Tag Archives: sanctification

The Break


Ever have a friend who was not exactly a friend?  I remember as a boy that I had a friend who seemed to take pleasure in hitting me or stealing my lunch or some other mean thing.  Yet, I stayed with him because he was my friend, right?  Why?  Because I knew him and we were from the same town and we grew up with each other.  We actually did a lot of things together from junior high through college.  But, I have to admit, when we finally separated, I was relieved.  I suppose I missed him, but not much.  I don’t think he was really a friend.

Performance spirituality is so familiar to us that it is like a long-time friend.  The idea that I have to work hard to please God, to get Him to love me and accept me, is a mean idea.  It never satisfies.  It never gives what it promises.  It hurts.  But I accepted it because it was what I knew.  We were together in church, in the family, in the world.  Performance spirituality, no matter how disappointing it was as a teaching, was an old friend.

Then I found grace.  I learned that God already loved me, long before I could do anything for Him.  I learned that my greatest efforts for Him were really me trying to measure up and He didn’t need them.  I realized that performance spirituality, which was cruel and fickle, could never lead me to what Jesus offered me just because He loved me.

But it took a long time to forget my old friend.  The words of performance, of measuring up, were the first to spring to my thoughts.  I had to think about grace, but performance seemed to come naturally.  Jesus called me to conform my thinking to His, to accept His acceptance of me, and to trust Him.  I have had to learn a new way of speaking and responding and hoping.

When did the break happen?  Actually the break that came between performance spirituality and me happened when I first understood what Jesus had done for me.  As I learned more, the break became wider.  There is a progress in this, but the break does grow.  Sometimes I slip and act as though my old friend is still in charge, but then I remember and I can relax.  Jesus is in charge now.  My performance is not the focus.

The truth I know today is that performance was never really my friend.  And when I think about it, I really don’t miss it.


Filed under grace, Legalism, Relationship

Free to Sin?

“Okay, so you are telling me that I am already perfect in Christ because He is my life.  So then I am free to go out and sin as much as I can and still be perfect?”


Every teacher of grace gets this objection.  If you don’t, you probably are not teaching grace. 


“If the work is already finished on my behalf; if I am as spiritual as I will ever be; if I already have the love and acceptance of the Father because of Jesus—then what is there to stop me from sinning?”


And if you don’t know the answer to that, you don’t understand the grace of God. 


For some reason, the legalist thinks that rules and standards will stop people from sinning.  But it hasn’t worked so far.  It didn’t work for the Pharisees in the time of Jesus and it doesn’t work for the legalist today.  But the legalist says that’s because the sinners don’t actually live according to the rules.  He points out compromises and failures and doubts in the lives of those who sin. 

And he’s right.  There are compromises and failures and doubts in all our lives.  That’s why we need a Savior.  That’s why we still need Jesus, even after He reached into our lives and saved us.  And the legalist still needs a Savior, just like the rest of us.

The rules were not enough to make us perfect before we came to Jesus and the rules are not enough to keep us perfect after.  The rules, God’s rules, are there to warn us of the suffering we will encounter in certain situations.  Do we really need the threat of losing our salvation to keep us from adultery or stealing?  Are there no other reasons to avoid those things? 

When Bobby was little, his mother warned him about touching the hot burner on the stove.  He seemed to like playing around the stove, so she told him he had to stay away in order to be safe.  Bobby didn’t listen.  So Mom told him she would punish him if he came close to touching the hot burner again.  He did and she did.  She used whatever means she could to keep him safe.

But when Bobby grew up to be a young adult, he came home one day and told his mom that he was going to touch the hot burner.  Her days of giving punishment were past, he said.  Now he would do what he wanted, and he wanted to touch the stovetop.  What would you expect Mom to say? 

She said, “Go ahead.”

If Bobby couldn’t do what was right because he trusted her wisdom and love, then he would have to do what he wanted and suffer the consequences.  Does this mean that Mom would reject her son?  Of course not.  She still loved him as much as ever.  But he would have to understand that it was her love that gave the prohibition in the first place.  He would have to find out for himself that the hot burner would bring him pain.  She had wanted to spare him.  Mom still loves Bobby, even when he learns that the hot burner hurts. 

God loves us and wants to spare us the pain of certain actions and attitudes.  Even after we become believers, He wants us to avoid the trouble sin causes.  But He doesn’t reject us when we sin.  Nothing that He has done for us or in us will go away.  We still belong to Him and His life still is in us.  We are still perfect new creations in Him. 

Does God actually say that we are free to go out and sin all we want?  Read the story of the prodigal son.  He never says that He will keep us from the trouble our sins will cause.  He never says that sin won’t hurt.  But He allows us to do what we want.  If we cannot trust Him and His love for us, perhaps the consequence of our sin will bring us home.


Filed under grace, Legalism, Relationship

The Yoke – 2

It was never God’s 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.

 It shall come to pass in that day that his burden will be taken away from your shoulder, and his yoke from your neck, and the yoke will be destroyed because of the anointing oil.  Isaiah 10:27 (NKJV)   


Now, I can’t stop there.  I know that many people think that Jesus set us free so that we have a new chance to “do it right”.  They teach that we are saved by His grace, as a gift, but that we are sanctified by our effort/performance.  If we want to keep what He has given and grow in what He has given, then we better get to work.

Jesus knew that we would be susceptible to this.  He knew that the performance lifestyle (or the flesh, if you will) would continue to pull us away from His love and His peace even after salvation.  So He invites us to join Him in His yoke:

Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.   For My yoke is easy and My burden is light   Matthew 11:29-30 (NKJV)


The yoke of Jesus is easy and light, not quite what most Christians have found to be the case in their lives.  They think they have to pull their side of the yoke.  It is still performance to them.  But the truth is that they have never really taken the yoke of Jesus.  If they had, they would have learned that He does all the work.

You see, the yoke Jesus invites us to share is a yoke of intimate relationship.   We are allowed to participate in His work, with no burden of expectation.  We are not responsible for results, just for walking with Him and even that is an easy and joyful part of relationship.

Over the years I have been so amazed at how the Scripture shows all of this to be true.  Once you believe that God honestly loves you, that His only motivation toward you is love, you can begin to see that love everywhere.  Once you believe that we were made to depend on Him and His gifts of grace, you begin to see how active He has been.  Once you believe that all He wants is for us to live in relationship with Him, enjoying the love He has for us, that’s when the whole thing opens up.  Everything is different from that perspective.  You can see that Adam and Eve’s sin was in trying to do for themselves what God wanted to do for them.  You can see that the Law was given to show them that they could never be holy on their own and to pull them back to Him.  You can see that He is never disappointed in His people, never surprised by their sin, and that He never stops loving them.


Filed under Freedom, grace, Legalism

The Yoke

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.

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Filed under Legalism, Relationship

Performance Spirituality

In nearly every part of life, performance is vitally important.  In school, in sports, at work—performance is what it’s all about.  When we don’t perform well, we wish our acceptance was based on something else.  Yet, we accept the judgment and rejection that comes with poor performance.  We understand the system and yield to its values.  Football players, business employees, factory workers, medical personnel, and so many more, expect to be judged and accepted on performance.

Then, when we consider our spiritual life, we are so used to the performance system that we assume it must be the same thing.  When the Law is added to the church’s message, we get the idea that we must measure up or we will not remain part of the church.  Manipulative churches and teachers add their own items to the Law’s list (and take away ones they don’t like) in order to control their people.  The sad thing is that it seems so normal, so natural, that we don’t question whether it is right.  Performance spirituality is just the way the system works.

But here’s the good news: your spiritual life is not based on your performance; it is based on your relationship with Jesus!  He loves you and has called you to Himself.  He has offered the only sacrifice necessary and sufficient for your reconciliation with God.  He is Himself your eternal life.  He has initiated the relationship, made it possible, and has committed Himself to keep it secure.

You can’t perform well enough to be acceptable to Him.  You can only be acceptable to Him because of His love.  This isn’t a football team or any kind of business.  Your performance is not the measuring tool for determining your acceptance.  He has already decided to accept you. The question is whether you can accept that you are accepted.

When the accuser comes to challenge your faith and reminds you of your sin or your lack of performance, do you crumble in shame and feel unacceptable?  Do you agree with him that God should kick you out of His family?  Do you worry whether God has already rejected you?  Well, you don’t have to have these feelings.  Jesus wants you to know that you are acceptable and accepted, just because of His love.  He won’t reject you if you fail or if your performance is less than best.  That’s the world’s way, not His.  He has chosen to cover your sin with His own blood.

I am convinced that the primary compromise of the church has been to look at spirituality through the grid of performance.  The people are discouraged, defeated, and depressed—because they know they can never measure up to the ever-changing standards that are placed on them.  Their work will never be enough and their sin will always be too much.  We tell people about Jesus and His love and then force them under the bondage of performance and take away their joy and peace.

This ministry, for the past nine years, has helped hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who have felt trapped under the burdens of performance spirituality.  Our goal for the future is to reach even more with the truly Good News of the gospel.  The grace of God in the person and work of Jesus is enough.


Filed under grace, Legalism, Relationship

I am Strong

Words of Grace  

Life is filled with challenges.  Sometimes they are battles we have to fight.  Sometimes they are burdens we have to carry.  Sometimes they are fears we have to push through.  And sometimes we don’t know what they are yet.

To face these challenges, we are supposed to be strong.  But what if we are not strong?  What happens then?  What if I look around at all the confusing challenges I face and I feel very weak?  What if I have no idea how I could possibly do what I am expected to do?  Sometimes we don’t feel very strong.

Perhaps you find yourself alone and you feel weak.  Perhaps things are expected of you that you don’t know how to do.  Perhaps others have taken away what little strength you had.  And now you are afraid.  You don’t want to admit it to anyone, but you just don’t see how you can do what you are expected to do.

Once again, the word comes to us from outside.  We don’t have to gather up our strength when it isn’t there.  We don’t have to pretend to be strong.  We don’t have to lie to ourselves or others.  The Lord tells us that we are strong because He is our strength.

David understood this as much as anyone ever has.  He said, in 2 Samuel 22:33, “God is my strength and power.”  How strong are you if God is your strength?  The Psalms are full of affirmations regarding the strength of the believer.  God is our strength.

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18:2 (NKJV)


If the Lord is your strength—and He says He is—then you are strong enough to do all that you must do.  Then your strength is great and will overwhelm your enemies.

Paul understood.

 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 (NKJV)


I am strong.

God is my strength.

I can do anything He calls me to do.

He is my Power

I am strong.

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Filed under Uncategorized, Words of Grace

I am Good

Words of Grace   


The problem with words of affirmation is that you can’t just make them up.  Telling yourself good things to believe about you might feel good for a little while, but it usually sounds phony.  Many motivational teachers use self-produced words of affirmation to move us to some change; but, if we don’t really believe those words, how can the change be real?

Real words of affirmation, those that make a difference in us, are those that come from the outside.  We might still doubt the words, but we can’t control them and we are not producing them.  You can tell yourself that you did a good job; but, when the boss tells you or the client tells you, that makes a difference.

It isn’t bad to affirm yourself.  In fact, there may be times when you are the only one and you have to believe your words to keep going.  But words of self-affirmation are most effective when they are in agreement with the words from outside.

So, when I say the words, “I am good,” it matters where I get them.  If I just produce them out of my own desire to feel good, then I remember the things I regret and know the words are not true.  If others say them about me, that feels better, but I still know things about myself they don’t know and I still doubt the words.  But when the One who truly knows me and knows the only standards of goodness that matter, when He says I am good, that’s something I can hold onto.

Yes, sin has been a part of all our lives and we were taught that sin made us bad.  That’s why we needed a Savior.  But once the Savior came into our lives, He brought His goodness into us.  He washed away the stain of the sins and filled us with His love and His life.  We are good because He is good.

The idea of goodness is hard to apply to our lives because of what we were taught about ourselves.  We feel that we must reject any affirmation of goodness in us because of what we have done.  But if our goodness is not judged by what we have done, if it is judged by who He is in us, then we are truly good.  Those who belong to Jesus, who are filled with His life, are good.


So Paul could say with assurance:

Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness… Romans 15:14 (NKJV)

I am good.

Jesus is good and He is my life.

Because He is in me and I am in Him, I am good.

God has given me goodness.

I am good.


Filed under Words of Grace

Why the Formula “Works”

I don’t often get theology from television shows, particularly a show like House.  But Dr. House has a helpful saying when we are trying to understand why the formula works for some people.

You know what I mean.  “Ever since we began studying the Bible early in the morning the discipline issues in our home have stopped.”  “Our children love to do their chores.”  “They always eat joyfully whatever is set before them.”  “No one complains at our house.”  “Our children made a commitment to stay pure by xyz method and their first kiss will be at the wedding altar.”  “If you just follow the “teacher’s” teaching, your home will be righteous and happy.”  “No, we never argue.  Our marriage is wonderful ever since we went to this conference.”  “All my struggles with sin went away when I started doing this.”  The testimonials are endless.

But, when you try the same things they did, nothing happens.  No changes.  The wonderful conference, the new commitment, the great habit, the superior teaching—all of these are parts of formulas guaranteed to work.  At least they seemed to have worked for so many others.  Why don’t they work for you?

Well, as Doctor House would say, “Everybody lies!”  Yes, that seems like a pessimistic outlook.  Yes, it may be an overstatement.  But it explains what we have experienced.  The formulas don’t work for us because the formulas don’t work.  The testimonials are not true.

Why do people lie about these things?  Some lie to cover up their failure.  They believe the formula works and they cannot admit that it didn’t work for them.  Like the emperor’s new clothes, their “success” is imaginary.  But they don’t want you to know that.  They want you to respect and honor them.  They want to be better than you.  So they lie.

And some lie because to say that the formula didn’t work seems like blasphemy.  They want so badly for it to work that they “name it and claim it.”  Never mind what they see.  Never mind the failures.  The formula is working and they will promote that success.

Some lie because they are part of the promotion.  They have a vested interest in getting you to the conference or doing the activity.  They look good when they bring friends or they believe God will somehow reward them with the success they seek.  Like the “honest” review online about the weight loss product (the one where the product is sold on the same website) the buyer should be aware of the compromised position of the one giving the testimony.

I am increasingly convinced that lying/deception is an integral part of legalism.  As long as performance is the key to spirituality, the lie will be present.  It has to be . . . because the formula doesn’t work.


Filed under grace, Grace definition, Legalism

I Am Free

Words of Grace  

It is particularly sad when the church becomes a merchant of bondage for the people of God.  The message of the gospel, from beginning to end, is a message of freedom.  By going to the cross, Jesus destroyed the power of death and sin, overcame the law, and set us free.  He is the Conqueror, and He has redeemed us from the hands of the enemy.

One day we will wake in glory to discover that there have been no shackles on our hands or feet.  They were a lie.  They were there once, but were destroyed by Christ when He saved us.  The bonds have been gone as long as we have known Him.  The chains you have been feeling are in your mind.  You are free.

Free from the condemnation.  Free from the power of sin.  Free from the Law.  Free from the expectations and standards and opinions of others.  Free from guilt and shame.  You are free.

So live in that freedom.  Defend it.  Believe in it.  The only One who holds power over you is the One who set you free and He loves you.  Don’t let anyone take it away from you, whether it is a teacher or a pastor or a parent or a spouse or a ruler.  Paul wrote to the Galatians that they should stand fast:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Galatians 5:1 (NKJV)

Whenever someone teaches freedom, someone else will jump up and say that we shouldn’t just let people do whatever they want.  They get all worried that people will do terrible things under the excuse of being free.  The only problem with this is that people do terrible things even when they claim to be under the law.  Just because you are free to do something does not mean that it is good for you or that there will be no consequences.  Dumb things are still dumb things.  There are many good reasons not to do the things God calls sin.  But there is still no bondage of law over us.

Listen.  It is possible and even good to limit your freedom for the sake of others and for the cause of Christ.  That doesn’t make you less free.  Sometimes people cannot believe their freedom because they live under expectations and challenges.  You are expected to go to work every day if you want food to eat.  Well, you are still free.  You don’t have to eat.  You choose to work so that you can eat.  Choice comes out of freedom.

It’s hard to feel freedom in a difficult marriage or in a dysfunctional family.  It’s hard in a restrictive church or country.  But these are outside things.  You can live within chosen confines and still be free.  Remember what Paul said:

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more       1 Corinthians 9:19 (NKJV)

“Even though I am free, I have made myself a servant.”  Paul chose to do this for the sake of the gospel and the sake of the lost.  He kept the law that was no longer binding to him.  He served people who were no longer his masters.  He obeyed rulers who no longer had authority over him.  He lived his freedom within their expectations to accomplish the call of God on his life.

Are you in a difficult marriage?  Live in freedom even while choosing to live under the expectations.  Are you in a demanding job?  Live in freedom even while doing your best to meet the requirements of your boss.  Are you in a compromised or legalistic church?  Live in your freedom even among those who have yet to discover theirs.  No one else has to change in order for you to be free.  You are free.

I am free!

Jesus has set me free.

No power has authority over me, other than Him.

No bondage holds me back.

I am free.


Filed under Freedom, Grace definition, Words of Grace

When the formula works


One of the most popular articles on our website is “When the Formula Fails,” which challenges the formulaic approach to spirituality in performance oriented churches and groups.

Recently I have been asked several times about when the formula seems to work.  “Why does the formula work for them?”  When we do the prescribed thing, it doesn’t work.  They say we didn’t do it right or we didn’t have enough faith or we have unconfessed sin or we didn’t do it long enough or some other excuse.  But it must work because it worked for them.  Really?

There is a fallacy in logic called an “error of generalization.”  You might remember it as “hasty generalization” or even “jumping to a conclusion.”  The error springs from the practice of noting something in a small number of cases and believing it to be true in all or most cases.  This is the source of most stereotyping and many old wives’ tales.  It is also the foundation of most marketing today.

Little Billy has a bad sore throat and wants something hot to drink.  Dad gives him a cup of coffee.  The hot coffee feels good on Billy’s throat and the sore throat goes away by the next day.  Mom and Dad try the same thing when Betty gets a sore throat and she has the same results.  Now they know forever that coffee cures sore throats.

Now, for the logicians out there, I have to admit that was also the error called “false cause.”  False causes usually come from hasty generalizations.  The point is that Mom and Dad have only observed two instances where coffee was consumed at a time when the children had sore throats.  They really haven’t done any more study or investigation.  Hundreds of parents may serve their sick kids coffee and experience no more success than a temporary ease of pain.  But there will always be the cases of Billy and Betty to “prove” that the formula works.

I know that’s a silly example, but it really isn’t any different from saying that moms who wear skirts all the time will prevent promiscuity in their daughters.  Just because you can point to nice girls whose moms wear skirts does not mean there is a cause and effect formula.  Nor would it be true that playing certain music will keep your kids from sin.  Or that forbidding fiction reading will keep your kids from fantasizing.  Or even that a certain brand of car will ensure fewer repairs.

This really isn’t hard to understand.  One reason the formula seems to work for certain people is that the events fell into place that way.  They did a certain thing and they experienced a certain thing.  Even if they can convince us of a cause and effect, there is no formula in that.  It simply is an examination of what happened.  But just because it happened to them does not mean it will happen to you.  The idea of a formula is a lie.

There are a couple other reasons it might seem like the formula works for others, but I will comment on those in future posts.


Filed under Grace definition, Legalism