This is part of series from Scott's book: Toxic Beliefs About God That Keep You Weak.
Addiction comes in many forms: drugs, alcohol, food, work, gambling, sex, even shopping, just to name a few. All addictions have one thing in common and that is control. Most people are completely unaware of the addictions that have control over them. This is because people become used to their addictions over a period of time and eventually accept them as normal and simply a part of who they are. I have sat and talked to people about their addictions, alcohol for example, and invariably the conversation leads to denial and blame.
There is one addiction that is rarely talked about but which can be just as destructive and hideous as any other. It really has to do with how we relate to God. It is called “Performance Addiction.” The lie that you can earn God’s love and acceptance is very destructive at its core and has worn many different kinds of masks in the church. Many marriages and families and individuals have been destroyed because of this sometimes subtle and other times overt message.
Performance addiction finds its roots in the area of our need for personal worth and significance. Our society’s attitudes are based upon the premise that a person’s worth and value are determined by their performance. As a child we learn that in order to meet the need driven drives in our lives we must do something in return: perform. Performance in the context of this writing keeps us from being real, genuine or authentic.
We believe this falsehood because we are born into a world that tells us that we are incomplete. As a result we learn to reach into our outside world toward those things we believe will satisfy and complete us, such as the approval of others.
Because the need for love and approval are so strong, we become highly refined in our ability to extract and gain the thing we seek, and as a result we end up in Performance.
Let’s face it; our world is all about getting approval. We get good grades in school for the effort and diligence we put in. We learn that in order to satisfy our employer we had better measure up to the expectations of that job. Oftentimes even as adult children we find that we are still seeking the approval of our parents.
As I said, Performance addiction causes us not to be real or genuine with each other. The end result is that we learn to live behind a performance mask, which causes stress in our relationships. It becomes difficult to relate because we feel and therefore believe that if we don’t meet the expectations of those around us we will be rejected.
Because this is the way we have learned to deal with relationships around us, it becomes quite natural to think this same way in how we relate to God. This is the great lie that has held our world back from experiencing a loving God who desires to have a close and intimate relationship with His children.
Performance addiction regarding our relationship with God comes from beliefs we have about God and what we believe about ourselves in relationship to God.
Really, performance addiction started in the Garden of Eden. As you know, Adam and Eve were presented with the choice of two trees. The tree that grew in the middle of the garden was the “Tree of Life” and the second tree was the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”. We of course know that the choice made that eventful day was to eat from the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil,” which really means that they made the choice to live a life of self-sufficiency and self-effort outside of God’s provision. Once the fruit from that tree was eaten, all humanity has had no other choice but to live with a need to perform.
Angry At God? It is a sure sign that life isn't working for you and you somehow believe God is responsible for your pain.
This is the pitfall that keeps us from discovering God’s answer to all mankind. “In order for me to be, I must do!” My personal identity and worth now comes from my efforts and behavior.
This leads us to a relationship with God that ends up in complete frustration, stress and eventual anger. Here is what happens when we expect God to be pleased and then to bless us based on our achievements and performance. First of all we fall into despair and disillusionment when life stops working the way we think it should. Our conclusion is one of two choices. The first is to decide that if our religious performance doesn’t seem to be working then there must be something wrong with us, so we end up living a life of begging God to accept us and forgive us. Or we give up on God altogether because “it is just too hard” to make it work. The results all too often lead to hatred, anger and murder as it did in the story of Cain who killed his own brother Abel. That was a horrific act of violence that started out of a performance-based mentality on Cain’s part, instead of his simply resting in the blood of a lamb as Abel had.
There was a time in my life that, because I was basing my life on performance, I felt as though I had been completely abandoned by God. As a result I became thoroughly disillusioned and spent five years full of hurt and anger toward God. Even when I knew that I needed to break out of the self destructive negative feelings I was going though, I couldn’t. I would stand in a worship service, raise my voice to worship and the moment I did, the deep hurts of anguish would rush in on me. You see, without realizing it I had build my identity upon unstable shifting sand of performance, which told me that my relevance was in my doing.
The second thing that takes place in many people whose lives are based on performance is the conclusion that, if indeed life is “working for us,” we fall into pride because “Obviously we must be ‘doing’ the right thing”. As a result of living a life based on performance we begin to judge others and begin to lay out a list of dos and don’ts that they must abide by in order to have the same success that we are experiencing. You see, religion at its best will not meet man’s best intentions to meet God. All world religion is based first and foremost on trying to find and connect with their idea of God.
Performance religion always ends up in some form of penance to alleviate the sense of shame and guilt that they have. I have watched the self mutilation of sincere victims in their efforts to earn God’s love because they never heard the truth of God’s provision for their lives. Standing and watching people beat and nail themselves to crosses in the Philippines is only the demonstration of just how deep the anguish of mankind’s pain goes in trying to satisfy the lie in their own hearts.
What is the Root of Performance Addiction?
Performance addiction is seductive in its ability to blind us into thinking that we can actually meet our own needs outside of our creator. Believing that is like believing that a human can remain completely functional without water, food and air. Now granted, we have become very good at adapting to our world and have become pretty refined in our ability to live life. However what we accept as “normal,” or even a life that speaks of achievement and success, is really only a shadow of how we were meant to function as intended by our Creator. Our lives today in contrast are a complete distortion to the way life was meant to be lived.
Prior to the fall Adam and Eve operated and lived from an inner knowing that they were complete. If you are complete, then you contain and have everything at your disposal to accomplish and live life effectively. They did not have a need to reach outside of themselves in order to be or feel complete. Rather than living from a place of weakness, want or even struggle, they lived effortlessly.
The word sin in the Bible is defined as “missing the mark”. I like to say that Adam and Eve moved from one way of living to another way of living, from an inner knowing that they were complete to a life of independence that said there were not complete. Sin is our inability to hit the mark no matter how hard we try.
Typically we think of sin as a behavior, that somehow if we “behave” correctly we will hit the mark. Sin goes much deeper than this. Like a fish trying to swim without water, it’s simply not possible to avoid all sinning, no matter how hard you try to change your behavior.
You might be asking the question, “Well, if we are not to be performance-based then why were we given the Ten Commandments?”
First of all we must realize that God is love, which is how He is described in the New Testament. He is the personification of love itself, not some cheap imitation. From the very beginning it has always been His full intention to redeem and bring man back into that completeness he once had. From the beginning we can see God continually reaching out to His creation. Somehow religion would have us believe that it was God who turned His back on man, when in fact it was man who turned his back on God. Scripture tells us that it was God who went searching for Adam in the garden.
“And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, ‘Where art thou?’ And he said, ‘I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.’”
You can almost hear the sadness in God’s voice as He described to them the consequences of their declaration of independence. “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread…” Gen. 3:19. In other words, you will not have the capacity as you once did to live out of a sense of completeness. Instead of having the knowledge of fullness, you will have no other choice but to live and operate out of the use of force. Up until now, everything came to you because you understood that everything was already yours. From this point forward, you will have no other choice but to reach outside of yourself in order to gather the things you think you have need of.
Later we again see that it was God Himself expressing love to His creation man and woman, instead of punishing them he made coats of skins out of an animal and clothed them. This spoke as a type and shadow of the need for the shedding of blood. Heb. 9:22
Again and again we see God reaching out on some level with the purpose of connecting with humanity in spite of mankind’s declaration of independence and self-sufficiency. Through the covenants he made with Noah, Abraham and even Moses we can see his hand at work with the purpose of bring humanity back to the quality of life they once had.
There are two types of covenants that you will find in the Bible: conditional and unconditional. A conditional or bilateral covenant is an agreement that is binding on both parties for its fulfillment. Both parties agree to fulfill certain conditions. If either party fails to meet their responsibilities, the covenant is broken and neither party has to fulfill the expectations of the covenant.
An unconditional or unilateral covenant is an agreement between two parties, but only one of the two parties has to do something. Nothing is required of the other party.
Both covenants with Noah and Abraham were based on an unconditional act that required no performance by them. Hebrews 6:13 tells us that “For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, “Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.”
The Abrahamic Covenant is an unconditional covenant. God made promises to Abraham that required nothing of Abraham. There were no conditions attached to it (no “if” clauses that suggest its fulfillment is dependent on man). We do know that Abraham simply believed God and as a result we are told that it was accounted to him as righteousness.
Now, granted, we can always make wrong choices and as a result suffer the results of those choices. Take for instance Abraham’s choice to pimp his wife out to Pharaoh (Genesis 12:14-19) and then after God got him out of that one, he later listened to the impatience of his wife Sarah by moving into performance so that they could help God out by having a child through Hagar. We are still dealing with those consequences, and God had nothing to do with it.
The question is, if every covenant was unconditional up through Abraham, then why the sudden change when it came to Moses and the giving of the Law? Let’s take a look at the events that led up to the giving of the Law.
When God made covenant with Abraham He himself spoke to Abraham about how Abraham’s descendants would end up in Egypt, and their eventual deliverance. The promise was that they would come out with great possessions, which we later discover that they certainly did. (Genesis 15:13)
We see God’s promise of deliverance being displayed over and over again. First we see deliverance as they crossed the Red Sea. They then saw God turn bitter water into sweet and send bread from heaven. God shows up again and again in profound and powerful ways in order to get them through the journey. You would think that Israel would be humbled and on their knees in thanksgiving by this time. But the text tells us differently, it says that instead they murmured and complained.
“Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”
Now you would think that God would simply turn His back on them because of their ungratefulness and tell them that they are on their own, but we see that He didn’t. Why did God continue to provide for them while they murmured and complained? It was because they were still under the Abrahamic covenant which had everything to do with God and nothing to do with them. They could have screamed, shouted and complained twice as much and it would not have affected God’s blessing and faithfulness to them one bit.
Interestingly enough, when they arrived at Mount Sinai, something drastic changed in the way God dwelt with Israel. Suddenly a new covenant was set into place. Israel went from experiencing God’s provision unconditionally to a covenant based on performance (conditional).
How did this happened and why the change?
God in His wisdom needed to communicate to man what man’s full potential was and to restore him to his greatness. He was not satisfied to allow humanity to continue living below their true identity. God introduced the law because He had to communicate man’s weakness and inability to live a life that is based on performance. You can hear the voice of arrogance in the voice of the children of Israel when they answered God’s question as He asked them if they could base their life on performance, independent of Him. (Exodus 19:5)
In Exodus 19:8 we read their answer, “Then all the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do.” So Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD.
It is important that you understand what the Hebrew text says here. They were saying that all that God requires and demands of us, we are well able to perform. In their own words they like many in our day believed that God does not bless us based upon His goodness. Instead they cried out to God to assess, judge and bless them based upon performance.
Man Must Discover His Need
Ever since Adam and Eve launched their unholy rebellion to live independently, God has been at work preparing the hearts of humanity. Historically, step by step He has taken man by the hand and has led him on a journey in order to reveal His nature and love to man.
While mankind is ignorant of just how short of the mark he really is, God knows that he will never on his own come to understand his desperate need for complete dependence of God’s grace. He may give lip service to the Gospel, speak about Christ, attend church, sit in a pew, serve Christ, but he will still be unsaved. Man is by nature self-righteous and will never let go of his pride and self-confidence until he realizes that it is impossible to live in self-reliance outside of God’s provision.
The Law was brought in to classify and clearly define just how far off the path mankind was. It reveals to us that we cannot hope to live and function in true life by our own performance and effort.
Take the example of the atom. An atom is made up of three basic components: electron, proton and a neutron. Remove just one of those components from that atom and it would cease to function as it was intended. It would no longer be a complete atom. In the same way, man cannot function to his full capacity because he is not complete. The scriptures call this spiritual death, which is really separation from God. God is not and never has been responsible for the pain and suffering caused by mankind’s choice to walk independent of God’s provision.
Jesus illustrated man’s need for this awareness by the way he dealt with the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22. This rich Performance addict, secure in his own apparent goodness and ability to keep the law, came to Jesus and asked him what he “had to do” to inherit eternal life. Jesus recognized immediately that he was a soul unprepared for the Gospel. He had never been enlightened by the Law to realize that “…There is none righteous, no not one.” Romans 3:11. He was unaware that all the goodness and self-righteousness of man, when compared in the light of the perfect goodness and righteousness of God, is nothing more than filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).
Jesus, recognizing this young man’s lost condition as well as his unpreparedness for the Gospel, did not simply offer him grace and forgiveness. He instead spoke directly to his greatest need. What did Jesus use to reveal the truth to this man’s true heart condition? He used the Law to expose the covetousness which held him captive.
Being self-righteous, this man believed he could be saved by “doing” and didn’t need God’s mercy as a sinner. Therefore, Jesus quoted some of the Law to him. The rich young ruler’s response was proof of a lack of understanding of the perfection of God. He immediately claimed that he had kept these laws perfectly from childhood. Knowing the true spiritual condition of this young man and his secret love of money, Jesus said, “…go thy way, sell whatsoever though hast, and give to the poor…” By giving the instruction that He did, Jesus was confronting this Performer with the realities of the second great commandment, “…thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself…” (Mark 12:31). How did the young man respond? Did he turn and repent? Did he, like the publican in the temple, acknowledge that he was a sinner and needed God’s mercy? No, he turned away, clutching his riches as his greatest treasure.
All people, regardless of their religious or cultural background, must be led down this road to self-awareness of their deficiency where it concerns their ability to function outside of God’s provision. Paul the Apostle came to the realization of these truths when he wrote to the church in Rome; this became the cornerstone message of his entire ministry.
“For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.”
This scripture was the concluding statement of a lifetime of frustration in trying to live a life based on Performance by the keeping of the law.
Toxic beliefs about God embraces the myth that God’s love can be bought by our actions, deeds and good works. It is amazing to me just how far off course we can get where it concerns our salvation. We usually have no problem where it concerns being saved by God’s grace. It is easy to celebrate God’s goodness and mercy and we can’t wait to share the joy of our newfound faith. But it isn’t long before we fall into the trap of “doing” instead of “being”. We are told that “We are saved by grace,” but once we are saved a new believer is taught that he or she must now begin living a lifestyle of holiness that is pleasing to God. While holiness is required of us, it is not achieved by our own actions and that idea is very often the stumbling block that gets in the way of true holiness.
Nearly everyone is familiar with what a treadmill is. A treadmill is typically found in a gym and is used for burning calories and cardio work. When you first start out, it is fairly easy to keep up with the pace of the track under your feet and you might be fooled into thinking that there is no real challenge. But before long the pace of the track picks up and it slowly rises into an incline. After all is said and done your workout leaves you in a sweat and with rubbery legs that feel like they are about to give out at any moment.
Religion and treadmills have a lot in common, we start out thinking that not only is it something we should do but something that we can do. In our vigor and zeal we fall into the pit of legalism, which in the end wears us out.
Jesus spoke about the treadmill of religion when he said,
“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
I love how the Message Bible words this quote from Jesus.
"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."
The High Cost of Religion
I wanted to insert the story below because I believe it conveys the high cost of religion. This story is from Robin Sampson, who is the author of Heartofwisdom.com. Robin tells us that she, like many others, believed the lie that God’s love and acceptance could be earned.
Most of my life I have run on a performance treadmill attempting to earn love and acceptance from God and others. The result has been a mess. I became a Christian as a teenager and deeply wanted to follow Christ. But I was full of shame and guilt, enslaved in bondage, unable to accept love and the forgiveness God offered. The treadmill kept me from freedom to enjoy the blessings of God. I married at 17 and had four children in five years. I was determined to raise my children in a Christian home.
In my zeal, I went from the life of a sinner to a religioholic (an alcoholic is preoccupied by alcohol, a workaholic is preoccupied by work, I was preoccupied with legalistic religion). We joined a legalistic church and went every time the door was open. If we missed a service, the guilt would drive me to volunteer for something else. I kept the nursery during church and taught Sunday School. I wasn’t fed much spiritually because I was busy earning love and approval. Artificial rules and regulations sucked the love of God out of our family.
I sincerely thought I was on the right path. I tried to control our family with my lists of Christian rules. Church attendance and Bible studies were duties. My husband was rejected by the church because he drank beer on weekends. After that, he had several affairs; he finally abandoned us and we didn’t see him for 15 years.
I was completely rejected by the church I served. I was told, “I must not have been submissive enough.” It was a small church and I think they were afraid to have a single mother with four children and no income.
I emphasize with the millions of single mothers in America struggling to feed their children every day. I was raising four children without child support for six years. We slept on mattresses, ate meals off a cardboard box, skipped many meals, and collected soda bottles in ditches to buy medicine. I was desperate to feed my children. I worked waitress jobs and even got a job in a nightclub for a while. The churches we visited were afraid of us or too legalistic for a divorced mother. After a few rejections, I stopped trying to go.
I then married, this time to a man with an unsavory past, but he promised to take us to church and he did. We were involved in a mid-size church without all the extreme legalism. I had three more children. I worked hard toward the Proverbs 31 goal and we began homeschooling. Our family was dysfunctional, as most families are, but I was determined to work hard and protect my children from the evil world.
Externally we appeared to be a godly family, but internally each of us was unraveling.
I passed down unhealthy habits of performing to earn love and acceptance to my children. Instead of teaching the love of God, I taught them (by actions, not words) how to run on the performance treadmill and jump through behavioral hoops. While I was running on this treadmill I had a judgmental attitude towards anyone who wasn’t on the same treadmill. I was extremely critical of myself and others. Where is the love of God in that?
Homeschooling brought in new artificial rules and regulations (wearing dresses, baking bread, using the right math program, the number of school hours, etc.). I had new rules to follow–maybe this time I could get it right! I was willing to work hard. I truly believed I was on the right path, but the fruit proved otherwise. When my children hit their teen-age years they rebelled.
I was in deep denial. My closest friend once told me, “If being in denial was an Olympic sport, you would be a gold medalist!” My formula for coping with the dysfunctional mess went something like this:
- Step 1: Denial (Pretend there is no problem or pretend I don’t feel the way I feel)
- Step 2: See some of the problem, blame myself, and wallow in shame.
- Step 3: Work harder, try harder
- Step 4: Fail.
- Step 5: Blame myself, wallow in shame.
- Step 6: Lose it.
- Step 7: Blame myself for losing it, wallow in shame. Emotional collapse.
The good news is that the story of Robin did not end there; she later discovered God’s unchanging love and acceptance. The sad truth is that her story is a common one, that there are many who have fallen for the same destructive lie.
When we first come to Christ as a new believer with our needs, our prayers are answered instantly. As time moves on, our relationship with Christ and answers to our prayers seemingly become more difficult. We are told that this is normal and that it is part of the growing up and maturing process that the Lord wants to take us through. We are told that the voice of the Holy Spirit in our lives will grow dim and in fact it will feel like God has abandoned us altogether. What a hideous lie!
I remember sitting in Bible school while being sold this bill of goods. We were told that this was part of the “dying to self” process. We were also told that the Holy Spirit used circumstances and bad stuff to help kill off the flesh in our lives. We walked around that entire semester waiting for the hammer of God to drop so that we could ultimately “Glorify” God. And we weren’t disappointed either, because sure enough, when someone expects bad stuff to happen, they attract what they expect. Before long the whole student body was walking around with singed hair and smelling of smoke. If someone walked into one of our classrooms for the first time, their first question would be, where’s the barbecue?
In recent years I have seen a teaching about the various seasons that God takes us through in our lives. This teaching proclaims that God at times in our lives “hides” from us. This is erroneous doctrine and a myth that stands in opposition to the word of God that says “He will never leave us nor forsake us”. I love how the Amplified Bible expounds on this passage.
“…for He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax my hold on you)! [Assuredly not!]”
The reality of God’s promise here stands strong in opposition to whatever man’s experience may be. Do we have times and seasons in our lives where God’s voice or presence doesn’t seem to be around? Have you ever felt that God was trying to escape connection with you? I want you to know that God’s Word stands true no matter what circumstances or situations may try to tell you. There is a greater reality that supersedes the reality of life’s experiences. The question is which reality will you allow your heart to be persuaded by and live by?
Truth is Truth
So why do we feel that God is sometimes there and sometimes He is not?
Paul the Apostle spoke about this to the church in Galatians, he states: Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?
The church here in Galatians had gotten off course by mixing the old covenant with the new covenant. Remember, as I stated before, the old covenant Mosaic Law was not an unconditional covenant but was instead based upon the doing and the keeping of the law. Somehow the Galatians got it into their heads that what God had given them was not good enough, that in fact they could perfect, make better and improve upon God’s pure gift that was given to them through Jesus.
Jesus provided an unconditional, everlasting covenant that was not depended up our trying to keep it. Like Abraham, all we are to do is “believe and trust” in what is provided. Whenever we mix something else in we dilute its effect and this is especially true where it concerns the old and new covenants. In fact, Paul told them that when you mix covenants that “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.”
Read Galatians 5:4 in the Amplified.
“If you seek to be justified and declared righteous and to be given a right standing with God through the Law, you are brought to nothing and so separated (severed) from Christ. You have fallen away from grace (from God's gracious favor and unmerited blessing).”
The question is, if you are separated from a relationship from Christ, what will be the natural consequence of that relationship? If I am told that I must do, do, do in order to be, be, be, what happens to the living vibrant communion I was enjoying when I first accepted and believed on Christ? Does it become stagnate, dry and lifeless? I think you would agree with me that it will. How we interpret what we are experiencing in Christ must be held up to the pure light of what He has provided to us through the new covenant.
Toxic beliefs about God would have you believe that the issue of sin and “falling from grace” is based upon behavior (doing). No my friend, it is based upon what Jesus did for you. He took your sin and punishment; it was His behavior, not yours, that saved you and indeed is what is keeping you now.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2: 8-10
Repeat the following out loud to yourself and allow its words to come alive in you.
“On my worst day, in my greatest failure, you died for me. On my worst day, in my greatest failure, you were on my side. On my worst day, in my greatest failure, you saw the best in me. On my worst day, in my greatest failure, you saw a good end for me.”
The question is whether Jesus completely satisfies the demands of the law on behalf of humanity. This question is hard on religion and is often answered with a “Yes I believe He did die for me and satisfied the demands of the law, but…”
And then the air is filled with all of the reasons this too good to be true gospel can’t work unless we are doing something. The question usually arises, “Aren’t you afraid people will go out and abuse this by living any way they want to?”
Well, if keeping of the law works, then by all means we should stay there. Fortunately that was not God’s intention. God’s intent in the giving of the law was to bring us to the understanding that it is impossible to live a life based upon the law and that we were in desperate need for something much greater.
Did you realize that when you focus on the keeping of the law you empower its influence over your life? I Corinthians 15:56 tells us that “the strength of sin is the law.” This means that once the law has served its purpose, which was to bring us to Christ, we are then to rest in the provision of God’s free gift. Remember this, God declares you righteous, God declares you holy and pure. In the midst of whatever feelings of failure you may be dealing with today, God boldly and confidently celebrates your life and declares you as a complete, whole person who lacks nothing!