One of my heart’s life-long battles has been to seek people’s affirmation of love by being for them what I think they desire me to be. Tragically, I am a people pleaser. I have developed skills at reading people. I know backwards and forwards the institutions’ criteria for acceptance. I’ve canonized the rules for the affirmation of love, and I perform accordingly. Early on, I mastered the art of pretending to be someone you will like. I longed for clicks on the ‘like Brad’ button.
I learned early on in school that I was loved for what I did and how I behaved, and not for who I was. I was in charge of teacher’s moods, rewarded for good behavior—and shamed, labeled, and rejected for bad behavior. I got so good at pretending and performing that most years I won the ‘citizenship’ (most godly kid) award for my class at school, and I’m pretty sure the only reason I didn’t win it every year is because they couldn’t just keep giving it to the same person.
But it is not just my problem—it is a human problem. Christ and St. Paul both addressed the performance problem, because at the heart of ‘religion’ is the belief that I must perform for God to love me. In Romans 5, Paul describes this performance for God and exposes hearts in a startling way.
Paul points out that our performance problem is exacerbated by a misunderstanding of God’s law. In the giving of the 10 commandments, God spelled out to Moses in greater detail (and in more clarity than ever before) the performance standards. Stuck in the quagmire of not feeling like they were enough, God’s people sought to recover their glory and identity by keeping God’s law. They believed their performance could set God’s mood for the week.
St. Paul says, while we default to believing that God’s rules are the solution to the problem, God’s rules are actually the problem. Not because they’re bad, but God’s greater clarity
exposes us. Because his rules shine brightly on us, we now know we don’t even come close to performing well enough. In fact, God’s clarity exposes that we are even worse off than we thought we were.
Nothing has changed. The church culture of our day still believes we can recover our glory and identity with our obedient performance. We are loved more if we are a good spouse or parent We expose our penchant for performance by our burning desire to take the clarity of God’s rules and become umpires who let everyone know that “Strike 1, strike 2, and strike 3, you’re out!”
But then, nobody wants to strike out, so we just need to become better batters. We read books and attend classes so that we can gain more clarity on God’s rules for the identity of good spouse or parent. The prevailing message of the church seems to be one that you will be accepted and loved for what you do.
While it may make us uneasy that God’s clarity of his rules increases sin, it is actually good news because it reveals our hopelessness and opens the door to the breathtaking beauty of Jesus. St. Paul says that in the struggle between sin and grace, Grace wins hands down! God gave us more clarity of his rules not so we could perform, but so his grace could go crazy. Our lack of performance never holds a candle to the grace of God.
I still struggle to perform for the affirmation of love. I still have bad weeks where I mess up on my job. I hear the voices of the umpires. When I hear, “Strike 1, strike 2”, I run to make more visits and phone calls, communicate better, preach a better sermon, just hoping that “strike 3” will never come. I pretend, just hoping that people will like the pretend version of me and hit the “like Brad” button. All these fears, yet I still strike out.
I’m exhausted because I still hear and believe the message that I’m loved because of what I do. In Christ’s kindness, he brings rest. Reminding me of the breathtaking good news that he has done it all. I can actually be honest, take off my masks, and quit pretending. God made his rules clearer not so I would perform better, but so I would give up. God made his rules clearer so His grace in Jesus could go crazy. I’m always learning I’m not loved because of what I’ve done. I’m loved because of who I am. The Beloved.
Posted on Fri, March 10, 2017
by Brad Bresson