Freedom from the Performance Treadmill

True acceptance is based solely on God’s gracious work in Jesus

“Even though you know in your head that your salvation was accomplished solely by the grace of God apart from your own works, do you sometimes wonder if God accepts you?”

 

In 1994, I was given Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges. Immediately, I read the first few chapters and set it aside for no memorable reason (Providence had another plan to use it later). There it sat until 2006 when I sensed a particular working of the Spirit in my life bringing me to a deeper understanding of God’s grace.

I had been finding myself constantly frustrated and, at times, depressed. I thought of myself only as a constant failure who could never measure up to my perfectionist expectations and, therefore, did not feel fully accepted by God. Oh, I knew I was born again. There was no question in my mind about that. But I found it almost impossible to simply rest in my acceptance with God. So, He sent Jerry Bridges to me as a faithful counselor to help me see the cause of my frustration: I had shifted the basis of my acceptance with God from His grace alone to His grace plus my daily performance for Him. Jerry exposed my wrong thinking:

My observation of Christendom is that most of us tend to base our personal relationship with God on our performance instead of on His grace. If we’ve performed well—whatever “well” is in our opinion—then we expect God to bless us. If we haven’t done so well, our expectations are reduced accordingly. In this sense, we live by works rather than grace. We are saved by grace, but we are living by the “sweat” of our own performance. (p. 1l, 12)

Can you relate? Even though you know in your head that your salvation was accomplished solely by the grace of God apart from your own works, do you sometimes wonder if God really accepts you? If you do not always “feel” accepted, it may be you have exchanged the security of your standing in Christ with the uncertainty of what Bridges calls “the performance treadmill” and, therefore, are not truly living by grace. Here’s how he describes it:

Living by grace instead of by works means you are free from the performance treadmill. It means God has already given you an “A” when you deserved an “F.” He has already given you a full day’s pay even though you may have worked for only one hour. It means you don’t have to perform certain spiritual disciplines to earn God’s approval. Jesus Christ has already done that for you. You are loved and accepted by God through the merit of Jesus, and you are blessed by God through the merit of Jesus. Nothing you ever do will cause Him to love you any more or any less. He loves you strictly by His grace given to you through Jesus. (p. 73)

At the same time, through a Sunday School lesson, God directed me to meditate on Ephesians 1:6. The apostle’s point in the passage is that salvation is totally, “to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.” The teacher then said, “God does not bless me according to my performance. Instead, I am already blessed in Christ.” I knew that! I’d probably even said something at least remotely like it at one time or another, but I needed to hear it said in exactly that way for it to sink in—another affirmation of the Spirit of God renewing my mind. Bridges said it this way:

To live by grace is to live solely by the merit of Jesus Christ. To live by grace is to base my entire relationship with God, including my acceptance and standing with Him, on my union with Christ. It is to recognize that in myself I bring nothing of worth to my relationship with God, because even my righteous acts are like filthy rags in His sight (Isaiah 64:6). Even my best works are stained with motives and imperfect performance. I never truly love God with all my heart, and I never truly love my neighbor with the degree or consistency with which I love myself. (p. 101)

Therefore, if we base our favor with God on our performance, we will never truly think we are accepted, because all our past and present performances are flawed by our sin and the stubbornness of our depravity, and there will always be another performance ahead—a performance we might just fail. Instead, we must meditate on key passages of Scripture that assure us of our standing in grace:

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