Sometimes, the Christian life can feel like a job evaluation. We do our best. God looks down and evaluates our performance. “You did well in these areas; not so well over here. I’m going to need to see improvement here or else!” We get conditioned to live like this. At school, we don’t get grades until we earn them. At work, we don’t get a raise or recognition before we do good work. We need to perform and earn them. Professional performers may receive some grace initially from an audience. Yet they have to continue to perform to earn applause. At home, we may have lived in a situation where a parent or loved one withheld love unless we earned it in some way.
We take these experiences into our Christian walk. It’s natural to conclude God works the same way. In fact it sounds like that throughout the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 28, Moses speaks about blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. If you obey, God will bless you. If you disobey, God will curse you. Performance first. Then reward. Certainly, God calls us to strive to honor Him and obey His commands.
Yet even in the Old Testament, there we hints that we could not do this without His help. Consider Psalm 141:3-4. “Set a guard over the door of my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil so that I take part in wicked deeds along with those who are evil doers; do not let me eat of their delicacies.” This Psalmist realized the high calling of God on their life. But they realized they needed God’s help to live out this calling. If God was a “performance then reward” leader, the Psalmist could not pray this. He would know that God expected him to keep watch over his own mouth and heart to God’s standards. Yet he appeals for God’s help.
Then we see Jesus invite us to ask for His help. You may have heard this familiar invitation. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30). Jesus invites us to come to Him and learn from Him as He shares the burden of growing in the Christian life.
God does not relish His saints burning themselves out for His purposes. God will empower His people to live out their lives for His glory and our good. Christianity is the only faith where you get the reward first – Forgiveness; Justification; Adoption as God’s child; Eternal Life; The Holy Spirit; Jesus’ intercession; Jesus’ yoke; not guilty forever verdict. Then, in view of God’s mercy and great gifts, we respond with lives of gratitude and giving Him glory by the power of His Spirit.
So stop performing for God. Stop any thinking that you have to do this or that for His acceptance. Receive His grace. Then learn life from Jesus.
“Thank you Lord God that we don’t have to perform for your acceptance. It’s a fruitless exercise anyway since you know everything about us. You still love us, call us to a Godward life and empower us to live it. In our performance-based world, keep teaching us about grace-based living.”