In every area of life we are measured by our performance. It starts happening at the very beginning of our life. How soon we sit up, talk, walk, or achieve some other milestone implies something about our abilities, attitudes, and aptitudes. It multiples when we enter school, become involved in some sport or form of the arts. And it keeps on going into any and all areas of employment.
We measure ourselves by our performance.
We must perform in order to achieve success, or a good grade, or a promotion. We must perform well in order to have others think well of us. We step on the performance treadmill in every area of our lives. We also fall prey to believing all we are is our performance. Additionally, we struggle with the reality that our performance in any and all areas varies from day to day so we can become even more driven.
The sad truth is this same habit can bleed into our spiritual lives as well. We rejoice in the grace extended to us at salvation, but falter on the shoals of disappointment because we cannot keep the new standards we now want to live by and the ones too many other believers set for us. We start trying to become a “successful” Christian who performs consistently, never tires, rarely (if ever) falls, delves into every spiritual discipline with fervor, and becomes a great prayer warrior. We believe somehow the Lord will love us more and grant us greater favor or blessings if we perform well.
We have missed what it means to live by grace and grace alone. Too often our discipler, mentor, or small group leader doesn’t mention this topic or spend much time helping us understand it.
We knew (as Jerry Bridges says) that we were spiritually and morally bankrupt when we first came to the Lord. We know our performance cannot gain heaven for us, but we suspect or believe that we can earn more favor or blessings from the Lord by our performance. When that performance falters as it always does, we doubt the Lord’s love for us and the joy of His grace can get eroded bit by bit.
We have lost hold of a foundational truth:
Our debt (past, present, and future) has been paid in full. The Lord does not keep a scorecard on each of us based on our performance to grant or withhold blessings.
Too often we buy into the lie that it is just the opposite. We are set up for that because of all our experiences in life before salvation as well as how our culture esteems success. The enemy also loves it when we do because he has distracted us from the truth. If we stay distracted long enough, he may seduce us into giving up on the Christian life, walk away from fellowship with the body of Christ, dismiss the truth of His Word as not applying to us, and decide we are too unworthy to even utter a prayer.
I wish this statement by Jerry Bridges would be given to every new believer at the point of accepting the Lord:
“Grace does not first rescue us from the penalty of our sins, furnish us with some new spiritual abilities, and then leave us on our own to grow in spiritual maturity.”
We are justified by grace and ultimately glorified by grace when we leave this life to live with Christ. But we forget our life with Him, our Christian life, is also based on grace, not on works.
Grace is the heart of the gospel. But in our efforts to do well, “make the grade”, prove our faith is what we say it is, we can miss the biblical truth of grace.
“Grace is always the same, whether God exercises it in saving us or in dealing with us as believers. In whatever way the Bible defines saving grace, that same definition applies in the arena of living the Christian life day by day.” Jerry Bridges
And that is freedom in Christ…that is what allows us to rest in Him as He walks with us through the progressive work of sanctification. It is what nurtures our relationship with Him and holds us steady in the midst of the storms of life.
It’s all about grace, not only at salvation but also for every minute of every day after that.