BY: RUIQI WANG
The war that has had, and dare I say will continue to have, the most profound effect on our lives is not necessarily any of the World Wars, nor any of the ongoing conflicts taking place in the modern world. In general, for a war to have an effect on our lives, it must affect us personally, either directly or indirectly, whether physically or emotionally. The greatest, or should I say worst, of these wars is innately personal. It’s a war that shapes our actions, thoughts, and decisions as we live our daily lives. It’s a subtle war – problematic to discuss because this war manifests itself differently for every person and progresses in countless ways. It’s a war where we fight against ourselves, and a war we can’t win unless we know who we are. A war with our own performance.
Performance is not only a large component of American culture, secular and religious inclusive, but also a pronounced reason as to why emotional battles plague our lives. Our nation values performance. Do this and get that. We want to make something of ourselves in a country where although the opportunities are plentiful, the disparities between the perceived statuses of each opportunity are next to enormous. We view a CEO in a different sort of light than a janitor, just as we view students in Berkeley in a different sort of light than students in community colleges. Inevitably, we start comparing our performances to those of others. “I’m not good or smart enough for that”. Or “I don’t think I am capable of that because of this”. Or maybe “this person is so much better than me”. These thoughts serve as the catalyst for the outpouring of our emotions.
And so we partake and struggle in the numerous battles of this war all the time. Fear. Jealousy. Rejection. Anger. Greed. Insecurity. Self-righteousness. Self-condemnation. [Insert negative thought here]. These feelings cloud our minds and we do daily battle with them as we walk to class, interact with friends, and ponder upon as we fall asleep. Sometimes they shape how we talk, how we act, how we live. We become jealous of peers that seem to excel in every aspect. We fear rejection because our credentials aren’t as prominent as others. We are angry or regretful for not pushing ourselves harder in order to match our colleagues. Perhaps the worst part about these battles – this ongoing war – is that it doesn’t end. After all, we’re human, and humans feel, regardless of the emotional state. We constantly find the need to wrestle with our self-crippling thoughts to get through the day.
The modern church is not immune to the concept of performance. The early church struggled with it to which Paul reminds the Corinthian church of the new covenant in which sufficiency is found in the Father, rather than seeking status and recognition in the [law], which kills.1 Still today some aspects of church culture continue to exacerbate the problem of performance, which starts diffusing into our perceived conceptions of Christianity: rewarding gold stars for memorizing Bible verses in children’s Sunday school, as if the motivation to meditate on God’s Word is predicated upon some kind of earthly reward, or sermons teaching DOs and DON’Ts so that at the end of the day it’s all about what we do for God, not what God did for us. Performance permeates into our relationship with God, where the criteria for spirituality becomes serving in the worship team, and/or leading small groups, and/or attending prayer meetings. I’m not denying that these things can’t be tangible signs of maturity and well being, but they’re not the means of formulating and sparking our spiritual growth, our progressive sanctification. Rather, the grace of God is, “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.”2
So by the grace of God, Jesus came to free our performance-based mindset, “for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”3 When Jesus bled on that cross two thousand years ago, he became the propitiation for our sins; God’s holy wrath towards sin was fully satisfied, by taking the wages of our collective sins – the endless eternities of death and separation from the Father – compounded into 3 days, and inflicted onto His Son.4 What we do doesn’t merit any more God’s favor, nor warrant any more of His just anger, as our justification – our righteous standing before God – is solely a gift of God’s grace.5 That’s the beauty of the gospel: it’s unconditional. In the midst of the crucifixion, “it was the will of the LORD to crush [Jesus].”6 God never willfully crushed his own Son so that we keep relying on performing to make something of ourselves, whether as a display to others or to God Himself. If we do that, we miss the ramifications of the cross. Jesus came to die so that through faith in the redemptive power of the cross, our character is elevated and transformed from a broken, restless individual, whose status is dependent on what we do and how well we do, into a saint, whose status is fully dependent on the work Jesus has done, to which he finished on the cross.7 Jesus came and died to give us life, and life abundantly as children of God and co-heirs with Christ.8
Fearful? Turn to the cross. Jealous? Turn to the cross. Angry? Turn to the cross. Self-condemning? Turn to the cross. Jesus is not “a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”9 He knows. He knows the sufferings, the anguish, and the trials because he’s been through them. Better yet, he’s surpassed them – he has overcome. And because of that, we are then able to “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”10 Our war may not end anytime soon, but every spiritual battle – yes every battle – can be won at the foot of the cross. He transforms the fear of rejection into the fear of the Lord. He replaces the anger towards others with a righteous indignation towards sin.11 He washes out lust and instills patience of not only a future physical spouse, but also the foreshadowing of a greater marriage of Christ and his bride – the church – to come.12 He mends the self-condemning thought and reestablishes the assurance, comfort, and right of our identity as sons and daughters of God.13
Fight with me in the battles to come. Let us put on the whole armor of God – the belt of truth, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, and sword of the Spirit.14 These are “the weapons of our warfare [that] are not of the flesh, but have divine power to destroy strongholds [of false thinking]. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God.”15 Let us cast away any misconceptions we have of the gospel and learn to have full dependency on Christ, a child-like faith in the Father, and communion with the Spirit. For the “fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”16
1. 2 Corinthians 3: 4-6 ESV
2. Titus 2: 11-14, 2 Peter 3:18 ESV
3. Romans 10:4 ESV
4. Romans 3:25, 1 Peter 2:24 ESV
5. Romans 3:24 ESV
6. Isaiah 53:10 ESV
7. 1 Corinthians 1:12, John 19:30
8. John 10:10, Romans 8:16 – 17 ESV
9. Hebrews 4:15 ESV
10. Hebrews 4:16 ESV
11. Ephesian 4: 26 ESV
12. Revelation 21: 9 – 11 ESV
13. John 1:12-13 ESV
14. Ephesians 6:10-18 ESV
15. 2 Corinthians 10: 4-5 ESV
16. Galatians 6:12 ESV