If any of the myths I talk about this week will anger someone it will be this one. All I ask is that you hear me out and read this entire post before you shut me down. If you are still mad after reading the entire post ask yourself if you are mad because I’ve contradicted Scripture or because your pride has been wounded. The sad fact is that many in the modern Evangelical church have a performance-based religion. No one would say this is what they have but it becomes evident at various times in our lives. The time it is most often seen is during the hard times.
Here is what happens in a performance-based religion. We follow a list of do’s and don’ts that we have been given. We do come to church, read our Bible’s pray and tithe. We don’t drink alcohol, cuss, go to R rated movies or have sex outside of marriage. With this, we have in our minds that Christianity is all about the things we are supposed to do and the things we aren’t supposed to do. Regardless of what we say, this is a performance-based religion.
There are all kinds of problems with this kind of religion. One is that it is not Gospel centered Christianity. Another is that Paul tells us in Colossians that this kind of religion may look good but it doesn’t do anything help us conquer our sinful desires and it doesn’t transform us (Col 2:20-23). For the most part, this doesn’t seem to hinder people in their lives. They can just plug right along.
The real weakness of performance-based religion is seen when problems or trials come into our lives. Here is what happens. We work hard at doing our do’s and we fight hard against our don’ts. This allows us a measure of conformity to our list and gives us a perception of being “successful” in the Christian life. This really seems to work fine until our spouse leaves us, our finances go in the toilet, the test results come back bad, a loved one dies or some other bad thing happens in our lives.
At this point we begin saying things like, “I don’t deserve this. I was good. God I can’t believe you let this happen to me after all I’ve done for you.” We then begin to list all of the do’s we’ve done and all of the don’ts we didn’t do. We do this because in our minds doing the do’s and not doing the don’ts gives us merit before God. What we would never say, but what is implied in this line of thought, is that by doing or not doing these things we put God in our debt. The mindset among some seems to be that if we are “good Christians” then God owes us. The reality check that we all need from time to time is that we never put God into our debt and God never, ever owes us anything. Everything He does in our lives is an act of His gracious mercy toward us.
Let me show you this from the Bible. I want us to look at what I feel to be the most humbling, pride destroying passage of Scripture there is.
“7 And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? 8 But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. 10 So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’ ” Luke 17:7-10 (NKJV)
When a servant has come in from working in the field, does the master tell him to set down and then begin to serve him? Well of course not. The master sets down and has the servant continue serving him. After the servant has served as he was supposed to, does the master then praise him as if he’d done something exceptional? No he doesn’t, because the servant was just doing his duty.
The point of this parable is found in verse 10. When we do the things that Christ has commanded us to do or we don’t do all the things that Christ has commanded us not to do, we haven’t done anything exceptional. All we’ve really done is our duty. We are still unprofitable servants. That is ridiculously hard on the ole ego.
Why are we will unprofitable even though we’ve done our duty? It’s because we’re still flawed. We still sin and so we still deserve God’s wrath. If you doubt this, take some time and review the Ten Commandments. As you do, ask yourself if you’ve perfectly kept them. If you haven’t perfectly kept them then you’ve sinned and deserve the wages of sin which is death (Romans 6:23). Or you can look at Matthew 22:34-40 at what Jesus said was the great commandment of the Law and the one that was like it. Then ask yourself, “Have I perfectly loved the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength? Have I perfectly loved my neighbor as I love myself?” If the answer to these questions is no then you’ve sinned and deserve the wages of sin which is death (Romans 6:23).
Instead of receiving the wages our sins deserve, God gives us grace and mercy. This grace and mercy is something we will need every day of our lives. Grace and mercy, not merit, will always be our basis when we go before God. There will never be a day where we have merit before God because there will never be a day where we don’t need His mercy and grace.
Can’t you see how believing this myth will make you miserable? When we buy into the myth that God owes us then we begin to believe that God has failed us when pain, hardship or trials come into our lives. So now, not only are we dealing with our pain, hardship or trials but we are also having to deal with thoughts that God has failed us, doesn’t care about us or doesn’t keep His promises to us. This all comes about because we have bought into a myth that says we can live in a way that puts God into our debt and the way He pays His debt to us is through keeping our life free of suffering. This is why we must understand that we will have pain, hardship and trials in this life. Then, through Christ, we can face the brutal facts about suffering without losing hope.
21 This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. 22 Through the LORD’S mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:21-23 (NKJV)
God’s actions toward us are never a matter of Him paying debt He owes us. Instead, His ever action toward us flows out of His gracious mercy.