Christian Depression Pages logo.  Christian Depression Pages

Performance-based spirituality

In the New Testament, Jesus had a lot to say to people in various types of sin; however, he seemed to give the most criticism to the group that people thought were most righteous: the religious establishment. His words against the Pharisees and Saducees surely surprised his audiences, for these were the very people who could be seen practicing their faith publicly and keeping the Law to the tiniest degree.

What the people didn't realize was that the public performance was a problem, and not a symbol of true spirituality. Often we still don't recognize that fact today. Even churches that teach salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ are not immune to getting caught up in focusing on the externals. One of my friends called this emphasis "performance-based spirituality". Too often, the church and ministry leaders can be so wrapped up in appearances and actions that real opportunities for ministry are lost.

Performance-based spirituality manifests itself in two ways, the things people do and the things they avoid. The Bible does say that Christians are to be separate from the world, are to behave in certain ways, and are to avoid certain things; but this in itself is not the issue. The problem comes when churches and ministry leaders set up arbitrary standards that everyone must reach, and when those who don't perform as desired are looked down upon and treated as less "worthy" or less "Christian". Such behavior is unfair and un-Biblical, and it carries at least three serious problems.

The first problem is that performance-based spirituality is not an accurate measure of one's walk with God because it can be easily faked. Anyone who knows anything about the Bible can put on a good front for a while. Anyone who ever attended a Christian school can not only quote all the right Scriptures, they can also dress perfectly and know exactly what not to do when the preacher knocks on the door. It isn't that hard to get a skirt just to the knee. It's not tough to find a barber who can give Junior the perfect private-school short haircut. It's easy to whip out some tidbit of inspiration from the Psalms and post it online or give a quick devotion. Some people can do it without even blinking, and then behave quite badly when they think nobody is looking. Maybe their houses and appearances are perfect, but they could be the biggest gossips and revenge freaks you'll ever meet.

Some of the most unforgiving people you'll ever encounter are those who occupy a pew with you on Sunday mornings.

"When Forgiveness Doesn't Make Sense" by Robert Jeffress

The second problem is that performance-based spirituality has no room for differences in personalities and convictions, or for differing stages of spiritual growth, or for God's personal workings in a believer's life. God didn't make us all Stepford children. Each person has a unique combination of gifts, talents, strengths, and weaknesses that will never be duplicated. God works with each person according to what He has allowed them to have, and doesn't always operate the same way every time. One person may be convicted about a particular sin immediately, while another may be convicted of changing something else before he deals with the same sin. Sometimes God works on us in ways we can share with everyone, and other times He deals with us in ways we keep to ourselves for various reasons. We're not all going to overcome the same sins in the same order on the same timeline. To expect everyone to accomplish the same actions at the same time and hold the same convictions on issues not essential to salvation puts an incredible burden to perform on those struggling both to serve the Lord and to meet the standards. It also completely ignores the behind-the-scenes work God really is doing.

The third problem with performance-based spirituality is that it can be easily used as a weapon against other believers. It's a perfect way for a Christian to get revenge because everything looks so spiritual! One well-picked verse pulled out of context can defend anything, even if the point of view is completely wrong. A bully can do hurtful things to other believers and then accuse them of unforgiveness when they do not allow further abuse and manipulation. Even differences of opinion over a neutral issue get this treatment. One college student found a way to misuse Proverbs 31 to condemn her roommate for enjoying exercise and having a muscular build! Her roommate could easily have countered--correctly--by pointing out that the apostle Paul said that exercise does have some benefit. Even when two people do something Scripturally proper, someone can always find a way to one-up the other. If both women are modestly dressed, there is no need for one to condemn the other for spending too much or too little on said clothing, much less defend said criticism with Scripture.

What does show a measure of a person's faith?

Galatian 5:22-23

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

As a person matures in Christ, their life will reflect more of the fruit of the Spirit and the love of God. It isn't something that you can force, not without getting tired and resentful.

The church is not built of rules and regulations, but of people. Fallible, imperfect, sinful people. When we focus on the artificial goals performance-oriented Christians set, we can lose the very people we have been sent to save, alienating them with our lists of requirements.

Performance-based spirituality can wear you out and drive you away from God because of all of the demands placed on you.

Matthew 22:37-40

Jesus replied: "`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

God works different changes in each of us at a different rate. Performance oriented Christianity requires God do the same thing in all of us, at the same time and the same speed. We are not identical clones, each of has our own strengths and weaknesses. God will change what he choses, when he choses, we cannot write his schedule.

Copyright © 2000 L Ray