Before we talk specifically about Performance-based Christianity, let’s take a quick look at biblical anthropology.
Don’t let the big word throw you. It’s simple, really.
Anthropology is the study of man, and biblical anthropology is looking at man as the Bible sees us, and particularly we want to look at how the Bible sees us after we’re born again, after we’re saved.
Let’s look at a few verses of Scripture to see what the Bible says about man, and then we will define Performance-based Christianity, and then we will see why Performance-based Christianity is so harmful.
Fearfully and Wonderfully Made
Let’s start with Psalm 139:14 which says, “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.”
Now there’s a sense in which this is true even of the unbeliever, the person who has not been born again.
We were all knit together in our mother’s womb, and were born as amazing machines. Science, when it’s rightly practiced is merely the discovery and observation of the amazing way that God has created and set into motion all things.
And even an atheistic scientist or biologist or neurologist can’t help being amazed at the human machine. The trillions of cells all working together, the brain that no computer could ever replicate, the organic systems that nourish and repair and clean out themselves.
But we weren’t created just machines were we?
We weren’t just given mechanical systems, and brains with chemical rivers to be programmed and stimulated.
We were also given emotions to feel things, and a will to make choices, and a conscience that senses right and wrong, and a spirit which is how we commune, or refuse to commune, with God our Creator.
We really are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Even More For The Believer
And it gets even more fearful and wonderful for the born-again one, the believer in Jesus Christ:
2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
As believers, we have been declared righteous by God, given a new spirit which is dead to sin and alive to God, and astoundingly are now called “the righteousness of God” in Christ.
Now that might make somebody a little uppity. That might make somebody think pretty highly of themselves. And if that’s not enough to puff up somebody’s head, how about Hebrews 10:14:
“For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.”
He has perfected you forever, if you’re His child. You have been made perfect in the core of your being, which is your spirit, and to top that off Jesus Himself has taken up residence in you, in your spirit, Christ in you the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).
Feeling pretty proud? Feeling like you’re really something? Well, hold on a minute, because 1 Cor. 4:7 says this:
“For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”
See, we really are fearfully and wonderfully made.
But the key word there is MADE. See, we don’t have anything that wasn’t a gift from God. And we aren’t anything good that wasn’t produced by God. We have a lot going for us, as they say, but it’s all from God.
If you’re smart, that came from God.
“But I studied and got my Masters degree, not like that lazy uneducated bum.”
Ah, but where did you get the intelligence to get that degree? And where did you get the motivation, and the discipline, and the finances, and the transportation, and the books, and on and on?
I don’t care what you have, it all came from God. What do you have that you did not receive?
But we have a habit of sorta taking credit ourselves for it sometimes, don’t we? Instead of looking at someone we call “less fortunate” and saying, “There but for the grace of God go I,” we say to ourselves, “Man if they would just get their act together like me, they could be wonderful like me!”
And so Romans 12:3 says, “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.”
And Now…Performance-Based Christianity
So with that extended introduction, let’s look at Performance-based Christianity.
Performance-based Christianity is just a fancy way of describing a form of legalism. And it’s one of the most common forms of legalism in the Church, partly because it’s so subtle, and partly because we forget that everything we have is from God.
Performance-based Christianity is that form of legalism that tries to earn God’s love or favor by what we do, or how we perform.
Other Forms of Legalism
Now there are several other forms of legalism. Let’s just mention a few of them. Legalism isn’t just one thing. There are several other forms of legalism. For example:
1. There is initial salvation by works.
This is that idea that’s common among many religions, and some so-called Christian religions, where a person is saved by what they do. If they perform well enough they will be saved, and if they don’t perform well enough they won’t be saved.
Sometimes it’s seen as a balance of weights and if there are enough good things done to outdo the bad things, then that person will gain favor with God and go to heaven, or whatever the case may be.
This is totally against what the Scripture says, which is that salvation is by grace through faith, not of works.
2. There is the Seventh Day Adventist type of legalism…
…which speaks of initial salvation by grace, but then once you’re saved and you have the Holy Spirit, it must be followed by works of the law, or you end up losing your salvation.
You know, you have to do something like follow Sabbath Day requirements, or eat certain kinds of food, or whatever. And the argument goes, “Hey, now that God has saved you by grace, and you have the Holy Spirit, now you have the power to follow the law, and if you don’t, then you’re going to lose your salvation.”
Well, that’s a lie from the pit of Hell, as they say. But that’s another form of legalism.
3. There is that extra-biblical type of cultural legalism…
…such as “no lipstick”, “no pants for ladies”, “you can’t wear a tattoo”, and so forth. That kind of cultural legalism.
4. There is pure Galatianism…
…which mixes law-works with grace, which of course makes it not grace. This is similar to Roman Catholicism, which speaks of grace, but requires rituals and good works added to so-called grace.
And if you don’t add those rituals and good works, then you lose the salvation that you got through another ritual, which might be baptism, for example.
Well, this is the problem that the Galatians had, where they believed the “circumcision party” in saying that, “Yeah, you’re saved by grace, but you also have to add the works of the Old Covenant.” This is pure Galatianism, and another form of legalism.
Romans 11:6 says, “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace.”
In other words, grace is the free or undeserved favor of God, and if you add works to it, it’s no longer grace. It’s now something deserved.
Okay, those are some other examples of forms of legalism. But we’re talking here about Performance-based Christianity.
The Harm of Performance-Based Legalism
The Perfomance-based Christianity type I speak of is, I believe, the most destructive to the spiritual walk of the Christian, because it does several bad things:
1. It makes a Christian think they are better or worse than other Christians, causing pride or despair respectively.
If you think you’re performing pretty well at a particular time, then you think you are deserving God’s love and favor, and pride sets in. Even while you know that pride comes before a fall, right? And even while you know that God resists the proud, right?
But what if you think you’re performing poorly at a particular time? What if you have been deceived by the world, the flesh and the devil, and you find yourself doing what you don’t want to do, or not doing what you want to do, like Paul describes in Romans 7?
Well, then you feel like God doesn’t love you or favor you as much, if at all, and you despair, and you shy away from Him, which makes it even worse, because you need to be in close fellowship with Him to walk in the Spirit.
And so there’s this downward spiral. And God forbid that you just pull up your bootstraps, and “will” yourself to perform better so you can swing back to the proud side.
2. It encourages the Christian to be self-centered…
…always examining his navel as to whether he is “measuring up” (and he never is, of course) — instead of being Christ-centered, looking to Jesus and fellowshiping with Him.
When we focus on Jesus, instead of on ourself, something amazing happens. 2 Cor. 3:18 puts it this way:
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
But Performance-based Christianity squelches that wonderful process.
3. It encourages Daisy Theology…
…”He loves me, He loves me not”, robbing the believer of that precious and total love and acceptance that God has for him in Christ.
God fully and totally accepts you in the Beloved, in Christ (Eph. 1:6 KJV). God sees us in a way that’s beyond our Performance.
And, ironically, when we see how He sees us, our Performance improves, because we live in response to the Grace and Love that He’s already shown. We draw near to Him, and that affects us for the good.
4. Worst of all, it adds law to grace…
…which Paul points out makes it no longer grace, whereupon one “falls from grace”, as the Galatians did in their foolishness, and gets on the ground of Law. What this does is it quenches the Holy Spirit, and inflames sin.
1 Cor. 15:56 says an amazing thing: “the strength of sin is the law.” That’s where sin gets its strength, from Law. “Keep off the grass” fires up a desire to walk on the grass. “Don’t touch this sculpture” makes us want to touch the darn sculpture.
Well, those are four critical reasons why Performance-based legalism is harmful to your Christian life.
The Problem With Law-Based Living
The real problem with Law-based living is that the one who lives that way has to:
1. obey all of it,
2. obey it continually, and
3. obey it perfectly.
Sorry, but “Striving to obey God’s commandments” won’t cut it, and one who lives that way is messed up by his own paradigm, a paradigm that carries with it a built-in curse.
“For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law to perform them.'” (Gal. 3:10)
Don’t fall for it, friends.
New Covenant “Performance”
Let your performance be a fruit of walking with Jesus. Walking in the Spirit, in gratitude for what God has already done for you. Don’t ever try to EARN God’s love and favor. If you’re His child, you already have it.
We are “…servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor. 3:6)
And that New Covenant, of course, is in Jesus Christ, who became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.
What a Savior and Friend!