Stepping on the Toes of Performance-based Religion

Maybe you had your toes stepped on in church yesterday. Maybe you walked out of the service feeling great because lately you’ve been “doing OK” with the points the preacher covered in his sermon—at least better than certain other people.

Wow! Don’t tell me you drank the poisonous nectar of the “me-centered gospel”—you know, the beverage served with a cocktail napkin imprinted with that list of things you ought to be “working on” in your “walk with Christ”? Oh dear! Chances are, whether you left with bruised toes, or you left feeling good, you are in for a shock. Any minute now, you’re going to wake up with a hangover, because you are going to fail at something on your “spiritual to do list” and the accuser will come calling!

Telling yourself “Well…I’m just a sinner who falls down and gets back up!” isn’t going to make you feel better, because that charm won’t make you more Christlike. It’s going to leave you right there in the place of “defeated sinner who has to keep trying,” holding a tear-stained cocktail napkin that was supposed to be your guide to “doing it right” this week.  Yesterday, what you drank seemed to satisfy your thirst, but today you still find yourself confronted with a thirst for Living Water. The Living Water of Christ is so satisfying it causes you to stop looking inward and move outward, carrying buckets of refreshment to others!

At this point, I feel obligated to post a warning: whether you are a pastor or just an ordinary member of the flock, if you don’t want your toes stepped on or your “to do list” challenged, STOP READING NOW. Close your browser or navigate to another page.

On Mondays, my subversive streak tends to come out. I am more prone to challenge the status quo on Mondays than any other day of the week.  On Mondays, instead of patting myself on the back and putting a check mark beside “went to church and got my tank filled”, I’m ready to walk in my identity as His child. I’ve got a full tank of courage for letting go of control and putting myself in His hands. I can trust Him to take care of me. I’m free to think about the Kingdom instead of my worldly cares.  I find myself able to avoid looking inward and filled with passion to be outward-bound in service, begging “Father send me, send me!”  And all this courage and freedom is mine, not because of anything I can (or ever will) accomplish! He accomplishes courage and freedom for me as a benefit of the continual Sabbath rest He provides—while I cease all my labors.

On this Monday, I’m ready to share what His Spirit bears witness to in my spirit, and He’s telling me about the outrage He feels when His sons and daughters are held captive by performance-based religion. Put any spin you want to on the confrontations between Jesus and the Pharisees, you have to include outrage against performance-based religion in every scene.  I have a feeling Monday is going to last all week!

“I don’t have a religion; I have a relationship!” We Christians insist on saying it because God, through Christ, made that relationship possible. It’s a theologically sound statement—a truth! Why, then, are so many Christians not living in and enjoying the benefits of the relationship? Why do so many Christians feel guilty over their failure to be Christ-like and “faithful”? Why do we even need a word like “backslider”? Jude wrote: “Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault.” (Jude 1:24 NLT—emphasis added).

Unfortunately, the pastoral art of stepping on toes has too often been used to conform believers to the likeness of a prescribed set of attitudes and behaviors by which humans measure their own (or, Heaven forbid, one another’s) performance. We learn to operate accordingly and strive to “do better at performing” compliance to this list. We feel guilty when we fail.  Any list of attitudes and behaviors toward which we strive to “do better” or “be perfect” changes the “relationship” back to “religion”!

Don’t you know “in Christ” means you are hidden in His precious wounded side, in a place of total dependence on Him and what He already did? Have you forgotten? At the cross, your Father already acted in your best interest!

This week, we will remain in Zarephath as a place of total dependence on God. At the same time we will go elsewhere. Let’s take a little vacation from Elijah and the prophets and explore what life looks like when we are in total dependence on God in Christ. Guess what—it doesn’t look like the world’s performance-based way of assigning value and worth to an individual at all. I hope you’re as relieved as I am!

In the coming days, I’ll share with you about the background and specifics of performance-based religion and the remedy offered by our Lord: reliance upon His performance, not our performance. I hope you’ll come back and find relief from the pressure to choose between the world and religious legalism. Christ offers us a better alternative to both.


  1. Jeanne Schlumbohm says:

    Such good stuff Leah…..So I see you’ve been reading the “Silent Killers” book I gave you!

    • Jeanne, I actually had this week’s Journal in my personal journal and wasn’t sure what to do with it. I wanted to break it down and use it for “Zarephath” but not sure about the timing. I started reading Silent Killers on Saturday and KNEW it’s time to put it out there. I’ll get a burning in my bones if I don’t! Thanks for bringing me confirmation simply by giving me Steve’s book. I’m going with total dependence and not popularity. 😉

      • Jeanne Schlumbohm says:

        It’s an awesome book isn’t it? I believe it is a must read for every Christian. I pray this book would go “viral”. He has so much incredible stuff to say.

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