Monday, October 5, 2009
Stop the Performance
It has been said that the churches get good at "sin management", at "performance evaluation", at checklists on the road to "the holy goal line".
Parishioners find themselves asking questions and measuring themselves. How can I do better? How can I be better? How can I really gain the Lord's approval? Where lies the power to be sold out for Jesus, to die daily? How can I be a genuine success in spiritual terms?
Sounds like good stuff. My faith journey in Pentecostal circles was full of it. I read too much of Charles Finney going on about "entire sanctification". I had the sixth chapter of Hebrews drilled into me about the fearful prospect of backsliding from my position of grace.
All the while a little ceramic plaque was posted in our house, speaking daily to me. It showed a submissive child nestling into the palm of a large and capable hand, Jesus' hand. The sub-text read, "neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand". (John 10: 28b)
Oh, but I suggested that my rotten selfish will could do the job. I had to work out my salvation with fear and trembling. I had to cleanse myself of all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. The self-help list, the ernest resolutions had gotten added to the blood of Calvary. It was grace and something else to be added on my part. Otherwise... no assurance. No blessed assurance.
But the resolutions failed. The ill thoughts and ill temper re-appeared. I steeled myself to try harder. The tendency toward introspection and navel-gazing became pathetic.
How thankful I am now for the message of grace and security delivered by such men as Charles Stanley and Wayne Jacobsen. I would draw your attention now to the latter and his helpful book, "He Loves Me" (2007, Windblown Park, Newbury Park, CA)
Jacobsen relates a struggle faced by a friend who was losing his marriage. He tried harder to bless his wife in ways that he thought would regain her favour. Nothing worked. The spark was gone. He concluded "that he was trying to earn points with someone who was no longer keeping score." Jacobsen continues,
My friend's wife had stopped keeping score because she was no longer interested in saving their relationship. My Father had never kept score because he wanted nothing more than to cultivate a relationship with me. He had done that, not by throwing my scorecard away, but by completely filling it out himself.
That's what Paul meant when he said that Jesus died on the cross so that "the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:4). For someone who had lived many years imagining God as the divine Scorekeeper, this moment was a glorious epiphany...
I'm not driven any more. I haven't tried to do anything great for God in more than a decade, and yet I have seen him use my life in ways that always exceed my expectations. What changed? I did, by his grace...
So my friends I suggest that you stop the performance. The things that you might DO to curry favour. Focus on the grand old tale of what has been DONE already at Calvary and the empty tomb. Live in the light of it. If you have received in all sincerity the new life in Christ, you are part of His ravishing Bride. Once you truly realize this your unrestrained love response will put you in tandem with the Bridegroom and His day to day opportunities. It will become more and more a thrill, and not a duty.