This is week #3 in our series called DNA. This series is all about who we are in Christ. What is in the core of a church that honors God? What is hardwired into the DNA of people who are completely sold out to Jesus?
To answer that question, we are exploring the New Testament book of 1 John. This book is a letter that the Apostle John wrote near the end of his life. It contains a ton of foundational truth about who we are in Christ.
So far in this series, we have learned that we are a movement and that we are love.
Today, we’re going to talk about another core truth about who we are. We are free.
Let me pray for us and we’ll get rolling.
Performance = Acceptance.
Somewhere along the way, you’ve learned this equation. Your acceptance is completely based on your performance.
Maybe you were cut from a team because your performance wasn’t good enough.
Maybe you couldn’t get into the school you wanted to go to because your grades weren’t good enough.
Maybe you were denied a promotion because your job performance wasn’t seen as good enough.
Whatever the case, you learned this equation. Performance = Acceptance.
Here’s a truth that should rock us…that equation doesn’t work in God’s economy. Your performance has nothing to do with your acceptance. Your acceptance is not based on anything you have done or anything you can do. In God’s economy, performance does not equal acceptance.
Grace does. Your acceptance is based on grace. Your acceptance isn’t based on your performance. It’s based on the limitless, unfair, inexhaustible, controversial grace of God.
It flies in the face of everything you’ve learned in your life. Everything in your life has taught you that Performance = Acceptance. And that’s why so many people have a hard time accepting the concept of grace.
Lots of people talk about it. Lots of churches give lip service to it. Lots of Christians sing about it, read about it, talk about it, and study about it…but very, very, very few live it out because grace asks us to accept the unacceptable and to believe the unbelievable.
It seems unbelievable to really live out the truth that your acceptance is not based on your performance. But that is the heart of the gospel. That is the heart of the good news of Jesus. Everything…absolutely everything…hinges on God’s grace.
And if we can get this…if we can really, truly get this…we will be set free.
Let’s get into the book of 1 John again. Here’s the way the Apostle John said it in chapter 1. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9, NIV)
Listen to how complete this is. If we confess our sins, God will forgive our sins. It doesn’t place a limit on it. It doesn’t say, “God will forgive our sins, up to a point.” Or, “God will forgive our sins, if they aren’t too bad.” Or, “God will forgive our sins, as long as there aren’t too many of them.”
It just says that if we confess our sins, God will forgive our sins.
And He will purify us from ALL unrighteousness. All. It’s complete. It’s total. It’s absolute.
And it’s not based on anything we can do. We confess our sins. We appeal to God’s grace. And God takes it from there. God purifies us. God forgives us.
And that means we are free. Forgiven people are free people.
Forgiveness brings freedom. Performance brings chains. Grace frees us. Performance enslaves us.
OhioState football coach Urban Meyer tells a remarkable story about his father. During his senior year of high school, Urban was drafted by the Atlanta Braves to play baseball.
Soon after arriving in the minor leagues, however, he realized he didn’t have the necessary talent and called his father to tell him he was quitting.
His father informed Urban that if he quit, he would no longer be welcome in their home. “Just call your mom on Christmas,” he said. Needless to say, Urban finished out the season and ended up embracing the incredibly conditional world of his father, a world in which failure was simply not an option.
Urban went on to win back-to-back national championships as the coach for the Florida Gators, and some would chalk his success up to his uncompromising attitude and work ethic. It certainly helped. But it turns out that these victories were short-lived, at least as far as Urban was concerned. The screws only got tighter; once he had won those titles, anything but perfection would be viewed as failure.
After the 2007 season, Urban confessed to a friend that anxiety was taking over his life and he wanted to walk away. One commentator described him as “a man running for a finish line that doesn’t exist.”
Soon the chest pains started, and then they started getting worse. A few hours after the Gators winning streak finally came to an end in 2009, Urban was found on the floor of his house, unable to move or speak. He had come to a breaking point. Soon he would resign, come back and resign again.
Urban Meyer’s story may be a bit extreme, but maybe you can relate. Maybe you had a demanding father or mother, for whom nothing was ever good enough. They might even be long gone, but you still hear their voice in your head.
Perhaps you have a spouse that never seems to let up with the demand, for whom successes are not really successes; they’re simply non-failures.
That’s what performance does. When you succeed, it’s simply a non-failure. And when you fail, it’s fatal.
But as God’s people, we need to realize that this is 180° out of phase with the gospel. The word “gospel” means “good news.” If we are graded based on our performance, then that’s not good news. That’s really, really bad news, because it sets an unreachable, impossible standard.
The “good news” is that our acceptance is not based on our performance. It’s based on God’s grace. And that truth sets us free. Forgiven people are free people.
Tullian Tchividian wrote, “If you’re a Christian, here’s the good news: Who you really are has nothing to do with you—how much you can accomplish, who you can become, your behavior (good or bad), your strengths, your weaknesses, your sordid past, your family background, your education, your looks, and so on.”
Then he reminds us all of this: “Your identity is firmly anchored in Christ’s accomplishment, not yours; his strength, not yours; his performance, not yours; his victory, not yours.”
Can you feel the freedom in that truth? Can you hear the shackles being unlocked? Can you feel the chains falling off of you right now? If not, then you don’t get it yet. My prayer is that by the end of today, you will.
Let’s fast-forward to 1 John 3. John wrote, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1a, NIV)
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us!” When something is lavished on you, it’s not something you earn. It’s lavish because it’s so over-the-top. It’s so far above and beyond what is expected or deserved. It’s so extravagant. It’s so excessive.
And that’s how John describes the love that God has for us. It is something that is lavished on us. It is extravagant and excessive. It is unearned and undeserved.
And what is that lavish, excessive, extravagant love? It’s the fact that we are children of God. We are sons and daughters of God.
I have two sons. And I accept them, simply because of who they are. They don’t have to do anything to deserve my acceptance. They don’t have to do anything to earn my love. I accept them and love them simply because of who they are. They are my children.
The lavish love of God is found in the fact that we are His children. And there is no earning. There is no deserving. There is no performance. There is simply the gracious love of our Heavenly Father.
That’s what we mean when we say that forgiven people are free people.
Because of what Jesus did for you on the cross and in His resurrection, you can be free.
You are free from approval of others. Here’s a dirty little secret…you can never please people. Ever. People will always move the goalposts. They will always demand more. It’s always, “What have you done for me lately?”
Take Mike Leake, for example. For those of you who don’t know, Mike Leake is one of the starting pitchers for the Reds. When Mike Leake started the season, he got shelled. Teams were teeing off on him like it was batting practice…and fans wanted rid of him. Reds fans lit up Twitter and sports talk shows. They wanted to ship him out to AAA, or even lower. Get rid of him! That’s what all Reds fans wanted, including me. I admit it.
Then this past week, Mike Leake pitched against the Phillies, and he owned them. The Phillies are a very good team, and Leake pitched 7 innings of shutout ball. Not only that, but he got three hits himself and scored three runs.
And what did Reds fans do? “Oh, this is awesome! Way to go, Leake! You’re the man!”
Now, it’s the same guy that they hated just a couple of weeks ago. Now they love him. Why? His performance. Performance = Acceptance.
That’s the way it is with people. Long-term, they are impossible to please. But here’s a truth that can absolutely turn your life upside. You can’t please people, but you can please God.
God’s not into moving the goalposts. He doesn’t change the rules mid-stream. The only thing God does is love you. And when your life is centered around honoring Him, He is pleased. He doesn’t expect perfection. And He is always ready to give you a second chance to get it right. But a heart that is submitted to God out of love and gratitude is what pleases Him.
This has been a hard lesson for me to learn. In fact, I’m still learning it. I’m wired to be a people-pleaser. I like to be liked. My self-worth has been way too tied to what other people have thought of me.
That’s deadly, because as a pastor, I’ve learned that there are people who will hate me. And yes, I used the word “hate” on purpose. There are people who won’t speak to me. If they see me in the store, they will turn around and walk the other way. It’s happened far more often than you probably realize.
And you know what? It hurts. It really hurts. But through those experiences, God has taught me an invaluable truth. The opinions of people do not define me. The opinion of God does. And God’s opinion of me is that I am His child and He loves me. I am forgiven by the blood of Christ and I am free. So it doesn’t matter who won’t speak to me at Wal-Mart.
Are you picking up what I’m laying down today? You are free from the approval of others. Their opinion of you does not define you. God’s opinion of you is what defines you.
You are free from the pressure to perform. Grace isn’t based on your performance. It’s based on the love that God has for you.
Tim Keller said, “It’s only in Christianity that you get the verdict before the performance.”
It doesn’t make any sense, does it? Your test has been graded before the teacher ever hands it out. Your review is completed before the job even begins. The championship is won before the first game is played.
It makes no logical sense, but God’s grace has nothing to do with logic. It is completely illogical. It makes no rational sense for an all-powerful, all-sufficient God to even bother with us…let alone love us. And forgive us. And free us.
But that’s exactly the God that we have. You see it in the cross of Christ.
You have a God who would rather die for you than live without you. You have a God who went through hell so you would never have to. You have a God who went to such excessive, extreme, extravagant lengths, just because He loves you. There’s nothing logical about grace…thank God!
Now, there are a lot of Christians who will get all hot and bothered when they hear someone talk like this…especially a pastor. I know, because they’ve drilled me before.
They’ll say things like, “You can’t preach this stuff. If you tell people that their acceptance is not based on their performance, it will give them permission to sin.”
Here’s my answer to those people: you have no idea what you’re talking about. It’s the exact opposite.
It comes down to the battle of guilt vs. gratitude.
Performance tries to appease God out of guilt. It becomes a list of do’s and don’ts. Rule keeping is the main thing. And it’s all done out of guilt.
Grace lives to please God out of gratitude. Grace surrenders to the intense love of God. And out of gratitude for everything Jesus has done for you, you want to please Him in everything you do. But when you fail, and you will, grace also gives a second-chance to get it right. There are no second-chances in performance. But grace sets me free when I fail. And it sets me free to obey God, not of our guilt, but out of overflowing gratitude.
Ironically, preaching a message based on performance doesn’t make people try harder. It just makes them give up. When performance is the goal, it leads to the realization that I’ll never make the grade, so why try? I’ll never live up to that standard. I’ll never measure up, so I just eventually give up.
Performance makes people give up on God. Grace reveals a God who will never give up on His people.
I’ll ask you again…can you feel the freedom in this truth? Can you feel God stripping away layer after layer after layer of the stuff you’ve been taught? The crap that you’ve been fed? The lies that you’ve believed?
God is a God of grace, which means He is a God that simply will not give up on you.
And if you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe what John wrote a little later in 1 John. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” (1 John 3:16a, NIV)
Jesus laid down His life for you. He laid it down of His own free will. He didn’t have to die for you. He chose to die for you.
And because Jesus made the choice to die for you, you are free to live in Him. It’s all based on what Jesus did, not what you can do. It’s based on the righteousness of Christ, not the righteousness of you. It’s centered around Jesus’ performance, not your performance.
And that’s where our freedom comes from. Forgiven people are free people.
Grace sets you free. You are free to be loved. We talked about how love is at the core of our DNA last week. We talked about loving others, but some of you have never given yourself permission to be loved yourself. Grace frees you to love and to be loved.
Grace frees you from the sins you’ve committed and the sins that have been committed against you.
Grace frees you from this insane idea that your standing with God rises and falls based on your own performance. If that was the case, then Jesus’ death on the cross was pointless. The only way that the cross means anything is if we own the truth that our acceptance is based on Jesus, not on us.
A few years ago, Nicki and I made a purchase that I’ve hated ever since. We bought this treadmill. I hate this thing, for a number of reasons.
First of all, I hate this thing because it taunts me. Everyday. I see this thing everyday, but I don’t use it everyday. I know I should, but I just don’t. And its presence in my house is a silent reminder of my failure, everyday.
And another reason I hate this thing is because sometimes I actually do use it. And it’s so frustrating. When you’re on a treadmill, you run and run and run and you never go anywhere. You’ve got to look at the little display on the treadmill to tell you how far you’ve gone, but in reality you’ve never left the room you started in. And when you get off the treadmill, you’ve burned a ton of energy…you’re sweating your face off…and you haven’t gone anywhere.
And that is exactly how I felt in my relationship with God for most of my life. I thought of God exactly like I think of my treadmill.
First of all, He was always there to remind me of my failure. I knew I should pray, but I could never do it often enough. I knew I should read my Bible, but I never could do it often enough. I knew I should do all these things…check all these boxes…because that’s how success was measured. In my mind, Performance = Acceptance. But because I never could check all the boxes, God was always there to remind me of my failure.
But even when I did manage to check them, it was just like being on a treadmill. I would work and sweat and work and sweat and work and sweat…and then I’d look around and realize I hadn’t gone anywhere.
I hated it. And by the way, this all happened AFTER I became a pastor. Here I was…a pastor…a professional Christian, so to speak…and I resented everything about my relationship with God.
You know why? Performance. It was all based on my performance. That’s what I heard preached. That’s what I preached myself. And it was killing me the whole time.
But then, God broke me. And it hurt. When God breaks you, it’s painful. But through that breaking process, God set me free.
He set me free from the approval of others. You know how He did it? He introduced me to people who hated me.
He set me free from the burden of performing to please people. You know how He did it? He showed me that people will never be pleased.
He set me free from trying to check all the right boxes to make Him accept me because, for the first time in my life, I came to understand the truth of the gospel. Jesus died for me. And because I am in Christ, God does accept me. I don’t have to obey Him to make Him love me. I can obey Him because He loves me. And when I fail to obey, He loves me so much that I get another chance.
Here’s what I want more than anything for you. I want to see the treadmills in your life destroyed. No more treadmills! No more of this religion that is based on what you can do for God. I want you to come face-to-face with the gospel, the good news which tells you that it’s not about what you can do for Jesus. It’s all about what Jesus has done for you.