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Since none of us will ever be perfect, the most obvious solution is to find someone willing to give us their perfect standing. His name is Jesus, who gives us His alien righteousness. He was, is, and will always be the perfect Son of God. He cannot be otherwise, and we cannot be anything but imperfect in our fallen condition. Some may ask, “Why would I not accept the gift of perfection from Jesus? What is it about me that compels me to reject His perfection while choosing to create an illusional world of perfection?” It’s a valid question, so let me give you an illustration of someone who preferred the illusion over the perfection of Christ.
Biff had a hard time receiving criticism. There was something in him that recoiled every time someone expressed displeasure with him. To compensate, Biff strived hard for perfection, hoping he would avoid critique. The problem was that he could not hit his self-imposed perfect goal. Biff could not obey every Bible law, principle, assertion, implication, and expectation. His solution, though unaware of the deception, was to lower the Bible’s standard. It was an unwitting cheapening of God’s law so he could be perfect, which put him in a favorable light with others. Biff stacked the deck unbiblically, creating collateral damage, all because he wanted to look good in front of his peers. Let’s look at some of the things he did to lower God’s law while elevating himself. Afterward, we’ll assess the collateral damages.
Lying: Biff would lie to get himself out of a jam. Rather than owning the truth, he would twist it however much he needed to so he did not appear wrong before others. Biff would quickly tell you that he does not tell bald-faced lies. Correct. But Biff was lying just enough to skirt the truth. A little lie was not like big lies, a rationalization that soothed his conscience. He merely added to the truth or took away from the truth just enough to alter reality to suit his agenda. He had become so used to small deceptions that he did not recognize what he was doing to his conscience.
Hard Conscience: Through the subtle deceitfulness of sin, Biff’s inner voice adjusted to accommodate his lying. His conscience was a means of grace to let him know when he was doing wrong (Romans 2:14-15). It’s like a sound that goes off when we think about sinning. If we choose not to listen, our conscience will ring louder. Biff’s conscience used to warn him when he was doing wrong. He chose to silence it through rationalizations. In time, his moral thermostat consented, muting its sound (1 Timothy 4:2). Today, his conscience can hardly hear the bell (Hebrews 3:7, 4:7). It’s like putting a piece of tape over the warning light on your dashboard—out of sight, out of mind. Biff’s lies created a new normal, like a callus on the skin. Biff’s heart lost sensitivity to where he could no longer discern right from wrong.
Self-Deception: As a tiny bird in a nest with its eyelids canvassed over, Biff had pulled the callused skin of subtle deception over his eyes. Biff had successfully cheapened the law to the point where he believed he was better than he was (Hebrews 5:12-14). Biff could not see what he could not see. He was not as stubborn as much as he was self-deceived. Biff could now pretend he was a successful perfectionist. On those rare moments where he knew that he had made a mistake, he justified, rationalized, or blamed the problem away. You can succeed at being a perfectionist by exchanging the truth of God’s Word. The problem with Biff was that his idolatrous desire to be perfect and his lying to cover up his imperfections blew up his marriage.
Mable, Biff’s wife, was not as impressed with Biff. She saw through him and quickly let him know he was a fake. The perfect character he presented to her when they were dating was more like a Hollywood movie set—a facade. Once you walked through the door and entered his real life, there was no substance. Mable was never a person to mince words. She often reminded him of his failures. Telling a perfectionist that he is a fake is begging for trouble. I’m not suggesting that Biff’s sin was Mable’s, but she was guilty of not seeking to restore him in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1-3). Mable was emptying Biff’s love cup, the metaphorical chalice he held out, expecting her to fill with the wine of affirmation, acceptance, and approval.
Mable had no inhibition from taking his love chalice and hitting him over the head with it. Rather than seeing the light, Biff began pulling away from his wife, initially entangling his mind in lustful thoughts. Because he could not satisfy the eye with seeing or fill the ear with hearing, wayward thoughts could not keep up with the idolatrous requirements (Ecclesiastes 1:8). Throw in the consistent reminders of failure from Mable. It did not take Biff long to see he needed another option to fill his cup. Biff had noticed an attractive lady who taught their son piano at their church. He began to look forward to each Sunday when he could drop his child off at the auditorium.
In time, he struck up a conversation with her. In time, they were involved in an adulterous affair. Biff knew it was wrong, but he did what he always has done—he justified his action by blaming Mable. The idolatry of his heart overcame common sense and the grace of God. Eventually, they were found out, as those things typically go. Biff and Mable went to see their pastor for help. Biff wanted his marriage fixed, but he did not realize the insidious realities of his heart. The depth of his sin had so entangled him that Biff could not repent. He did not know what to repent from or how to make things right. Lack of awareness is a significant obstacle when helping a person like Biff.
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted (Galatians 6:1).
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
Biff has never had a clear view of himself, so what you think would be easy to discern and fix was a mystery to him. This problem is where God calls us to be careful how we talk to Biff and walk him through his sin. Biff’s pastor had to skillfully navigate how to tell an insecure person, who strives for perfection, that he is not perfect. How do you tell someone who craves your approval they are a failure? How do you tell a person who idolizes acceptance that he is unacceptable? Biff had lowered the law of God so low on a rung on the ladder that he could obtain perfection.
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).
God requires Biff to be perfect, and Biff needs to be perfect. Mercifully, God provides a way for him to be perfect, but Biff rejects God’s way as he strives for perfection his way. Biff does this by lowering the standard, altering his conscience, pretending to be okay, and justifying his actions when he does make a mistake. Biff’s pastor had to elevate the law, convince him he was a failure, and appeal to him to trust the perfect Lamb of God. The first thing the pastor had to do was build a relational bridge with Biff. He had to become his friend. The pastor did not know Biff because of the size of their church, but he knew that he needed to build a bridge because the truth he had to carry to Biff could push him further into his idolatry.
Biff did not make it easy for his pastor. He was quick to tell him about his high-powered job and philanthropic endeavors. Biff was boasting in his strengths. He was elevating himself in front of his pastor. Do you see why Biff could not see what he was doing to himself? Do you see how difficult it was for his pastor to readjust Biff’s thinking to a more precise and biblical reality? After a few sessions, the pastor did recalibrate Biff. Eventually, the pastor began to roll out the gospel in a way Biff had never heard before. He only understood the gospel through the lens of salvation.
Biff had no clue how to bring the gospel to bear on his sanctification. Biff believed God saved him by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9), but he also thought he had to be perfect post-salvation. Biff was willing to accept that he was a lowdown sinner who needed a Savior, but it wasn’t as noticeable how to live a progressively sanctified life. Biff began to learn that he would never be able to create a righteousness that God would accept. Biff would never be acceptable to God based on his works, whether those works were pre- or post-salvation. On his best day, he was a beggar needing God’s grace (1 Timothy 1:15).
There was only one rung on the ladder that Biff earned, the lowest. There are no other levels of righteousness in God’s world. All people are bottom-rung sinners, Christ is the perfectly righteous top-rung Savior, and there is no in-between. We stay on the bottom rung or accept Christ’s alien righteousness and live in His perfection. When this truth clicked inside Biff’s head, he expelled air from his lungs. It was like he could breathe again. The chains of perfectionism had bound him into a pleasing other, craving approval worldview. He never realized the depth of his bondage. Then it clicked.
Biff learned that it was not about doing things but about being something. He had never experienced shalom in Jesus. He was never at peace because he always felt he had to work for acceptance. Embracing nothing and being nobody was a foreign concept. Biff began to understand, and the more this gospel penetrated his mind, the more he experienced release from selfish ambition and reputation management. This new gospel orientation encouraged him to serve his wife rather than manipulate her to fill his love cup. Rather than being a man with demands for love—the way he wanted it, he became a man with a servant’s heart.
He became like Christ, the perfect example of other-centered living (Mark 10:45). Biff did not have to cheapen the law or lower it to achieve his standard of perfection. He elevated the law, as lived out through Christ. Oddly, the more he raised the law, the more joy he experienced. After he realized that he could not keep God’s moral standard, he started praising God for the Son who did obey what the law demanded. Rather than trying to impress others, he became more impressed with Jesus. The more impressed he became with the Son, the more he was inclined to imitate the Son. The more he was inclined to imitate the Son, the more he impacted those around him, especially his wife.
But it became even odder for Biff and Mable. The more he grew in Christlikeness through his humble servanthood, the more she loved him in return. Ironically, Biff got the very thing he desired—the love and acceptance of his wife, but it did not come because he demanded it, deserved it, or faked perfection. She loves him because Biff loves God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength (Luke 10:27). He loves God so much because he knows he is a low-down, dirty, rotten sinner who recognizes that he deserves hell, but Christ came to give him a perfection he could never attain through his effort.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).