Escaping the Performance Trap

The religious life sometimes feels like trying to hold a beach ball underwater. Joby Martin says we are constantly fighting to keep our bad parts (temper, materialism, lust of the flesh, etc.) from popping out. Every once in a while we lose control and that sin nature wriggles free and pops up, sometimes several feet into the air—metaphorically speaking. It’s embarrassing, so we grab it and shove it back down under the water.

People who feel like their beach ball is going to pop above water any minute are caught in two religious traps: performing and pretending. The performance trap is thinking that you have to maintain a certain standard in order for God to accept or bless you—and, if you fail to meet that standard, God will punish you. He may even send you to hell.

So, you’re always wondering, “Have I been good enough?” and “Have I done enough?” And, if something bad happens to you, you wonder, “Is God paying me back for something?” This kind of life leads to constant anxiety and eventual exhaustion.

Closely related to the performance trap is the pretending trap, where you are always trying to act like you have everything together, even when you don’t feel like it. Fake it till you make it, right?

Church people are really good at this. Have you ever seen a perfect-looking family come into church, all bows and Bibles and smiles? The husband pats you on the back and says, “Bless you, brother.” You see a gleam in their teeth and … is that a faint glow coming from behind their heads?

Here’s what you may not know about this family. There’s a good chance that on the way to church he and his wife were screaming at each other, and as they pulled into the parking lot, one or both of them were threatening their kids to make sure they behaved in church.

We all have our moments of pretending. For many of us, social media seems to extend this “moment” indefinitely. We post the shiny, happy moments of our lives, whether or not they accurately reflect the way our lives are going. We may be dying inside, watching our lives crumble on the outside—but on Instagram, everything’s filtered and enviable.

For people who feel caught in one or both of these traps, religion doesn’t feel a lot like freedom.

The gospel, however, as Paul explains in Romans 8, frees us from performing and pretending.

In Romans 7:24, Paul asks, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” You could paraphrase that to say, “Who will rescue me from this endless cycle of performing and pretending?”

The answer? “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

Condemnation is, of course, a legal term. It means there is a charge held against you; you owe a debt or payment. But for those in Christ, that debt no longer exists, because it has been paid in full.

What I love about this is that the debt was paid before any of my sins.

Think about it: When Jesus died on the cross, how many of our sins had we committed yet? None. He paid for them all in advance. Jesus’ death wiped out not only the presence of existing condemnation; he also wiped out the possibility of future condemnation. And that means there is nothing we could do right now that would make God love us any more—or any less.

Rankin Wilbourne says, “God doesn’t love you to the degree that you are like Christ. He loves you to the degree that you are in Christ, and that is always 100 percent.” That means God is just as pleased with you on your very worst day as he was with his Son when Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount.

Let that sink in.

See, this frees us from the performance trap. We don’t ever have to be unsure of God’s love for us. In all our mess, in all our Romans 7 struggles, we have the unconditional love and absolute acceptance of the Father.

And that frees us from the pretending trap. We don’t have to pretend we’re something we’re not for others.

There is nothing about you or me that can be revealed that Jesus has not already seen and that his blood has not already covered. When someone points something out, we can say, “Yes, God saw that, too, and he set his love on me anyway and has promised to change that in me.”

Whatever we are embarrassed of right now, whatever it is we don’t want others to know about, God has already seen it, and he declares, there is no condemnation. Jesus paid for it in full, and he receives us in love.

No more performing.

No more pretending.

“What though the vile accuser roar of sins that I have done;
I know them well, and thousands more;
My God, he knoweth none.”

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This article originally appeared on and is reposted here by permission.

J.D. Greear
J.D. Greear

J.D. Greear is the pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, and is currently serving as the 62nd president of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is the author of several books, including most recently Essential Christianity: The Heart of the Gospel in Ten Words (The Good Book Company).