Those of us coming out of performance-based Christian systems are happy to have escaped the pressure of all the stuff you had to do to be “spiritual”. So glad that’s behind us. But there is still a depressing anxiety – “I feel that I was a better Christian when I was doing all that stuff. The Bible has all those commands – pray, study the Bible, etc. In the church I (sometimes) attend now, I constantly hear exhortations about it. Don’t I have to be doing these things in order for God to approve of me?”
The short answer is “No.” God approves of us because of Jesus. Period. Jesus died for our failures, plus he perfectly obeyed God on our behalf. God accepts what He did and puts it to our account. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
So, okay, you believe that already. That is how you came to Christ. But now that you’re a Christian, aren’t things expected of you? The commands are still there in the Bible and they continue to plague you.
I want to attempt a couple of posts to tease out the elements of our freedom from performance, so we can chew it in small pieces and hopefully begin to digest it without gagging on hard lumps of commands. It’s not that new “truth” is needed to solve this problem. It’s a matter of bringing together what we already know.
To begin, it’s important to keep firmly in mind God’s single overarching value, which is LOVE. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit have been enjoying perfect love and communion from all eternity. Human beings were expressly designed in the image of God to have the ability to take part in that circle of love. It was the great pleasure of the triune God to include man. Jesus summed up God’s expectations for man. There were only two (all the others hung on these): Love God and love your neighbor.
BUT….right off the bat Satan very cleverly lured Eve to waver from her love of God and Adam and to act independently. And he lured Adam to forsake his love of God and Eve in his desire for the “knowledge” she had acquired. Then Adam started the blame game, and we know the rest of the story.
Obviously, in terms of God’s law of love, mankind is now completely riddled with sin. It’s a fact often conveniently skimmed over in performance-based ministries, in the relentless push to get everyone doing more and doing better. But hold the phone. We are thoroughly messed up people. Love is not our strongest point. Faith in Christ doesn’t miraculously change that.
If a church is set up in terms of rules, it might make sense to assume that the gospel changes us from being unable to keep them, into those who now can. But if the Church operates on the law of love, it becomes apparent that the gospel does not transform us into beings who are now capable of perfect love. Try as you might, your buttons still get pushed. Your family background causes you to do too much for someone. Or too little. You practice petty deceptions to save yourself from disapproval. And the thoughts you sometimes have about certain people…let’s not even go there. Isaiah speaks the truth – our best righteousness is like filthy rags.
But the thing is, God still wants perfect love around Him, and the Bible is very clear, from beginning to end, that “sort of” living up to his expectations won’t fly. If you slip up in the least way, you’re guilty of breaking the whole thing, because it’s not a matter of a list of rules, some of them important and some minor. If God’s standard of righteousness is a matter of love, you’re either righteous on the basis of living a perfectly loving life, or you’re not.
This has been pretty bad news so far. It hasn’t lifted the burden of performance expectations in the least. In fact, it has increased them exponentially. But we’re in good company. This is how Paul begins the book of Romans, too–all is sin and failure in the first two and a half chapters, concluding with this precept: No one – (and we have to repeat, this includes believer and unbeliever alike) – no one is going to be justified by living up to the law of God. When we come to the final judgment seat of Christ, there won’t be anyone there – not Mother Theresa or anyone else – who will be able to justify themselves in that legal court by their record of a life of perfect love.
But then we turn the page, and behold, Paul announces a remedy for this dismal situation–a perfect righteousness, a Life of perfect love toward God and man, is brought into court on behalf of the guilty and exhibited as a gift that has already been given to all who believe in Christ!
You can see where this is going. Stay tuned….