The Christian Performance Lie
It takes a bit of living to finally figure out what is actually important in life, and even then, most people are not so sure they have it right. The world challenges people to take risks, and then some snollygoster convinces them to buy insurance to alleviate risk. The world is double-minded and unstable in all of its ways. Still, it makes bodacious claims to “make you look younger” or “help you achieve your goals” or even, “we care.” Can the Ethiopian change his skin? Can the leopard change his spots? or Can you change the will of God for your life?
The world system puts people on a treadmill and demands they perform. Standards are set and then performance requirements are raised as people rise to meet the previous standard. Records are broken and goals are elevated. The game changes, and those who do not change with the game are out of the game.
In the world’s version of salvation from failures, people are reassured, “There is a new game in town.” People create new things demanding new performance. Tired of losing at the same old lottery game? They just made a new one for you! The game never ends, and it never fails to change. People just want to “get ahead,” and then “retire.” The professional athlete seemingly wins with money, fame, and sex. He ends up losing in prison on rape or murder charges. The world, striving for perfect performance, is insane; and the wide way that leads to destruction is littered with losers, who actually thought their achievements mattered (Eccl 1:2).
Most people try different things as children. They are exposed to many activities; and through endeavor, followed by failure or disinterest, they move on to something else. Eventually, they “find their niche,” in order to, “make their mark on the world,” and then they die, go to hell, and spend eternity in fiery torment (Mt 25:46; Jude 7; Rev 20:14–15). I realize the shocking nature of my last sentence to some, but this is the true Christian worldview. It comes from the Bible, and it is the ruinous lifestyle of many, who live in pride and vainglory.
Few Christian writers or preachers ever warn people of the futility of their existence. It does not attract a crowd. No one wants to hear all the negativity. Who wants to be John the Baptist? How about an internship with Job? What about a holy land tour with Elijah? Even Solomon waited until his death bed in order to write Ecclesiastes.
Most people never venture near real Christianity. The way is hard, the truth hurts, and this is not the life they dreamed of in their youth. Vain pursuits, chasing vainglory, is common in the church, too. It is why the church looks so much like the world. Learn the Bible, take care of one another, and get ready to meet God is about all there is to Christianity. There is nothing particularly religious about it. So many in the church, today, and throughout history, have complicated life for Christians by adding in performance requirements they learned from the world or religion. It makes Christianity competitive; this too is vanity and striving after the wind (Eccl 4:4).
Christianity has been made to compete with other religions. At the same time, churches compete with one another using slick techniques learned from the world. They steal sheep from one another and think nothing of it. Sometimes the sheep make it easy by wandering like shoppers looking for a good deal.
Pastors, like rock stars, compete to draw as many sheep as numerically possible to themselves. They write books on pseudo-Christian living, or “how to grow your church with mega dreams and visions.” Most Christians do not know any better because few have ever been taught how to discern sound doctrine, which comes by learning sound doctrine. Who is the pastor that would risk such a genre to replace a seven-step course in casting out demons for Jesus?
Christians are supposed to find rest for their weary souls in Christ (Mt 11:28). Their souls are weary from the performance drama of life in the world. Keeping up with the Jones’ or the Hernandez’s is the regimen. Rest is not a goal in most corporations, and it is not a goal in most churches, either. Contentment is almost a by-word.
Sheep were made by God to illustrate the Christian life. The right pastoral scene is a safe, fenced in pasture, with sheep in ample, open space, yet near enough to one another to know they are together. The best times are when the shepherd comes to inspect the sheep, to ensure they are healthy and the pasture lands are lush. When was the last time you were visited by your pastor at home? Imagine what it would be like if a mega church pastor actually visited one of his so-called, “sheep.” The sheep would probably tip over in unbelief.
When Christianity is marketed to unbelievers as a choice they have to make, most, of course, do not make the choice. Some do, however, make the choice out of fear of hell, and then they are told they must do something for Jesus. Performance matters. This man-centered version of Christianity is very popular, and many who make the choice to become Christians actually never become Christians. The reason is because God never saved them (Rom 9:22). You can hear their version of Christianity from their hearts and through their testimonies. They enjoy telling you what they have done for Jesus, but they lack the true testimony of what Jesus has done in them and through them.
The litany of accomplishments is also a requirement for pastors. Churches, following their corporation fathers, post job openings demanding years of pastoral experience with proven results. Without mega experience and mega results, the churches, or the executive search agencies they hire to find “God’s mega man,” are simply not interested. Does this remind you of a corporation, or Jesus, by the Sea of Galilee gathering unlikely disciples? It is a virtual suicide death knell to write or preach about these things because the preacher/writer is clearly not a corporate team player. He is out of the game…cancelled. He is Jeremiah in the cistern; lingering Gideon; Samson in a Philistine jail; David in a cave; and the prophets hiding in the woods from the wrath of their evil king.
What hope is there for Christians living in a world diametrically opposed to what the Bible says is pleasing to God? What hope is there for Christians attending a church diametrically opposed to what the Bible says is pleasing to God? What hope is there for pastors, trying to persuade people to align themselves with what the Bible says is pleasing to God? The biblical answer is, “suffer well.”
Faith must be tested, usually by ever-intensifying fire (Mal 3:2). Various trials are ordained to demonstrate salvation belongs to God (Ps 3:8; Jon 2:9; Rev 19:1), not to those who have decided to follow Jesus, by their own free will or good works (Jn 1:12–13). Man-centered Christianity fails the fiery test of faith. Why? Because all men have been weighed, measured, and been found wanting (Rom 3:23). God is never impressed with the works of sinful men (Gen 6:5). They are filthy rags to Him (Is 64:6). God’s assessment of humanity, when heard by men, makes them hate God more than they currently do (Jn 7:7; 15:18–19; Rom 1:30).
It is only when God has chosen one for salvation (2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2), and appropriated that salvation, by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit (Jn 3:1–8; 1 Pet 1:3), that true performance begins (Eph 2:10). Man’s performance before salvation is fit only for the fire of eternal judgment (2 Chron 34:25). Yes, your works are going to burn whether your name is Gandhi or Gerhig or Gehazi. After salvation, man’s performance is still only fit for the fire of judgment. All men, unbelievers and believers are found wanting. Who performs good works, pleasing to God? God does (Phil 1:6; 2:13). He who does the good work gets the glory for that good work.
Man-centered Christians surely would object to these propositions. They might gather proof texts to argue these claims. The gist of their counterargument would be the many passages telling Christians to do something. Work out your salvation. Labor as unto the Lord. Serve one another. What is missing in their argument is the understanding of Christ commandeering the Christian’s life.
Paul argued, “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20).” It is Christ in me willing and working to do His good pleasure (Phil 2:13). The indwelling Spirit of Christ is the new agent of performance (Rom 8:9, 11), and He is never found wanting. Who is sanctifying the saint? It is the Holy Spirit leading, guiding, teaching, helping, convicting, comforting, witnessing, empowering, accomplishing, etc.
God has taken possession of each saint (Titus 2:4; 1 Pet 2:9), and the saint can say, “He will accomplish what concerns me (Ps 57:2; 138:8).” The believer has entered His rest (Heb 4:10) and is learning to be content in whatever circumstance she finds herself (Phil 4:11). God’s providence is sovereign (Ps 115:3; 135:6), and He only intends for all things to work together for the good of His child (Rom 8:28). The servant of the Lord must not strive (2 Tim 2:24).
Striving with God and striving with other people is not rest. Faith grazes on the Word of God in the safe place of His permanent dwelling. We have been brought near to God, and in Him, we live and move and have our being. For believers, our being is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). He is crafting and conforming us to the mold of Christ (Rom 8:29; Col 3:10). No Christian could ever do this by herself. It is a work of God, not of ourselves, there is absolutely nothing to boast in except Him (1 Cor 1:31).
So, are we robots, or puppets on a string, as some charge us, who hold this high view of God? The fact is, God made us, we did not make ourselves. God willed our salvation before Creation (Eph 1:4; Rev 13:8; 17:8). Salvation is not merely justification (being declared, “not guilty”). It is sanctification, too.
Christians do not choose our course (Prv 3:5–6). Every decision is from the Lord (Prv 16:33). He made us alive (Eph 2:5; Col 2:13) and made us to be a kingdom of priests (1 Pet 3:18; Rev 1:6). He has good plans for His people (Jer 29:11), but God does not operate based on our definition of what is good. Suffering is good, especially when it purges sin from us. Suffering hardens the heart of the unbeliever, but suffering softens the Christian, and causes her to cry out to Jesus in humble dependence (Mic 6:8; Col 3:12).
We were created in Christ Jesus for good works prepared for us (Eph 2:10). If we are in Christ Jesus, and He is working, then our good works are actually His good works. Praying without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17), which includes giving thanks in everything (1 Thess 5:18), and even counting our trials a joy (Jas 1:3), is all driven by the Holy Spirit. How many of these things did you do before His regeneration of your soul?
As a result, we learn His yoke is easy (Mt 11:30), and His commandments are not burdensome (1 Jn 5:3). The race is suddenly, not to the swift, nor victory to the powerful (Eccl 9:11). The backup field goal kicker for the Superbowl champions…What is his name? No one knows. He never plays, but today, He wears a champion’s ring. Every Christian is that man. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus (1 Cor 1:30), in other words, He chose you to be on the winning team (2 Thess 2:13; Col 3:12; 2 Tim 2:10; 1 Pet 1:2). Performance is not required on team Jesus. Not that we are adequate to consider anything coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God (2 Cor 3:5).
Victory belongs to the Lord (Prv 21:31). God gives us the victory in Jesus Christ, who always leads us in His triumph (2 Cor 2:14). When the crazy crowds come out for the champions’ parade, they wear the team colors and numbers to identify with the victors. It is as if they have been joined in union to the actual performing victors. They are the “Zag nation” or something like that sentiment.
This is the victory that overcomes the world…our faith (1 Jn 5:4). We are the “holy nation” (1 Pet 2:9)! Faith is not a work we decide to do for Jesus, it is a gift of God given to us (Phil 1:29; 2 Pet 1:1). He has granted access to His glorious throne, where we stand in His victory, and He even gives us His glory (Jn 17:22). O the depths of the riches of His grace!
God has given everything to us pertaining to our new life of godliness (2 Pet 1:3). The lives we now live have nothing to do with performance. God lives in us by His Spirit (1 Jn 3:24). The Spirit of Christ is at work in us, authoring and perfecting our life of faith (Heb 12:2). God will be glorified in us because this is His will, and His work, for His glory.
Christian, rest in Him. No performance is required, for He Himself has said, “It is finished.” He began a good work in you, and He will bring it to completion (Phil 1:6). Rest. He has declared the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure (Is 46:10).’
He loves His children, as demonstrated by His work on the Cross (Rom 5:8). He loves you (Eph 5:25), and His love never fails (1 Cor 13:8). Besides, when He creates the new heavens and the new earth, the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind (Is 65:17). Rest, the honor roll only has His name on it, because He is what this is all about, and only His performance matters.
Spokane Valley, Washington
February 20, 2021