We live in a performance-based world.
At a very young age, we enter a classroom where performing becomes a big part of our lives. It seems that everything revolves around making the grade. Before long, our relationships take on an aspect of performing—“You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” Eventually, we move into the work force and our paycheck and job security are then based on our performance.
It is easy to see why we conclude that our spiritual life must be performance-based as well.
We quickly fall into evaluating our spiritual lives based on performance measures. How often do we read our Bible…do we pray…attend a worship service…journal…share our faith? The self-evaluation can be endless.
One of the major problems with this type of self-spiritual-evaluation is it gives Satan the ability to slip a simple question into our minds that will haunt us continually; “Have I done enough?”
Have You Done Enough?
Do you recognize the poison in this question? There can be no peace or rest if we are continually wondering if we have done enough. And, how does this reconcile with Jesus’ declaration, “It is finished!“?
The answer – it doesn’t.
“It is finished” means all of the performance requirements have been met on our behalf by Jesus. Which is a good thing because our honest answer to the question, “Have you done enough?” would always have to be “No.” The truth is we could never do enough to save ourselves.
A second problem with a performance-based approach to spiritual life is that it places the focus on us. This also does not align with Jesus’ teaching about how we live a spiritually mature life.
We Are Branches, Not the Vine
The vine “produces” the fruit that branches “bear”.
A branch apart from the vine will produce nothing—it will wither and die. Life is in the vine. In John 15, Jesus uses this truth to demonstrate spiritual growth; “I am the vine; you are the branches.” This is critically important in helping us understand how we evaluate our spiritual lives. The branch does not “produce” the fruit; it “bears” the fruit. In other words, we are not the source of our spiritual growth or the “fruit” seen in our lives. The “fruit” we bear is the good things we do, our spiritual growth, and our maturity. This may look a lot like “performance,” but it is not our performance that is producing fruit— it is Jesus, the true Vine, who produces everything of value in our lives.
Jesus goes on to say, “Abide in me.” This means that we are to be connected and totally dependent upon Him. Just as the branch is connected to and dependent upon the vine, we are completely dependent on Christ to produce everything good in our lives.
Keep Your Focus on Jesus
Practically speaking, instead of constantly looking at our lives, self-evaluating, and attempting to self-improve, we simply spend time with Jesus. Yes, this includes reading the Bible, praying, and being with other Believers, but the focus is not on doing those tasks. Instead, the focus is on abiding in (being with) Christ.
When I spend time with people, I start acting and talking like them. When I spent a few months in England I began speaking with an English accent (well, sort of). When I started out in the business world working for a CPA, I began wearing clothes like he wore, dealing with people the way he did, doing my work in the same way. When I worked in a shipyard my language reflected what I heard in the yard.
Do you ever find yourself taking on the mannerisms, language, and ways of the people with whom you spend most of your time?
Just as it is common for us to become like the people we are around the most, if we want to see more of Jesus reflected in our lives, the most natural way for this to happen is for us to hang out with Him. This focus is completely different from trying to become like Jesus by concentrating on our behavior.
To further illustrate, as Believers we receive the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. These nine attributes of God are given to us as soon as we believe in Christ.
A performance-based approach to exhibiting this fruit in our lives would be to ask ourselves how we can become more loving, joyful, patient, etc. This is a recipe for exhaustion. We will become absolutely worn out attempting to force ourselves to be these things.
However, recognizing that all of this is already ours in Christ, instead of trying to create these things within us, we just focus on Jesus who is our life (Colossians 3:4). When we do this, Christ will produce the fruit we bear.
Finally, Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches.” Notice “branches” is plural. Jesus is making the critical point that we do not do this alone. We do this together—in community. As we surround ourselves with others who understand that our source is Christ alone, we continuously remind each other of this truth. This constant reminder of our true identity in Christ is required because everything else in life will push us back towards performance-based living.
If we are not exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit it means we are having a temporary identity crisis, momentarily forgetting who we truly are in Christ. We do not need to fix ourselves, and we do not need to mimic Christ. What we need is a reminder of who we already are in Christ from those with whom we are sharing life in community.
Let’s talk about it (reply below) –
Have you been trapped in performance-based thinking and living in your relationship with God?
How does recognizing that Christ is your life and He is the one “producing” what you simply “bear” free you?