Question: I grew up in a one-strike-and-you’re-out kind of church. Anytime I messed up, I wasn’t saved anymore. This was horribly depressing, because I messed up frequently. What does the Bible teach about this? How do I change from a performance model of relating to God to a relational model?
Scripture says, “While we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). We were sinners when Jesus died for us. If Jesus was willing to die for us then, what is he willing to do for us now that we’re family? Paul takes it a step further: “if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom. 5:10).
In other words, we were God’s enemies when Jesus restored us to relationship with God. Now that we have been reconciled to God, is Jesus going to give up on us?
Hardly! Rather, Jesus lives now to ensure we persevere to the end. As the Hebrew writer puts it, “[Jesus] is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).
In Roman 8:31, Paul declares that God is for us! God is not looking for an opportunity to remove us from His family or condemn us. God is on our side. He sacrificed His Son for us. That should tell us, as Paul says, that God will also freely give us everything we need to make it, including more grace and forgiveness (Rom. 8:32).
In fact, at the Father’s direction, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to help us. When we don’t know what to pray for, the Holy Spirit prays for us (Rom. 8:26)! And, as if that were not enough, Jesus is interceding for us, too (Rom. 8:34)! The entire Trinity is on our team! I can’t imagine anything less like “one strike and you’re out.” God is on your side! I think there are several reasons we struggle with a performance model of relating to God.
First, Satan wants you to have a performance model. He knows that you aren’t perfect. You will mess up. And getting you to think that God accepts you on the basis of your performance is a sure way to discourage you.
Second, Satan is an accuser of believers (Rev. 12:10). This is part of why we need Jesus as our intercessor. When Satan accuses us before God, Jesus steps in as our advocate (1 John 2:2; Rom. 8:33-34; cf. Zech. 3:1-2). You can tell whether condemnation is from God or from Satan. Does it motivate you to repent? That’s God. Does it say you’re a failure and there’s no hope? That’s Satan.
Third, a lot of our relationships with other people are performance based. If you don’t keep them happy, the relationship goes south. We wrongly transfer that kind of thinking to our relationship with God. God accepts us on the basis of our faith, and he continues to accept us on the basis of faith.
Fourth, our fallenness inclines us to want to be good enough on our own. We somehow think that we ought to be able to perform well enough to please God. That is nothing but pride, and we must renounce it.
Fifth, in trying to emphasize the seriousness of sin and avoid a cheap grace theology, we sometimes fail to situate those truths within the reality of God’s passionate, self-sacrificing love for us.
In trying to emphasize the seriousness of sin and avoid a cheap grace theology, we sometimes fail to situate those truths within the reality of God’s passionate, self-sacrificing love for us.
You asked how to change from a performance model to a relational model. I would start by memorizing the verses I quoted above. Anytime “not good enough” thoughts come, quote these verses.
Remember, Christ has accepted you (Rom. 15:7). The Father himself has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Col. 1:12). If you fail, God will discipline you, but His purpose is not to push you away but to draw you closer (Heb. 12:5-10).
If you fall, get right back up, ask God to forgive you and help you take steps not to repeat that fall again, and keep following Jesus (1 John 1:9; 2:2).
Originally published in the Ministry Library of God’s Bible School & College.