As a Biblical Counselor, I am dedicated to helping people grow and change. It is my goal to help those I counsel and disciple to become more like the Lord Jesus Christ. I have lots of tools, charts and homework assignments to give to them all in the name of heart change for life change. Unfortunately, what can happen is they simply begins to outwardly perform without change in the inner man. This happens when there is a lack of application of the gospel in everyday life and results in a person whose relationship with God is performance based instead of gospel based.
Another term for performance based Christianity would be non-gospel oriented spiritual growth. A person living this way believes that God bases His acceptance of them on what they do. So, things such as church attendance become law to gain God's favor. The ability to overcome a certain sin, or to sin less often becomes a measuring rod for receiving God's favor. If there are blessings it is because they are "doing it all right", or close enough to right that God is pleased with them. If there are few blessings or times are hard it is assumed that person is "out of fellowship" with God, they have unconfessed sin, or God is punishing them for their disobedience.
The performance based Christian has their spiritual checklist and they follow it religiously out of fear of punishment and condemnation by their church and by God. They practice the spiritual disciplines, they try to work on their sin issues, and recognize they are inconsistent in obedience so they experience ongoing guilt at their failure to perform. Their thoughts are along these lines, "After all God has done for me, how I can I be such a failure?" "Because I still sin, I must not really be saved."
These Christians are often internally tormented. They live with a secret knowledge of never measuring up. They are constantly comparing themselves to others who seem to "have it all together" and they come up lacking. Often, they do not meet their own expectations and believe that God is displeased with them, they are out of fellowship with Him, they are not walking rightly, and so on. There is little to no joy in the life of a person driven like this. Life is lived on the performance treadmill and they are never quite able to keep up. This leads to sorrow, hopelessness, fear, anxiety, worry, and a host of other problems.
Those who manage to grit their way through this semi-successfully are no more joyful than their counterparts. In fact, they are often weary and exhausted from the never-ending toil that towing the line of performance and perfection requires. In addition, they are often extremely self-righteous. In many ways view themselves as superior and believe in their hearts they are more spiritual and holier than others. In reality, performance driven Christianity requires very little faith for at the close of each "successful" day, it has been all their work that has accomplished whatever righteousness they have demonstrated.
One tragic result of performance based Christianity is people stop needing the gospel. The gospel is no longer for them, it is for other people, people who need to be saved, people who don't know about Jesus. Sadly, in far too many churches it is presented just that way.
How did the gospel get so turned on its head?
therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ Romans 5:1
It doesn't depend on us.
It doesn't depend on rules, laws, performance, or how a person measures up. It is only on the basis of our union Christ that the Christian finds any favor with God. It is because we are in Christ that we are acceptable to God, and have fellowship with Him. It has absolutely nothing to do with performance, activities, or spiritual disciplines.
and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith. Philippians 3:9
Gospel centered justification means we do not look to our performance to make us acceptable. God’s acceptance is not based on anything we do, but on what Christ did for us. Our position before God is not ever in jeopardy because we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1
Believing this changes everything! In light of the gospel, we can come to understand what freedom in Christ truly is! We have freedom from the laws of slavery to sin, and freedom from the laws of performance out of fear of rejection and condemnation. We don’t have to perform because we are already accepted in the beloved (Ephesians 1:6). Because of the gospel we can know we have as much love as we are ever going to receive or need from God. He will never love us any more or any less than He does right now. This changes our motives, our thoughts, our beliefs, and our desires.
If you see yourself in the performance oriented Christian, please believe you do not need to operate out of fear or condemnation. Read Galatians today and ask yourself if you have been living and believing another gospel. If you have been on the performance treadmill, it is likely you have been doing just that. Jesus died to free you from trying to please God by your works. Believe He has fully paid your sin-debt and rest in His completed work.