The quest for perfection

We want perfection. We love perfection. We seek perfection – the perfect house, the perfect meal, the perfect holiday, the perfect body, the perfect relationship. That’s why we watch so many home improvement shows and holiday programs and “reality” shows. It’s why we post food pics on social media, and photos of that lovely sunset over the beach – all prefaced with #blessed.

This quest for perfection should lead us to God. Because he’s the most perfect being in the universe. God is the incomparably wonderful and glorious creator and sustainer of everything (Job 38; Psalm 104; Isaiah 40:25-28; 44:6-9; 46:4-10; Colossians 1:16-17). He’s so perfect, we can sometimes only speak of him through negatives. For example: he is independent, truly and properly self-sufficient, relying on nothing and no-one beyond his Triune self (Acts 17:24-25). This is completely different from us humans. We rely on air to breathe, on food and drink to sustain our bodies, on the ecosystem which supports this natural environment which sustains us. We rely on family and friends to love us and give us the personal and emotional security we need to be happy and confident and stable. None of this is wrong – it’s the way God made us. We are dependent creatures, created by God, to rightly and ultimately rely on him (Psalm 123:2; Hebrews 11, especially verses 1-2 and 39-40).

Sometimes we speak of God’s perfections using the catch-all term “omni”. God is “omniscient” – he knows everything (Psalm 139:1-5; Proverbs 16:1-9; Isaiah 45:18-25; Acts 17:26). He is “omnipresent” – he is personally always everywhere, which, depending on your relationship with him, is a wonderful comfort (Psalm 139:6-16; Romans 8:26-27; 34-35) or utterly terrifying (Prov 15:3; Amos 9:1-10). And so on.

God’s perfections (plural) should lead us to worship him as the most perfect (singular), glorious, wonderful being in the universe. Everything else – friends, family, food, fun – is good. None of them are perfect. The Triune God alone is the ultimate good, the perfect One who satisfies our quest for perfection.

Our imperfection

Our problem is – we are too easily satisfied with things that are distinctly less than perfect. Our quest for the perfect friends, family, food and fun shows how we tend to obsess over created things in preference to the creator (Romans 1:25). This is both rude and self-destructive.

It’s rude to God because God, as the creator and sustainer of everything, deserves to be thanked for all the good things he generously provides to us (Acts 14:15-17). How would you feel if you gave me a nice new coffee plunger and a packet of good coffee (no, that’s not a hint – I’m Sri Lankan, I prefer tea), and instead of saying thank you, I simply snatch it out of your hands, saunter into the kitchen, and make myself a coffee without even offering you any? How rude is that…? That’s a tiny, tiny example of how God feels when we obsess over the good things of this world and ignore him.

And because it’s rude to God, and because God created us to trust him and enjoy life with him, obsessing over the things of this world is unhealthy and self-destructive (Romans 1:24, 26). We’re like runaway children. We think our parents hate us because they restrict us from doing everything we want, and insist on us being responsible by picking up our toys and washing the dishes and things like that instead. So we run away from home, thinking that this is the way to find the freedom to do whatever we want and enjoy life. But instead, we find ourselves homeless, hungry, sick and friendless, and in danger of being exploited by vicious people.

And just like those poor, sick children, we can’t rescue ourselves. We cannot and do not worship God the way he deserves. As the most perfect being in the universe, he deserves perfect worship. Our worship stinks. It doesn’t please God, it offends him (Isaiah 1:10-15; Jeremiah 7; Malachi 1:6-14).

Christ’s perfection

This is why we need Jesus.

When Jesus died on the cross, he bore upon himself the divine punishment against his people’s sin. He sacrificed himself for our sin, fulfilling all the prototypes – the forerunners, the precursors – of the Old Testament. This is known as the doctrine of penal substitution, and can be seen in the way the Bible develops the theme of an innocent animal or person bearing upon themselves the sins of God’s people and the divine wrath against that sin. The animal or person substitutes for God’s people. The innocent stands in the place of the guilty, and takes the penalty the guilty one deserves, so that the guilty can go free – which is what the innocent one deserved. This can be seen in the development of the theme of a sin-bearing sacrifice from Leviticus 16, especially verses 21-22, to Isaiah 52:13-53:12, to Romans 3:23-26 and Hebrews 9:13-14. The way Jesus substituted for Barabbas, a convicted bandit, illustrates this. For more on this doctrine, see the latest issue of Credo Magazine.

Upon the cross, Jesus bore the divine wrath against our failure to properly, perfectly worship God. That’s what we celebrate on Good Friday. It’s what makes Good Friday good.

But there’s more.

Jesus not only takes the penalty for our imperfect worship. He is himself the perfect worshiper! And his self-sacrificial death is the perfect, ultimate act of worship!

Jesus lived the life we should have lived – a life of perfect dedication to, therefore perfect worship of, his Father, God. Even as a child, there was nowhere he’d rather be than at his Father’s house (Luke 2:49, cf. Psalm 27:4). Unlike Adam, and unlike us, when tempted by Satan, he remained perfectly devoted to God (Matthew 4:10).

In fact, he was so dedicated to God, he was willing to die as a sacrifice for us – for us who don’t worship God like we should. The cross is the ultimate act of worship, where God the Son worshiped God the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 9:14). Hebrews 10:5-10 explains it in terms of Christ setting aside the imperfect offerings of the Old Testament by his willing, obedient, perfect sacrifice of himself. So the first question for us is not “do you worship God enough”. Because the answer’s always no! The first question is: have we put our trust in Jesus, the only one who perfectly worshiped God? in particular – have we put our trust in his sin-bearing, divine-will establishing death on the cross?

Seek perfection this Easter

Putting our trust in Christ, and his perfect worship, frees us from the guilt and burden of our inadequate worship. We should certainly seek to worship God more and more consistently in our whole lives (Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 13:15-16; 1 Peter 2:9). But we can seek this ever-more-perfect worship, this increasingly perfect obedience, without fear or shame. Our status before God never depends on our imperfections, but on Christ’s perfection.

Seek perfection this Easter weekend. Not the perfect chocolate or perfect meal – that’ll doom you to having to find the perfect diet next week. Not even the perfect family holiday over the long weekend – although I certainly hope you enjoy a weekend full of love and fun and laughter. Seek perfection in Christ – in his perfectly worshipful sacrifice of himself on the cross of Calvary.