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Performance trap debunked by justification

Finding our worth in God's truth  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Debunking the performance trap with justification from Robert S. McGee's Search for Significance books and dvd series.

Notes & Transcripts

The performance trap

Let me start by asking you a few questions.

General

Do you tolerate failure in other’s lives more than your own?
Does the fear of embarrassment keep you from doing new things?
What would be different if you could get beyond your fear of failure?

Education

How often throughout a semester do you check your grades for each class? Do you get irritated if a teacher doesn’t post the grades right away? If so, why?
When you have to work with a partner for a lab or an assignment, how do you feel? If they don’t “pull their weight”, or don’t do it at the right time, do you get super angry?
When you think a test that you are about to take may make the difference between an A or a B, what do you do? How do you feel? How do you act?

Sports

You play a stellar game of soccer, you even score a goal, but the goalie missed that block, twice!!! And you lost. How do you feel about that goalie? Are you angry at him or her? Do you wish they weren’t on the team? Should they be benched?
You are playing basketball, a teammate steals the ball in the last minute, they pass it to you, you are in for an easy layup, no blockers, and you miss. How do you feel? Worthless?

Games

You are at your friends house, you get invited to play a game of Catan, or Monopoly? You look at your watch, which you weren’t concerned with 5 minutes ago, and now you are concerned. You say, “nah, I don’t have that long to play…maybe another time.” Why did you refuse? Was it really the time, or were you afraid to lose?
Are you afraid to try a new game because you might lose? Do you just observe until you are sure you could win?

Judging our worth based upon our performance

It is a false promise that success will bring us ultimate fulfillment and happiness. It is based upon a lie.

Lie #1: If I fail to reach certain goals, then I am a total loser

Perhaps we would say, “If I fail to reach certain goals, then I will or should feel like a total loser.” Or another way we may think is that “In order to feel good about myself I have to accomplish certain things.

How are we or others affected by this lie?

We or others tell ourselves that we will feel good about ourselves if we:
Letter in a sport
Get a good performance review
Get straight As
Preach a great sermon
Get a scholarship at the college I want to go to
Lose 15 pounds
Get praise for something I did
It seems like most of us feel an overwhelming need to achieve. For many of us our self-image is completely wrapped up in how well we perform. But isn’t it healthy to desire to do well and perform well? No, the problem about needing to succeed to feel good about ourselves is that nobody can do it all the time. Failure is a fact of life. You should remember that Babe Ruth, a great in baseball, struck out twice as many times as he hit home runs.
What’s the point? If you base your self-worth on how perfectly you perform, you will live in continual frustration. You will have little if no joy. You will spend most of your time afraid of failing, and the rest feeling like a loser.
“Success is never final. Failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts. - Winston Churchhill
Let me start by asking you a few questions.

General

Do you tolerate failure in other’s lives more than your own?
Does the fear of embarrassment keep you from doing new things?
What would be different if you could get beyond your fear of failure?

Education

How often throughout a semester do you check your grades for each class? Do you get irritated if a teacher doesn’t post the grades right away? If so, why?
When you have to work with a partner for a lab or an assignment, how do you feel? If they don’t “pull their weight”, or don’t do it at the right time, do you get super angry?
When you have to work with a partner for a lab or an assignment, how do you feel? If they don’t “pull their weight”, or don’t do it at the right time, do you get super angry?
When you think a test that you are about to take may make the difference between an A and a B, what do you do? How do you feel? How do you act?
When you think a test that you are about to take may make the difference between an A or a B, what do you do? How do you feel? How do you act?

Sports

You play a stellar game of soccer, you even score a goal, but the goalie missed that block, twice!!! And you lost. How do you feel about that goalie? Are you angry at him or her? Do you wish they weren’t on the team? Should they be benched?
You are playing basketball, a teammate steals the ball in the last minute, they pass it to you, you are in for an easy layup, no blockers, and you miss. How do you feel? Worthless?
You are playing basketball, a teammate steals the ball in the last minute, they pass it to you, you are in for an easy layup, no blockers, and you miss. How do you feel? Worthless?

Games

You are at your friends house, you get invited to play a game of Catan, or Monopoly? You look at your watch, which you weren’t concerned with 5 minutes ago, and now you are concerned. You say, “nah, I don’t have that long to play…maybe another time.” Why did you refuse? Was it really the time, or were you afraid to lose?
Are you afraid to try a new game because you might lose? Do you just observe until you are sure you could win?

Some questions

There are many things that we do, or don’t do that we have a hard time describing why or why we don’t do these things. Think of some of these things and ask yourself whether or not this could describe you:
I don’t do certain activities because of fear.
I get nervous and anxious when I feel that I might fail in an important area.
I worry.
I am anxious and I don’t know why.
I am a perfectionist.
I have to defend my mistakes.
In certain areas of my life I must succeed.
I get depressed when I fail.
I get angry when people interfere with my success and I look bad.
I am self-critical.

The effects of fearing to fail

Does fear of failure dominate or control your life? Here are some symptoms that commonly occur when we are ruled by a fear of failure:
Perfectionism - a person who freaks out over any kind of mistake or failure-no matter how small. e.g. You beat yourself up for missing 1 out of 99. You are driven and motivated…generally from a fear of failure.
Avoiding risks - a person who is unwilling to do anything they may not succeed at. e.g. Won’t take a shot for fear of missing it.
Anger and resentment - a person who when they receive any bit of criticism feels that they have failed in some way and this makes them lose our self-esteem. e.g. Anger at a teacher who gives a low grade.
Pride - a person who when they achieve success, they look down on all the “failures” which may be their friends. e.g. Someone who is cocky and arrogant.
Anxiety and fear - a person who is weighed down thinking that something is about to go wrong. e.g. Living a life of "What if… What if...”.
Depression - a person who feels that they can’t do anything right, that they are a loser. e.g. They believe that everyone is better then them. They become lethargic and passive, believing that there is no hope for change or success. Or they become angry, striking out at everyone.
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Dishonesty - a person so afraid of failure that they deny the truth and lie in order to succeed. e.g. Someone taking credit for accomplishments they didn’t do, spinning situations to look good.
Hopelessness
Chemical addiction - a person who tries to ease the sting of failure by using drugs and/or alcohol. e.g. They use addictions as a way to escape the pain of not measuring up.
Anger toward God
With all damage that happens to us and what we do when we fail. You may ask yourself, “Why does God allow me to fail? He could make me succeed. Why did he make me with these ‘shortcomings.’”

Some diagnostic questions

There are many things that we do, or don’t do that we have a hard time describing why or why we don’t do these things. Think of some of these things and ask yourself whether or not this could describe you:
I don’t do certain activities because of fear.
I get nervous and anxious when I feel that I might fail in an important area.
I worry.
I am anxious and I don’t know why.
I am a perfectionist.
I have to defend my mistakes.
In certain areas of my life I must succeed.
I get depressed when I fail.
I get angry when people interfere with my success and I look bad.
I am self-critical.

Why does God allow me to fail?

It could be that God wants us to know who we really are. He wants us to know what our new identity is in Christ. God does not want it to be easy to live in our old identity. He wants us to live as we really are. Failures are there to help us understand who we are in God’s eyes.
So if we are going to fail, we must deal with how to handle failure. Thus, we must identify Satan’s lies, renounce them, and replace them with God’s truth. We must see who we are.

Who are we?

Paul says in :
Ephesians 4:17–24 NLT
With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity. But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.
Paul tells us that we are to renew our thoughts and our attitudes, to put on our new nature that God gave us so we would be like him: truly righteous and holy.
If we had these verses etched into our brains, and things remained static, then things would be fine, but Paul tells us in :
Colossians 2:8 NLT
Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.
We are being captured with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that comes from the natural man’s thinking and the demonic world, not Christ. Paul tells us that our minds must be captured by Christ. We do this by coming to understand and appropriate what Jesus Christ has done for us and in us.

God’s solution to the performance trap: justification

Westminster Shorter Catechism
What is Justification?
Justification is an act of God's free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.
Heidelberg Catechism
How are you righteous before God?
Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Although my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, have never kept any of them, and am still inclined to all evil, yet God, without any merit of my own, out of mere grace, imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ. He grants these to me as if I had never had nor committed any sin, and as if I myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for me, if only I accept this gift with a believing heart.
New City Catechism
What do justification and sanctification mean?
Justification means our declared righteousness before God, made possible by Christ's death and resurrection for us. Sanctification means our gradual, growing righteousness, made possible by the Spirit's work in us.
God knows that we can never perform well enough to meet his perfect standards, or well enough to even please ourselves. As people, the harder we try to not fail, the more we mess up, and the more discouraged we become. Therefore, God, through his great love, has provided through Jesus Christ, a once-for-all solution to our performance problem.
Let’s look at a few passages to lead up to our main passage.
Paul writes in that we are made right in God’s eyes, though we are guilty, and because of what Christ did in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, we are at peace with God and in right relationship with him. But let’s look at this from the beginning and walk our way through it.
Romans 3:23 NLT
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.
No one is innocent.
No one meets God’s perfect and wonderful standard.
Romans 5:1 NLT
Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.
God sees us as right before him.
Through Jesus Christ we have peace with God.
This happens through faith.
Romans 5:16 NLT
And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins.
Romans 5:1 NLT
Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.
We are guilty of many sins (both original and actual).
We are made right with God through God’s free gift of Christ.
Romans 5:18 NLT
Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone.
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We are condemned before God in our own standing.
Christ’s righteousness puts us in a right relationship with God.
Christ’s righteousness gives us new life.
Romans 6:23 NLT
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 5:23
The result of all men’s sin is death, eternal death.
God offers forgiveness and eternal life through Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension.

What does all this mean?

We stand, in our own nature, condemned, in wrong standing…guilty before God. Destined for punishment, eternal death, separation from the author of life. Yet, God, being rich in mercy offered up his Son as a sacrifice to pay for all of our crimes. If we trust in Christ’s sacrifice, putting our faith in Him and not our own abilities to succeed, we receive complete forgiveness. All of our failures (past, present, and future) are dealt with by Christ’s forgiveness and love. We no longer have anything to fear, not even failure.
Let’s dig into this a bit more from Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians in chapter 5, verses 11-21.
2 Corinthians 5:
2 Corinthians 5:11–21 NLT
Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others. God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too. Are we commending ourselves to you again? No, we are giving you a reason to be proud of us, so you can answer those who brag about having a spectacular ministry rather than having a sincere heart. If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God. And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit. Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:14–21 LEB
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one died for all; as a result all died. And he died for all, in order that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the one who died for them and was raised. So then, from now on we know no one from a human point of view, if indeed we have known Christ from a human point of view, but now we know him this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all these things are from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as if God were imploring you through us. We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made the one who did not know sin to be sin on our behalf, in order that we could become the righteousness of God in him.
What is going on here?
We see that Christ was put to death and raised from the dead for us (v. 15).
We see is that if we trust God and accept the free offer he gives in what Christ did for us, that our old life is dead, and we get a new life (17).
The second thing we notice is this new
We notice that the new life we get is of a certain character God-ward: it is not self-centered, it is Christ-centered (15).
We also notice that the new life we get is of a certain character man-ward: it does not look at people in the same way, it sees them through God’s eyes (16).
We
We see that the Father reconciled (made us friends) us to himself through Christ and we are to try to reconcile others to God as well (18).
Our sins against God are not counted against us, but rather counted against Christ on the cross (19, 21).
We are given the righteousness and perfection of Christ and are seen this way in God’s eyes (21).
In , we are told that God allowed for a great exchange. Christ took our sins and failures, all of our rebellion, and poured out all of the punishment required for these things upon Christ as he hung there on the cross. The agony of bearing the wrath or anger of God was so great that even for Christ, who is God, he cried out in agony, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Like in the OT sacrifices, he became the lamb that was slaughtered for the sins of the people, and the goat that was sent outside of the camp (Golgotha was outside the city) to carry away the sins of God’s people. Jesus became our substitute, taking the shame and punishment that was ours. Jesus became our sin offering in our place.
Yet, the story did not end there. He rose again from the dead. He was perfect, clean, and totally pleasing to God the Father once again. Jesus was righteous before God, or we might say, perfectly right before God. Without any moral flaw. This rightness or righteousness of Christ becomes ours. We are counted as right before God through Christ’s infinite, unending supply of righteousness that is given to us. We cannot be more pleasing to the Father then we are in Christ.
God took our imperfections and poured them upon the crucified Christ, then he took Christ’s perfection and poured it out on those who trust in Christ.
So what happens when we trust in Jesus and call upon him?
Christ’s horrible death pays for all our sins: past, present, and future. They have been marked: “PAID IN FULL!” God cannot exact a payment once paid, nor would he want to since he loved us so much to give up his Son and put our horrible sins, failures, rebellions, terrible performances, and mistakes upon him. The gavel has been slammed down, and there is no option for a retrial.
Christ’s perfect righteousness is now ours. We have received full credit for Christ’s perfect life. You are marked: “ACCEPTABLE AND PLEASING TO GOD!” This is how God sees us.

So why the pressure?

The pressure is off. To the One who matters the most, really the only One who matters, you measure up! You are totally accepted. You have his approval both now and forever, no matter what you do…in Christ. Because you are united to Christ, God will always be completely pleased with you, even when you fail.
If this sounds crazy, let God tell you it from .
Colossians 1:21–23 NLT
This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News. The Good News has been preached all over the world, and I, Paul, have been appointed as God’s servant to proclaim it.
Colossians 1:21–22 NLT
This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.
Do you believe this passage? God says it
Do you believe this passage? God says it. It is true. He cannot lie. He has told you that you stand before him without a single fault, blameless. This is because Christ made peace by the blood of his cross (). We simply must believe it and stand firm it, resting in the assurance of the Good News of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
What is this saying? Even if you could be the best of all people that ever lived, you couldn’t increase your worth and value to God. Why? Because Jesus is of infinite worth and value, and you are united to him, and thus have his perfection and righteousness. The corollary of this is true as well. If you failed miserably for the rest of your life, as long as you are in Christ, your worth cannot be decreased to God. If you are in Christ, you don’t have to be paralyzed by the fear of failure. God is fully pleased with you just as he is with his Son, Jesus Christ.
Do you believe this passage? God says it
Do you believe this? Are you united to Christ? Do you know this freedom from the performance trap?

So I can live it up?

Since you are fully justified, you might be thinking...”Well, I guess I can live it up then. God will accept me and sees me perfect, so I can do whatever I want.”
There are four reasons why you can’t just do whatever you want and live in sin:
God hates sin. It breaks his heart when his children defiantly disobey.
Sin is destructive. It has consequences that bring pain and heartache to us and others ().
Though God will not punish us in eternity, God will discipline his children in the present ().
Christ wants us to be so in love with him that our devotion and passion for him keep us faithful ()

Renewing our minds

God tells us that we should renew our minds with right thoughts.
Romans 12:2 NLT
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
Romans 12:
Ephesians 4:23 NLT
Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.
God wants us to know that we don’t have to accomplish certain things to feel good about ourselves.
What should we do to get out of this trap?
Memorize (know them by heart) and Meditate (think deeply on what they mean and what difference they make) on the following verses each corresponding to a correct belief:
Correct Belief #1: My actions have nothing to do with Christ’s love for me!
Romans 5:1 ESV
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Correct Belief #2: I am now right with God because he has taken away my sin and given me Christ’s righteousness!
2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Correct Belief #3: I am now as pure and righteous and pleasing to Him as His Son, Jesus Christ!
Colossians 1:21–22 ESV
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,
Correct Belief #4: I don’t have to dwell on my past sins or present day failures-God has forgiven them and they are gone, so I should forget them.
Hebrews 10:17 ESV
then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
Hebrews 10:17

Summary

What is your choice?
An oppressive lifestyle of fear, shame, and stress, or the peace, confidence, and joy that Jesus promises?
So do your best in whatever you do, but remember: even if you mess up, you are still safe and secure in God’s love and acceptance. He doesn’t think any less of you, and neither should you.
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