New beginnings. Fresh starts. Clean slates. Second chances. We love 'em all. They carry so much promise, give us so much hope. If we blow it today, we can start again tomorrow. We conclude that the answer to yesterday's failure is today's success. If I preached a bad sermon this past Sunday, I can shed my sense of failure by preaching a great sermon next Sunday. We're driven by the need to succeed.
Every one of us (especially church leaders) is addicted to performancism. Yes, I know that's not technically a word. But performancism is a certain mindset that equates our identity and value with our performance. My appearance, my intelligence, how my kids turn out, my reputation, my achievements—these things become synonymous with my worth. Successes add to my worth; failures subtract. This mindset is wrong.
I'm not saying that accomplishments aren't important. There's a big difference between enjoying what we do and depending on it to deliver meaning and worth. When we worship at the altar of performance—and make no mistake, performancism is a form of worship—we spend our lives frantically propping up our image or reputation. We try to do it all—and do it all well—often at great cost to ourselves and those we love.
Life then becomes a hamster wheel of endless earning and proving and controlling, and all we can see is our own feet running. We live in a constant state of anxiety, fear, and resentment until we end up medicated, hospitalized, or just really, really unhappy.
The answer to this enslaving addiction? The gospel of grace.
The gospel is God's announcement that we are now free from having to rescue ourselves by what we do and how well we do it. We are free from the burden to measure up, get it all right, fix ourselves and others.
Jesus relieves us of the burden to win, to be on top of everything, to justify our own existence. He sets us free from the pressure to be right, regarded, and respected. Because Jesus came to set the captives free, life doesn't have to be a tireless effort to save ourselves by what we accomplish.
The gospel is the good news that because Jesus won for me, I'm free to lose; because Jesus was strong for me, I'm free to be weak; because Jesus was Someone, I'm free to be no one; because Jesus was extraordinary, I'm free to be ordinary; because Jesus succeeded for me, I'm free to fail.
This means that who you really are has nothing to do with your accomplishments, your potential, your behavior (good or bad), your strengths, your weaknesses, your past, your present, your future. Your identity is firmly anchored in Jesus' accomplishment, not yours; his strength, not yours; his performance, not yours; his victory, not yours. In other words, you are not what you do—you are what Jesus has done for you.
At least twice in the last year I've been late for a meeting and haven't been able to find my car keys. Certain that either my wife or one of my children misplaced them, I've frantically run from room to room blaming someone: "Has anyone seen my keys? I'm late for a meeting. Who was playing with my keys? I put them right here on the counter, and now they're gone. They didn't just vanish into thin air! Who picked them up? Where are they? I'm late."
And right about the time I'm ready to order mass executions in my home, I've put my hand in my pocket and found my keys. They'd been there the whole time.