We live in a performance based society. Work hard in school, and your efforts will pay off. Go the extra mile at your job, and people will notice. Do something extra nice for your spouse, and you will be shown appreciation and love in return. We are driven by the motivation to get better and to perform well in every situation.
This is not a bad thing. How else will a school know that you are learning the material unless you perform well on all the assignments and tests? How else should your boss reward (or discipline) you other than basing it off your performance? While love for a spouse may not be primarily based upon performance, how else will your spouse know you love and care for them unless you tell them or show them?
The trouble with our emphasis on performance is when we transfer it over to our relationship with God. Your good standing before God is not based on your performance. It never has been. It never will be.
You are probably nodding your head in agreement. Most of you (my readers) are good Lutherans. It is by grace you have been saved, and this is not of yourself. It is a gift of God so that no one can boast. Jesus earned your good standing with God the Father through His sacrificial death and resurrection. We know this quite well. We coined the terms “Grace alone. Faith alone. Scripture alone.”
However, that does not mean that we do not get sucked into the same trap that, I would say, sucks in a majority of Christians. We believe that Jesus died for our sins and gave us new life. For us Lutherans, this new life was given to us at our baptism. We have been saved. Now what? Now we must obey. Now it is up to me. Now the Christian life is about a bunch of “do’s” and “don’ts” in order to lead a God-pleasing life. Isn’t that what sanctification is all about? Isn’t it about my performance? Isn’t my obedience the proof that I am a child of God?
It comes so naturally to us. Deep down, we have trouble with the concept of grace. We struggle with this idea that everything has already been completed for us. We don’t have to do a thing in order to earn a good standing with God or in order to keep our good standing with God. We always try to add something to grace.
In his book Jesus+Nothing=Everything, author and pastor Tullian Tchividjian (Yeah, I have no idea how to pronounce it either) tells his story about struggling with grace and with the trap of legalism. Legalism is performance based Christianity. Legalism sneaks into the church on the coattails of good intentions. Shouldn’t a Christian do good works? Shouldn’t we be learning about all the things we need to be doing? Shouldn’t we following the commandments: love God and love your neighbor? Pretty soon though, the Christian life becomes less about Jesus and his performance and more about me and my performance. Suddenly, I’m judging my worth before God in terms of my obedience.
As I said, legalism is tricky. We often fall right into it without realizing it. As Tchividjian says, “Typically, it’s not that Christians seek to blatantly replace the gospel. What we try to do is simply add to it.” He adds,
The Bible makes it clear that the gospel’s premier enemy is the one we often call ‘legalism.’ I like to call it performancism. Still another way of viewing it, especially in its most common manifestation in Christians, is moralism… Legalism happens when what we need to do, not what Jesus has already done, becomes the end game… We know it’s wrong to worship immorality, like everybody out in the world seems to be doing; we find it harder to see that it’s just as wrong to worship morality, like everybody in the church seems to be doing…In fact, the most dangerous thing that can happen to you is that you become proud of your obedience.
In my next few posts, I want to explore this book a little further. Tchividjian has rediscovered the gospel and has also discovered Lutheran theology. He is not a Lutheran pastor but cites several Lutheran theologians as influential people for him in the writing of this book. He also quotes Martin Luther several times which makes sense because there is no greater champion of the gospel than Luther. (OK, maybe Paul) As I said, he is writing this book as a response to his own personal struggle and has seen the need to attack legalism which is resting comfortably in our churches right now. It is dangerous and needs to be opposed. The only way to do that is through the gospel. I hope you will join in this exploration of the gospel in these next couple of weeks because this is an issue that every single one of us needs to hear because I believe we all struggle with “performancism.” To quote Tchividjian again:
A Christian may not struggle with believing that our good behavior is required to initially earn God’s favor; but I haven’t met on Christian who doesn’t struggle daily with believing- somehow, someway- that our good behavior is required to keep God’s favor.
Remember: Jesus has made the grade for you!