Tyranny of the Oughts

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.Romans 5:1

The breastplate of righteousness protects us from the feeling that we are not good enough to be saved. We now look at a feeling which Satan delights to whip up in the heart of a Christian—the feeling that we are only accepted by God when we are doing everything perfectly. The feeling gives rise to perfectionism—a condition which afflicts multitudes of Christians.

The chief characteristic of perfectionism is a constant overall feeling of never doing enough to be thought well of by God. Karen Horney describes it as “the tyranny of the oughts.” Here are some typical statements of those who are afflicted in this way: “I ought to do better,” “I ought to have done better,” “I ought to be able to do better.” There is nothing wrong with wanting to do better, but in the twisted thinking of a perfectionist, a person believes that because he or she could or ought to have done better, they will not be accepted or thought well of by God. They come to believe that their acceptance by God depends on their performance. They constantly try to develop a righteousness of their own rather than resting in the righteousness that Christ has provided for them.

If you suffer from this condition, then it’s time to put on your spiritual breastplate. You need to remind yourself that the way you came into the Christian life is the same way you are enabled to go on in it—by depending on Christ and His righteousness, not on yourself and your righteousness. You are not working to be saved; you are working because you are saved.


Lord Jesus, I see that when I stand in Your righteousness, I stand in God’s smile. But when I stand in my own righteousness, I stand in God’s frown. Help me move over from frown to smile. In Your dear name. Amen.

Further Study

Gl 3; Gn 15:6; Ac 13:39

What was the purpose of the law?

What does it mean to be “justified”?

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