Our culture is obsessed with talent shows. From the original American Idol to World of Dance to America’s Got Talent, millions of people stand in front of a stage to be judged by the likes of a Simon Cowell. The contestants have been told all their lives by their grandmothers that they are the best singer in the world only to find out that they have less of a talent than to be desired.
The desire to perform comes from a desire to belong and to be approved by someone else. Deep down inside, we all want to know that we matter, that people see us, that we are loved, and that we are accepted. Standing in the spotlight is the moment of deeply longing for an answer to the question: “Am I enough?”
When it comes to the Christian life, we view our Christian walk in many ways like a Christians’ Got Talent. We seek to be good performers by being good little boys and good little girls hoping that when our moment in the spotlight comes we will gain the approval of the church. We want people to notice, accept, and love us so we seek to perform the best that we can.
Flash back to high school, I attended a conservative Christian school were much of Christian living was framed through religious performance. The moment on the stage came for me my senior year. The school would assign a Christian character award as a part of the annual homecoming festivities. I was one of a handful of seniors selected to possibly win this award. Winning this award would not only be recognition of my great religious piety before others but also must surely lead to a “well done” in heaven as well as affirmation that I was approved, seen, and loved.
As the day came for the big announcement, I was sure that I was predestined to be the winner. I lead Bible studies on campus, I spoke in chapel, and Lord knows that I worked hard for it, to His glory, of course.
The moment arrived and the candidates made their places on the basketball gym floor. I felt like Michael Jordan about to accept his NBA Championship trophy. As the name was read, I quickly realized, while trying to maintain the smile of a good sport, that I was not the winner. I had lost the Christian character award.
My graceless face in the moment clearly communicated to the watching stands that I clearly did not deserve that award because unfortunately, pride made the 7 deadly sins list. I had tried to perform, I had done my best, and my best was not enough.
When it comes to our own growth in grace, we often fall into performance mode. We play the “Christian card” and seek to present ourselves as the perfect Christian, yet often, we are dying inside. Our internal death is perpetuated by the fact that down deep we all are hypocrites. We cannot find thick enough make-up or a dark enough mask to hide the fact that we need Jesus and cannot do it on our own.
When we try to do it on our own, our best attempts will never pass the Heavenly Judge. Isaiah refers to our righteousness and self performance as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Our best performances land not in the best of list but become fodder for the burn pile.
The beauty of the gospel is that Jesus’ rescue does not end in our moment of salvation. Jesus is the One who is transforming us to become more and more like Him. He is the One at work in us, and He is the one performing through us.
Jesus is also the One who gives us the true place of approval and affirmation. He calls us His own. He proves the depth of His love for us at the cross. He reminds us daily of our value as we live life with Him.
When it comes to living the Christian life, there is none who lived the Christian life better than Jesus. His performance was so good that He became the namesake. Through what Martin Luther termed “The Great Exchange,” Jesus took our pathetic performance and exchanged it for His perfect performance. Jesus lived the perfect life that we could not live.
Paul explains this exchange this way: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law, although the Law and Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousnes, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26).
We can rest because Jesus perfectly performed in our place. We can rest knowing that our failures have been covered by His blood. We can rest because the only Person whose judgment matters in the end has called us His own. We can be known and loved because Jesus reminds us everyday. We can imperfectly pursue the Christian life knowing that Jesus is the righteous One and His work in us is still in progress.