Performance Leads to Deficit
When do I feel most loved by God?
I have asked myself this question hundreds of times over the past year. I first heard it in a sermon by John Piper during a morning commute to work. Intrigued, I listened to the question (and answers) numerous times in order for the content to sink in. For weeks I let Pastor John’s thoughts about this important question marinate in my soul. And today, after months of thinking about it, I’m confident I know exactly when I feel most loved.
Feeling loved by performance always leads to a deficit
If asked by someone if my salvation was merited on works, I would eagerly respond by saying, “of course not! I’m saved by faith!” That’s the standard line I’ve heard and said for years. But, do I actually believe it? I’ll answer that question, but before I do, I want to share a little bit of what I’ve learned on my journey. When I started, my focus was sharp. With each passing day, I was creating space between my past failures and my present freedom. That felt really good. I didn’t fall into the same traps as before. I was sharing everything with Maty. As such, I started to measure my success on how well I performed on a given day. Since I wasn’t doing the same things as I did before, I was good. In church, I remember raising my hands to worship and being so thankful that I was free from my past and I hadn’t fallen back into the same patterns. In a sense, I felt loved by God because I’d done the hard work and I’d kept up the “fight” for purity. However, at the same time, there was a nagging question in the back of my mind: how long could I keep this up? And along with that question, I would wonder if God would still love me if I didn’t.
Have you ever heard people say that being tempted isn’t sin? I believe that’s true. But, the lines between temptation and sin can become blurred for someone who’s entire goal is not to screw up. And that was me for hundreds of days. I became so focused on performance that I called my actions related to fighting against temptation, sin. For example, if I was walking home from work and something or someone caught my eye, guilt and shame would wash over me and I would indict myself as a sinner who failed miserably. Then I would share with Maty, saying something like, “I’m so sorry for the sin I committed in my heart.” Thinking about this now, I believe I wasn’t sorry for the sin I committed (because I hadn’t sinned), but I was sorry that I wasn’t perfect. My response? Try harder.
I find it interesting that performance is not mentioned as a fruit of the Holy Spirit. So where does it come from? I’m sure it has many roots, but I believe one is self-worship. Think about it for a minute. If we perform well, then we get a pat-on-the-back. “Man, that girl/guy really has her/his act together – they are a big deal!” If we’re honest, there’s something intoxicating about this. And as long as that performance is sustained, then we get praise from those around us. But as we all know the applause of people is short lived. Why? Because when we don’t perform well, we don’t get the applause. And ultimately, we won’t feel loved and chances are, we’ll give up and go back to our old patterns of behavior.
Feeling loved by faith always leads to abundance
Living in a deficit is exhausting. There’s so much striving just to live daily life. What I found for me was that living this way sucked the enjoyment of life right out of my soul. Why? Because I was focused on being good. On never making a mistake. I was so hard on myself because I was terrified of what it might look like if I messed up. At one point in my journey, after sharing every little detail with Maty for months, I reached a breaking point where I realized my attempts to be perfect would lead me back to the same spot I’d started. Now, before anyone gets any ideas in their head, I’ve not fallen back into old habits. In fact, just to be clear, the temptations I’ve dealt with have been just that, temptations. I haven’t acted on them. And did you see what I just did there? While writing about feeling loved by faith, I started to write from a place of being loved by performance. I want you as readers to know that I’m doing well and I haven’t screwed up. There’s something in my flesh that screams “performance.”
But, here's the shift. I’ve realized that what I “do” on a daily basis has no link to my “identity”. I am a son of God. I am saved because of my faith in Jesus. God has a plan for my life and it is good. There is nothing that can separate me from the love of God. Even if I get captivated with something/someone on the way home from work, I am still a son of God. Even if I were to fall down and mess up, I am still saved because of my faith in Jesus. Even if I chase after some other thing that gets me off course, God still has a plan for my life and it is good. Even if I struggle with dark things, there’s nothing that can separate me from the love of God.
There are only two responses to when we feel loved by God
Pastor John presented two options to the question, “when do I feel most loved by God?” First, do I feel most loved by God when he makes a big deal out of me? Or, do I feel most loved by God when, at great personal sacrifice to himself, he sets me free to make a big deal out of him? Two responses to the same question. During my relationship with God, there have been times when I felt like God was making a big deal out of me. But that feeling was short lived and it always left me feeling intimidated because I knew that I would never be able to perform good enough for him to keep making a big deal out of me.
However, once I understood in the core of my identity that I feel most loved when I agree that God has set me free, at great personal sacrifice to himself, to make a big deal out of him…well, that’s when everything changed for me. This is true freedom, because I know that I’ll never measure up to the expectations that I’ve set for myself or the expectations that I believe that others have set for me. But one thing I can do is agree with who I am as a son of God and that I have been set free by the free gift of salvation that was purchased by Jesus on the cross. And if I ever wonder if God thinks I’m a big deal, then all I have to do is remember that before the foundations of the world, he said the following words: “I want Travis in my family.”