Article: Dismantling Performance Theology

“Cursed is the person who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.”
Then all the people shall say, “Amen!” Deuteronomy 27:26

In chapter 27 of Deuteronomy we find a litany of  “calls and responses” of all of the things the Israelites should be about. After each proclaimed instruction the people shout “amen.” This “call and response” culminates with the instruction above.

I understand that I am not an Israelite… but I can’t imagine saying “amen” to that. It seems more like a burden than a joy.

The Priests: We are going to do EVERYTHING the law commands!

Me: Wait. What? Everything?

The Priests: Yeah, everything! Can I get an amen?

Me: (In a quiet voice) Amen?

I don’t go around thinking of myself as “cursed” but I certainly have not been perfect my whole life let alone a week. Even if I just compare myself to the 10 Commandments (and not the whole law of 613 commands) I fall short… way short.  I am not Jewish but that seems like a lot of pressure to be good.

The Jewish Law has a lot of instruction for various things including worship and civil law, but there are many, many directives on how to live your life (morally). Even if you excluded the ceremonial laws, the worship commands and the civil law contained in the Hebrew Bible, the pressure is on to be a good person. A really good person.

I am not against being a good person and it is admirable to be guided by your morals BUT if our relationship with God depends upon it, then we are all going to struggle.

Do you know the other place Deuteronomy 27:26 is referenced? In Paul’s letter to Galatians (chapter 3).

Paul reminds the church that he started that “following the law” (read being morally upright, good people) is pretty much impossible.

Paul writes, “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse…Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” Galatians 3:10a-11.

 Let me translate this a little bit…

Everyone who thinks their relationship with God is built upon doing good is in big trouble. No one is acceptable to God by the good things they do. Those who have good relationship with God trusts Christ for all things.

I can’t imagine always wondering what God thinks of me based on the things I do or don’t do. That is a burden too heavy to carry.

God came to us in the person of Jesus not to evaluate our behavior but to free us from bad theology and the notion that God only likes good people. (Spoiler Alert: No one is that good.)

Paul (who wrote Galatians) wants us to know that we are people of faith and not people of good behavior. (Don’t read that the wrong way!)

In chapter 5 of that same letter Paul writes, It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

He is talking about the same things. We are free from performance theology and don’t fall back into thinking that God will love you more if you are good all the time.

Christ came to forgive what we can’t let go of. Jesus loves sinners. God does not want us to be burdened with guilt, remorse and shame over past deeds. Why? Because we convince ourselves God could never love a person like that.

We who believe in Christ are free from our past and free from the burden of trying to please God. That is good news.

Jesus loves us just the way we are.

Pr. Ben

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