“…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13)
What is the result of unrealistic expectations? Boris said that he alone at his work was perfect. But don’t ask any of the secretaries about that evaluation. They feared his explosive rage that could be ignited by the slightest thing that didn’t go his way. What was his problem? Was he self-deceived? He no doubt considered his anger, “righteous indignation” and thus remained “perfect.” That result comes from a difference in definitions and can lead to self-deception. Of course, there may be some who know they have not reached their standard of perfection, yet who still talk like they had. They would be in danger of hypocrisy — not self-deceived but seeking to deceive others.
Linked to one’s definition of sin is the definition of perfect. We use “perfect” in many different ways.
- The Smiths’ new baby is perfect.
- Gifts of ministry enable God’s people to grow up into perfection. (Ephesians 4:13).
- Be perfect as God is perfect. (Matthew 5:48).
- This ice cream is perfect.
There would be no problem among us if people who teach the possibility of perfection in this life meant healthy (like the Smiths’ new baby) or mature (as in Ephesians 4:13) or outstanding, really good (like the ice cream). The Bible uses the term “perfect” in all these ways. The problem comes when some speak of sinless perfection, meaning “without flaw in the moral realm.” As we have seen, Scripture says a person who says he is without sin is self-deceived or, worse, makes a liar of God. The only way a person can do this is to redefine sin, to make it something less than any falling short of God’s moral perfection. Thus when people speak of sinless perfection, the difference is often semantic; the term “sin” defined with limitations. If I’m promised a life free of deliberately choosing to break the known will of God, for example, maybe perfection is within reach. But if I promise a flawless life, free from all wrong attitudes and actions, full of God’s perfections, my expectancy is too high. Of course, it’s no doubt better to aim too high and fall short than to aim too low and hit the target.
For many, however, the danger is the opposite of self-deception: discouragement in not being able to achieve or maintain what is expected. Many become so discouraged as to drop out altogether. Such are the hazards of unrealistic expectations:
- Self-deception, especially by redefining sin or a particular sin.
- Hypocrisy, knowing that I fall short but professing otherwise.
- Discouragement from expecting perfection and falling short.
We’ve spoken of too low expectations and too high expectations, but there’s a strange combination of the two, not in any church’s formal doctrine but common in Christian practice. “I don’t do half the bad stuff most people do,” people say and feel that’s good enough. Another variety of the same syndrome: the Christian who prays, “forgive us of our many sins,” but doesn’t pause to think of any specific wrong he needs to right. Both may be jealous of a fellow worker, are critical in spirit, for example, but quite satisfied with their level of achievement. Their expectations are too low by biblical standards, but their valuation of themselves is way too high! They too qualify as misguided and expectations, and they too may be self-deceived or hypocritical.
They don’t have the third bad result, however. They’re not in danger of becoming discouraged about falling short! We’ve looked at some of the results of holding unrealistic expectations about our potential. But before pressing on, “to lay hold of all for which Christ laid hold of me,” I need to accept the biblical limitations on my expectancy. I’ll never in this life be absolutely perfect as God is, without sin. Though when I see Jesus, I shall be like him (1 John 3:2). Hallelujah for that! How can we praise God, for the bad news of limited expectations? Here’s my response:
Thank you, blessed Spirit, for releasing me from the drivenness and disappointments of unrealistic expectations. Help me to accept my own limitations and those of others. And please, please don’t let me swing in the other extreme and settle for less than you intend. I want to be all a redeemed human being can be. And that’s for Jesus sake — not just for mine. Amen.