During high school and college, basketball was one of my top priorities. I worked hard at it, and I loved playing. The problem was that my identity and personal value was often wrapped up in my performance on the court. If I played well, I felt valuable. If I did not, it affected every facet of my world. Many others have experienced this same tendency in academics, music, relationships, and leadership. Once we get on the treadmill of performance-based Christianity, it permeates all areas of our lives.
One of the most seductive of Satan’s temptations for followers of Christ is to believe the lie that we can somehow gain God’s favor by how we perform. How do you know if you are living this way? Well, have you ever been praying for God to answer a specific prayer request and then tried to read your Bible more, behave better, and “be extra-good” so He will give you what you want? Be honest, we have all done that at some point in our Christian walk. If we are not careful, our worship, our prayer-life, our giving, our obedience, and our personal holiness, can become a way to “bargain” with God.
Trying to live the Christian life like this is exhausting and will lead to great insecurities.
- Insecurity in how we look (am I pretty enough? Am I overweight? Am I too thin? Do I have a good personality?)
- Insecurity in how we relate to others (If I get too close, I will be hurt again. I can’t open up to my spouse, they will reject me. I can’t be transparent with anyone. I must keep up my image.)
- Insecurity in my relationship with God (Have I done enough to please God? Will God really forgive me again? Why can I not feel His presence? Am I truly saved? Why do I have all of these trials if I am serving God faithfully?)
You may ask, “Are we not supposed to strive to please God?” Absolutely! Paul says that we should be constantly growing in pleasing God with our lives:
“Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.”
(1 Thessalonians 4:1)
However, the “why” behind our striving to please God reveals the difference between performance-based spiritual labor and Grace motivated service. Am I striving to please God for His acceptance or from His acceptance?
Striving to please God in order to be accepted leads to a constant focus on self. My heart will be filled with the idols of self-justification, self-pity, and self-reliance. Our Christian life will be joyless, fruitless, and filled with anxiety. We will feel like we are never good enough.
This is not how God designed for His children to live.
Break free from the strongholds of fear and insecurity by seeking to understand the Gospel of grace.
1. We must believe that we are not condemned because Christ was condemned in our place.
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1)
It is absolutely true that in our flesh dwelleth no good thing (Rom. 7:18). We are totally unworthy because of our sinful heart. But when we receive Christ, we have intrinsic value because the Risen Christ dwells inside of us.
“In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:” (Colossians 1:14)
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)
We are forgiven. We are cleansed by the precious blood of Jesus. We will become discouraged if we look inward instead of upward to our Savior. Trying harder is a futile, hamster wheel existence because God has already accepted you and forgiven you because of the sacrifice of His dear Son.
Adrian Rogers, in his book Mastering your Emotions, said this:
“In Christ, you are already accepted in the Beloved. Here is a remarkable fact—He loves you perfectly (1 John 4:18-19). This gives security. It is not our perfect love for Him but His perfect love for us that makes the difference. There is nothing you can do to make Him love you more. His perfect love casts out fear. There is also nothing that will cause Him to love you less.”
You are secure in Christ’s love. Nothing will separate you from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:39). Just humble yourself and believe it!
2. We must remember that every trial or difficulty that God allows in our lives, is for the purpose of making us more like Christ. Every one.
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son.” (Romans 8:28–29)
When trials come, they are always for a purpose. Don’t believe the lie that when God allows difficulties and hardships in your personal life, your marriage, or your ministry, it is because you are doing wrong. Sure, we must pay the price for poor decisions and unwise actions, but God’s grace will enable us to learn from those mistakes and grow. If we sin, God promises to discipline us with His loving hand, not to make us try harder, but to draw us closer to Himself to reveal to us that He is enough.
“Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.” (James 4:8)
“Those who talked with Job in the days of his affliction…believed that all who served God would have a hedge about them; God would multiply their wealth and increase their happiness; while they saw in Job’s affliction, as they conceived, a certain sign that he was a hypocrite. Even Christians have fallen into the same error. They have been apt to think, that if God lifts a man up there must be some excellence in him; and if he chastens and afflicts, they are generally led to think that it must be an exhibition of wrath. Listen ye to the words of Jesus, speaking to his servant John, ‘As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.’”
– Charles Spurgeon
REMEMBER, trials are a part of God’s plan for us.
3. We must receive God’s grace that will enable us to find our true identity in Christ, our all in all, and not in ourselves.
“Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” (Colossians 3:11)
“But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (1 Cor. 15:10)
Here we see the tension between striving to please God but understanding what Grace is. Paul recognized that his giftings, talents, strengths, and anything good about him was purely by God’s grace. Yet he worked hard, out of the sustaining, all-sufficient grace that was poured upon his life. But he was not performing. He knew that it was not in himself, but in the power of Christ at work inside of Him.
Has the grace of Christ been poured out in vain upon you? Are you making the grace of God of no effect because it is squelched by your self-dependence, self-pity, or by coddling your self-esteem?
“How many years have we wasted ministering to the enhancement of our own little selves? What needless anguishes we have suffered because our little selves were defeated and not flattered, coddled and petted?” – Thomas Kelly
Let’s learn to serve from God’s acceptance instead of for His acceptance. Then let God do His job.
“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” (Philippians 1:6)