The Performance Trap

“The great mistake made by people is hoping to discover in themselves that which is to be found in Christ alone.” –A.W. Pink

Many people grow up in the church feeling a burden of having to perform. They think that devotion to God looks like rigorous effort and righteous improvement. However, the stunning truth that should rock all Christians to the core is the fact that they don’t have the ability within themselves to be fully devoted to God.

Say what?

Performance freaks, which applies to many Christians, love to convince themselves that they have the ability to “do it.” They can be devoted to God if they just try harder. But the truth is that the more they try, the more it becomes about them and the less it becomes about Jesus Christ. This is really bad news.

What makes this bad news is that we are all a lot worse off than most of us probably have ever imagined. We can try all we want, but we will never be fully devoted to God until we are in His presence spending eternity with Him. Don’t get confused – Christians must strive to be devoted to God during our lives; however, we must strive to do so by looking at Jesus Christ and not by focusing on our own personal progress.

Where all men fail in being devoted to God every day, Christ succeeded in being devoted every single moment of his life. Christians are justified by faith in the substitutionary death and perfect life of Christ Jesus. Jesus was completely devoted to his Father. He followed his will perfectly. Jesus Christ loved fully and was always loyal. There would be a picture of Jesus next to the word “devotion” in Webster’s Dictionary. He was, and always will be, the only man to ever walk on planet Earth who was completely devoted to God. That’s very good news.
Christians cannot get it backwards. For Christians, life will radically change we come to a proper understanding of true Christian devotion. Reading through I Corinthians 15:1-2 shows that the gospel of Jesus is something that Christians had received, (past tense) something that we stand on, (present tense) and something by which we are being saved (future tense). This verse revolutionizes what Christian progress looks like. The gospel of Jesus Christ should hit us like a ton of bricks when we realize that true spiritual growth is focusing less on ourselves and more on Christ. This means that the gospel essentially turns us outward away from ourselves and instead upward to Christ, and outward to others.

The Apostle Paul, after his conversion, should be considered one of the most devoted men to Christ throughout Scripture. However, it is interesting to notice that Paul referred to himself over the course of his Christian life as the least of the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:9), the very least of all saints (Ephesians 3:8), and the foremost sinner (1 Timothy 1:15). Because Paul kept his eyes solely focused on Jesus, he was able to admit his lack of devotion to Christ and rest upon the saving grace of Christ Jesus. Paul understood that devotion to Christ was less about him becoming better and more about placing his faith on an unchanging Savior (Hebrews 13:8).

If we focus on the gospel and realize that we have already been transferred into the Kingdom of God (Colossians 1:13) because of our faith in Christ Jesus, we are able to pursue and strive to become more devoted believers. This is what the process of becoming more like Jesus is all about. As Christians, our identity is sealed, so we are able to live life in a manner worthy of the gospel. When gospel truth intervenes in a life, difficult circumstances can be looked at in such a new light.

When Christ’s work becomes the center of what we focus on during the day, that horrible job we may complain about all of the time becomes work we gratefully do for God because Christ has blessed us with it. It means that stay-at-home moms who despise being cooped up in the house all day with three infant kids that are craving for attention can persevere through their circumstances and rest in the arms of a Savior who whispers, “In you I am well pleased.” It means that students who are being bullied and struggling with depression can find immeasurable peace and hope in knowing that they have nothing to prove because Christ has proven everything.

This is what keeping Jesus at the center does. In all of these cases, we are both freed and empowered to become more devoted to God by focusing on the glorious good news. With our identity in Christ sealed, we are able to overcome life’s hardships and suffering because He has overcome! The only true Christian way to freely pursue devotion to God is with eyes focused on Jesus.

And that is very good news.

Matt Manry is the Director of Students at Life Bible Church in Canton, Georgia and a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. You can follow his blog at or his twitter @matt_manry.

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