actual confidence in myself. My constant striving for others’ approval was tiring and unfulfilling.
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking and feeling like we are good instead of realizing we are all imperfect people. In our striving to be “perfect”, we can miss out on the opportunity to really connect with God.
Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.Psalm 51:16 MSG
Learn to be vulnerable
When we are simply ourselves, we are being vulnerable. Being vulnerable is being known, letting weaknesses show, and trusting that opening up will lead to good things. We can avoid being vulnerable because it feels unnatural to us.
One definition of vulnerability is susceptibility to attack. The world teaches us to keep our guard up so we don’t get attacked. This is why vulnerability can feel like a weakness, while God sees our ability to simply be ourselves as a strength.
“Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.Matthew 23:11 MSG
“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself-Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”John 4:23 MSG
After reading these scriptures, it is clear to see what God really wants and expects from us: to be ourselves.
He isn’t looking for spiritual robots, whose behavior is perfect. He is looking for us to be vulnerable and embrace who we really are. We are safe and secure when we do that through honest prayer.
- What simple honest prayer can you have today?
- What can you be honest or vulnerable about with your spouse or friends that will show them more of who you really are?
Allow God to change your mind about what is important
Seek God for the relationship, not for the reward
We can seek God for a lot of reasons. For example, when I was younger I remember making deals in my head with God that if he would just come through for me this one time, then I would do something for Him.
Or I would ask my dad if he wanted a relationship with God, urging him to pray and him reassuring me, “I do pray honey, every time I’m in the casino!” We all want a reward, but in reading the bible we find out that seeking God comes with so much more.
Seeking God is rewarding (Matthew 6:33-34, Hebrews 11:6), but the reasons we seek God aren’t just about getting the reward. We should be seeking to be close to Him, to learn about Him, and to know Him (James 4:8).
When we seek God just for the reward, we end up being unfaithful to him and the people around us.
How do we end up unfaithful? Well, if you only are into something for what you can get out of it, you will likely quit when you don’t get what you want, or it doesn’t come in your timing.
Imagine if your friend only came over to your house because you had something he or she wanted – a swimming pool, a game, something special to eat, etc. It wouldn’t be a very deep relationship just based on goods!
Many try to win the favor of rulers. And everyone is the friend of a person who gives giftsProverbs 19:6 NIrV
A faithful friend is someone who is there no matter what, because of who you are and not what you have. It is the same with God. We should seek God every day because of who He is, not what He has.
Jesus understood this and helped people understand there are more reasons to seek Him than just to feel satisfied.
Jesus answered, “I am telling you the truth: you are looking for me because you ate the bread and had all you wanted, not because you understood my miracles.”John 6:26 GNT
Though Jesus already understands our motives, it is important for us to examine our hearts to become aware ourselves why we do what we do.
If we don’t look at the “why”, we may end up in a behavior trap that will make us heartless, just doing things for what we can get and with shallow relationships. The psalmist here sums it up for us:
Your faithful love is better than life, so my lips praise you.Psalm 63:3 ERV
Understanding and knowing God is better than any reward or anything life can give us. When you aren’t trying to get anything from God but seeking a relationship with Him just to be close to Him, you find how rewarding life can really be.
Seek transformation, not validation
Looking for validation means you want recognition or affirmation that your feelings and opinions are valid or worthwhile. A transformation, on the other hand, is a dramatic change.
When you are seeking a transformation, people’s opinions about you become small and don’t control your behavior. You have a purpose in life, a purpose that isn’t centered around yourself.
Jesus sought to transform people, not validate them. If validation were so important, why didn’t Jesus provide it? (See woman at the well John 4, Nicodemus John 3 for examples.) Rather Jesus provided a way for our lives to change.
Jesus called out to them and said, “Come and follow me, and I will transform you into men who catch people for God.”Matthew 4:19 TPT
Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes.Romans 12:2 TPT
When we seek transformation, it changes not just our behavior but our thinking as well. Changing from the inside out means so much more than short-lived validation which may feel good momentarily but doesn’t last long.
Do good for others, not for yourself
Doing good can feel good and seem like the right thing to do. But if we are only thinking about ourselves and what we can get out of it, we are completely missing the point.
Don’t just pretend that you love others: really love them. Hate what is wrong. Stand on the side of the good.  Love each other with brotherly affection and take delight in honoring each other.Romans 12:9-10 TLB
It is easy to pretend we love others or care about what others go through.
When we fill our schedules with good deeds without putting in more thought about people’s lives, the good we do becomes simply behavior, and our hearts are not invested. In contrast, when we love, we invest time and energy with people.
- How can you seek God today to get to know Him better?
- What validation are you looking for that you can pray about and find transformation instead?
- Who can you invest in to do good for others that doesn’t serve yourself in the process?