That “To Do List” Was Surely Out to Kill Me!

Performance-based religion (legalism) is one of the most dangerous things a new believer will ever encounter. Some are born straight into it–led there by the very person who shows them the “Romans Road” and leads them in the “Sinners Prayer”. Christ has set me free from it, and I hope exposing it for what it is will set you free, too! He really does want you to understand what it means to be a free-born child of the Kingdom instead of a slave!

Performance-based religion steps in after “salvation in Christ” is preached and accepted. It tells the new believer “here’s what you need to do from now on”. If “what you need to do from now on” entails anything more than “abide in Him”, it comes from the devil. It flies in the face of “freedom in Christ”, wherein we celebrate what He has done!

The remedy for this lies in releasing believers from focusing on their own performance and exhorting them to focus on Christ as they rest in Him. His performance takes away our sin. His performance makes us children of God—and pleasing to our Father. His performance is our holiness. His performance enables us to enter His rest. As we abide in Him and focus on Him, we begin to look more like Him. 

The spiritual “to do list”! Saints are told it’s about holiness and accountability. I would retitle it: How to Become a Pharisee… for Dummies! Because if you’re moderately successful in adhering to it and it doesn’t keep you walking in defeat and failure, the devil surely has a built-in a failsafe feature that will set you up to become a self-congratulating whitewashed tomb! 

“Be sure to take time for ‘self examination’!” How, I wonder, can you examine yourself for Christ-likeness if you’ve been so wrapped up in yourself and your checklist that you haven’t spent time gazing upon HIM?  Will you know enough of what He looks like to make a valid comparison?  He bids us enter His rest and cease from our labors, but we keep right on examining ourselves to see if we’re worthy.

While performance-based religion is the devil’s design to keep us focused on “self” in order to monitor whether we are “doing OK”, entering His rest requires “self” to die. Maybe that’s why the flesh is willing to accept the yoke of legalism! The entire world operates with a performance-based mindset. We’re used to it. We can “deal with it”. “Dying” doesn’t sound very desirable when, if we just do our best, we can surely improve and reach perfection by striving harder to check off the “to do list”.  Nevermind what Jesus said: “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25 NIV)

The vast majority of Christians in Western culture—including pastors—have bought into performance-based religion without even knowing it. When I was a little girl, people would say, “The preacher really stepped on my toes today.” I learned this could mean, “The preacher said something that showed me a short-coming in my behavior or attitude as a Christian.” Honest people were thankful for having their toes stepped on because the pain redirected them away from “wrong” and toward “right”. Preaching that “stepped on toes” was considered a good thing. And it can be—if it redirects us toward the “good thing”, which is Christ and His unsearchable riches.

But I’ve come to realize there’s an insidious little flaw in how we assess “good preaching”. When the “ouch” redirects us away from legalistic performance toward living a fruitful life in the freedom we have in Christ, it is a good thing. When it “convicts” us of being “good for nothing backsliders” who could “do better” at being Christ-like… IF we could just “do better” at ______”, it’s an “ouch” produced by the spirit of legalism and an attack of the enemy! For me, dying to self turned out to be a no-brainer, because that “to do list” was surely out to kill me!

If my message steps on toes this week, I hope the result will be that the Lord will remove your feet altogether from the path of performance-based religion to a place of faith, where your toes—in fact your entire cognitive and spiritual identity—are sheltered in the wounded side of Christ! The only place we find freedom from the legalistic, performance-based slavery Paul was fighting in his letter to the Galatians is…in Christ!   

Before I get accused of side-stepping the concept of “accountability”, let me say unequivocally that I am neither side-stepping nor ignoring it. “Accountability” does not require a check list of “dos and don’ts for Christians” in order to be viable. As time goes on, my writing efforts will challenge more pieces of the status quo. If I’m alive, I won’t stop attacking the flaws of performance-oriented living. In time, I will get around to challenging “church as you know it” and invite you to explore with me “church as Jesus wants it to be”. When we remain in total dependence on Him, our salvation is sure and we won’t risk losing it by questioning the paradigm of “authority” we’ve inherited from previous generations.  “Accountability” is one of those concepts that look different as we move to a new viewpoint. He is doing a new work of the Kingdom in our day, and I will be sharing what that looks like from my place in the Kingdom.

And from where I’m standing in the Kingdom today, it looks like tomorrow will be a good day for taking one very popular, but low-realm, item on that “spiritual to do list” and eliminating it forever! Are you ready to move from that place where every little failure condemns you and let Him carry you toward freedom and fruitfulness?  Well, come back tomorrow! Be ready to take your shoes off and stick those toes out where I can get to them. You will thank Him for the pain! But it will feel so good when the pain stops, you may even be eager to join me in eliminating all the other “to dos” that kill faith and delight the enemy by keeping us in bondage to our own efforts!


  1. Hi Leah,
    A great first post. If you get through the Silent Killers book, I can get you a copy of the one i did on “authority and Accountability” I think it would also resonate with you.

    • “Authority and Accountability” will be here by Thursday, last time I checked my You are in the company of Leonard Ravenhill and Jon Zens in that box, Steve! LOL…There’s some encouragement, for you!

  2. Great series going here. Thanks

  3. Deanna Chambers says:

    Leah……as of late the verse in Revelations keeps haunting me…in one of the warnings to the Seven Churches….”You have left you first love”. I think that about says it all, IMAO!!!!!


    • Deanna, many have left their first love. But sometimes they were never taught what that love entailed. And some people who think “personal salvation” = “I love Jesus” need to understand it’s not necessarily so.
      “Abide in me”. “Love one another”. “Take up your cross”. Being trained to “do things” instead of to “die” results in not understanding what He means by “first love”. I know YOUR love grows warmer every day. The All-Out-Joy in you is one evidence. As people are set free from the “dog and pony show” of legalism and find freedom in HIs grace, they learn how to live in family relationship with Him and with one another. As more people in our day start acting like members of the royal family, the Kingdom will be “bustin’ out all over”! I’m watching it happen!

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