Our performance mentality can cause us to believe we need the grace of salvation because we did some awful things. We come to the acknowledgment that we failed, failed repeatedly in many ways, and life isn’t working out very well at all. We see that we are morally a mess and our best attempts are not good enough, but sin isn’t just about actions despite our performance construct that tempts us to believe that.
Our attitudes and the condition of our hearts are the issue.
Look at how Dr. C. Samuel Storms describes it in The Grandeur of Grace:
“The first and possibly most fundamental characteristic of divine grace is that it presupposes sin and guilt.
Grace has meaning only when men are seen as fallen, unworthy of salvation, and liable to eternal wrath…
Grace does not contemplate sinners merely as undeserving but as ill-deserving…It is not simply that we do not deserve grace, we do deserve hell.”
Sometimes I think we need to let that soak in a bit more than we often do. Yes, even on our best days…even if we have not committed some crime we believe is punishable by death, we still are fallen and grace has been granted when what we deserved was hell.
Let me share one thing more from Dr. Storms’ words that make the truth vibrant and crystal clear:
“Grace ceases to be grace if God is compelled to bestow it in the presence of human merit…Grace ceases to be grace if God is compelled to withdraw it in the presence of human demerit…Grace is treating a person without the slightest reference to deserving whatsoever, but solely according to the infinite goodness and sovereign purposes of God.”
Wow!! His words make clear a truth we cannot help but see.
I wish I had understood that more fully earlier in my walk with the Lord. I easily slipped into performance mentality and also accepted much of the Christian legalism of what I should or ought to do as a good believer.
One of the areas it was evident was in the area of spending time reading in the Word. As a child the Bible had fascinated me and more than once my mother chided me when she found me with a flashlight under the covers reading it when I was supposed to be sleeping. As a teen when I formally accepted Christ, I started hearing about all kinds of reading plans I should be using and even ones that gave me the order I was supposed to read. It lost some of its joy and became a bit more duty and when I failed to keep up with the plan or read the number of chapters assigned, I felt the Lord must be disappointed in me.
In early adulthood some of those same feelings lingered until I experienced a fresh renewal of Him in my early thirties. Again, I devoured the Word and felt the Lord speaking to me through it. I didn’t look at plans to read it. I just couldn’t wait to dig into it each day. I still heard from many sources how I should be doing it, but I largely ignored them all.
Plans are not a bad thing. They help give us a disciplined path and can be helpful at different times and seasons because they help us look at the whole Bible versus just certain books or passages we know or love. But they can also lend themselves to getting tangled up with our performance mentality construct.
In recent years I have discovered some plans that I enjoy, but what is most valuable to me has been how I have discovered grace evident from Genesis to Revelation. In doing so I have also recognized that the Word is meant to be a dialogue between the Lord and me. Reading in it is not a passive experience, but it is a deeply personal one where I am responding in a conversational way (often with journal in hand).
I love how Judith Kunst talks about this in The Burning Word:
“The Jewish way of reading, I am learning, is less about progressing than about digging in, holding on — not passing through words but dwelling in them and on them, under them and around them.”
Jerry Bridges uses a metaphor to describe the facets of grace that I enjoy. He writes about how an engaged couple looks for that special diamond in a jewelry store. The sales associate will lay each diamond ring on a dark velvet pad. The dark pad enhances the beauty and sparkle of each stone. His metaphor for grace reads as follows:
“Our sinful condition hardly qualifies as a velvet pad, but against the dark background of guilt and moral pollution, God’s grace in salvation sparkles like a beautiful, clear, and flawless diamond.”
Maybe we also need to acknowledge one of the mindsets that cloud our understanding of living by grace is our old nemesis…pride.
R.C. Sproul addressed this as follows:
“Perhaps the most difficult task for us to perform is to rely on God’s grace and God’s grace alone for our salvation (and every day after). It is difficult for our pride to rest on grace.”
That is exactly what Jesus invites us to do. He wants us to rest in Him, abide in Him. That means we will be utterly and completely dependent on Him and His grace. Only His grace each day will allow us to do so.