We all battle with the performance yoke in our lives. We were taught from the earliest ages that success and failure are based on our performance. If you do your work well, you will be rewarded. If you perform poorly, you will find no reward and perhaps even punishment. Performance appears to be the key.
Since reward is positive and punishment is negative, it became very easy to interpret relationships in the same way. Positive relationships come from good performance; negative from bad performance. I am accepted if I do well; rejected if I do poorly. I am loved if I do well; “unloved” if I don’t do well. You see how the process works. We could refer to this as “performance-based relationship”. Many people understand that from their families.
Add to this the fact that I can never really know the thinking of another person and I am forced to try to keep these relationships while never knowing whether my performance will be good enough. Every time I think I have something figured out, something new comes along. Eventually this leads to depression and anger.
When we were introduced to God, the performance system was already in place in our lives and in the lives of those who told us about Him. The most natural thing was to infer that the same performance system was in the mind and heart of God. Almost everyone else in our lives was part of that system and they assumed God was also. In fact, they could see it everywhere in the Scriptures and decided that it must be right. That led them to believe some gross inconsistencies and to mistrust the heart of God. After all, we learned that the performance system in life is full of unexplained expectations, arbitrary pronouncements of success and failure, and manipulation for the personal desires of others. If God is part of that system, why wouldn’t we mistrust Him?
But the most damaging part of the whole system is what it does in us. If I believe in the system, I am doomed to failure, discouragement, and depression. I must measure up, but I cannot measure up. I must succeed, but success is always just out of my grasp. I must live by the highest standards, but my highest are never high enough. As I said earlier, eventually this leads to serious depression, even the “self-loathing” that some feel. In this system there is no hope and there can never be. We know it in the depths of our hearts.
Then, along comes Jesus. He knows that His people have been under a spiritual yoke, a bondage of expectations and failure. He loves us without expectations and woos us to Himself.
I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love, and I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck. I stooped and fed them. Hosea 11:4 (NKJV)
It was never His desire that we should place our hope in our own performance. The message of the gospel is for us to place our hope in His performance! He is the One who called us. He is the One who was offered for us. He is the One who died for us. He is the One who sets us free.