Pastors are only too willing to rail against performance-based Christianity as a serious ailment afflicting large numbers of Christians these days. But that railing is actually quite woefully off the rails.
By performance-based Christianity I mean a Christian life that apparently, according to these preacherly protestations, causes a person to be ground down into nothingness by excessive attempts to serve the Lord in a mistaken effort to earn his favor.
The problem is that when you frame the problem this way, the solution comes out sounding something like this: “I had to learn to stop doing and just start being. I had to learn how to just accept God’s love and know that there was nothing God was requiring of me in return other than to believe and trust in his grace. There is nothing I can do to earn his favor, and when I try to earn his favor it is an insult to the sacrifice of his son for me.”
This sounds good, but on closer examination such a solution is actually no solution at all. The being/doing dichotomy is a Buddhist concept, not a Christian one. So while “I switched from doing to being” sounds holy enough, unless your doing-to-being enlightenment entails you heading off to a mountain monastery for round the clock meditation under a vow of silence, you actually do still have about the same amount of doing in your life, even after your doing-to-being aha moment. You’re just choosing to do different things.
And therein is the rub.
The more honest, accurate way to express the “doing to being” transformation touted by many pastors is: “I stopped doing (or reduced the amount of time I devoted to doing, or decreased the seriousness which I associated with doing) discipleship activities that I did not enjoy or wasn’t very successful at.” Suddenly, daily Scripture reading becomes slavery to the law. Refraining from eating a second muffin becomes rank legalism. Confessing your sin to God and your spouse when you masturbate becomes aspiring to the righteousness of the Pharisees.
In this doing-to-being paradigm, when you sin you can actually feel quite good about it. It proves the pastor right: You are no Jesus. You’re the mess-up, not the Messiah. Jesus loves that role, pastor says, and you should, too.
But that overlooks one very central truth of Scripture that can be found on virtually every page of the Old and New Testament:
Enduring Happiness is Only Possible If You Live According to the Gospel.
Enduring happiness, in other words, comes from hearing and doing the Word.
So am I advocating that you “jump back on the performance treadmill”? By no means. But I am advocating that you discard this nonsense, non-Christian talk that opposes being and doing and instead trust—really trust—that everyone who hears the words of Jesus and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
Notice that there’s no caution or caveat here from Jesus about performance fatigue. The reason why is that the dichotomy we must attend to is not doing-versus-being but rather leading-versus-following.
Do you know what a performance-based Christian life really is? It’s a life where we attempt to lead, rather than follow, Christ. It’s a life where we regularly attempt to do the Word without first having heard it. If we let Christ lead, and if we hear his Word, we will recognize that he, not us, has already prepared good works in advance for us to do. Some of those works are just plain fun. Others are arduous or boring or tedious. But all have the effect of growing us into his fullness.
And that’s why his yoke is easy and his burden light: It’s not because a sloppy, sinful path leads to eternal life. (Sin, after all, means not trusting him to provide a way to overcome temptation.) Instead, it’s because his spirit is the one doing the heavy lifting. Like the disciples distributing loaves of bread that Jesus multiplied, our task is not to bake the bread but simply to share with others the loaves-and-fishes whole body grace and goodness and lovingkindness we receive daily from our master’s hand.
When we do that (when, in other words, we live according to the gospel), we discover that doing the Word is a means of grace—one more way we come to know, experience, and be blessed by God’s character—not be fatigued by it.