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Performance Christianity—Getting Over It

Image by Martijn Braat via Flickr

Many Christians feel empty, tired, and apathetic, if not positively angry, though few express this out loud because it’s usually taboo to do so within Christian circles. These believers often fault themselves for their shortcomings when, in fact, it may be that their lack of zeal for the things of God is not in a sense appropriate given the dysfunctional view of God they embrace in their minds. Beneath all of their religious talk are assumptions about God and themselves that are not at all in accord with the view of God and of ourselves in Christ.

If these weary believers were to draw a picture of the God they really believe in, it would be a picture of the kind of person most of us would rather not be around: demanding, behavior oriented, easily disappointed, frequently angry, and intimidating. It would not be a picture of a person with whom you would naturally fall in love. In short, it would not be a picture of Jesus Christ.

So long as this false picture of God is held, however unconsciously, all of the preaching in the world about how we ought to love God, how we should be on fire for God, and so on, will fall flat. These believers may in fact try very hard to do these things, but it will only make them feel more tired, more frustrated, and emptier. It certainly will never transform them.

Jesus Christ is the “visibility of God,” as the second century church father, Irenaeus, put it. In Jesus, the God who is infinite and invisible becomes finite and visible. In Jesus, we have a concrete, tangible, and personal picture of God.

To think of Jesus Christ is to think of God. It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of this fact. All growth in the Christian life is centered on this truth. Only when we resolve to have no other picture of God than the one he himself has given us will our deceptive ideas about God be broken. We can begin to be made whole when we, with the guiding of the Holy Spirit, picture and experience God as one who loves us so much he would become a man and die for us, and when we allow this picture of God to confront everything else we may think we know about God. For we are only as healthy as our picture of God is accurate.

The extent to which the truth about who God is and who we are in Christ (see this post on our identity “in Christ) becomes an experienced reality in our lives is the extent to which our lives are whole. Conversely, the extent to which we live as though this truth were not true, under deception and thus under a performance mentality, is the extent to which we suppress our new nature in Christ and remain in bondage to the pattern of the world.

—Adapted from Seeing Is Believing, pages 55-63.

A great series on this topic can be viewed here.

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