Lie #1: Performance = Value
My value comes from my performance.
The first specific lie we’ll look at in our series on Truth & Lies is the one that says: My value is based upon my performance.
In other words, believing how well we are performing or how much we have achieved determines our value. This lie tells us that doing enough good works, or attaining a certain level of perfectionism will somehow make us worthy of being loved and accepted.
It’s a lie that I refer to as “Old Covenant living in a New Covenant reality.” For believers, it’s trying to earn favor, love, grace, acceptance through performing well – when, in reality, those things are freely given to us through faith, by grace, in Christ apart from our performance. By living according to this lie, we, as believers, are trying to earn what we have already been given in abundance. And, due to the nature of our hearts, it’s fairly safe to say that everyone struggles with this lie to varying degrees at least sometime in our lives.
Good News & Bad News
With that said, there is good news and bad news.
The bad news is that the Bible says this way of living kills and bears fruit for death (2 Cor 3:6, Rom 7:4-6).
He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant–not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. – 2 Corinthians 3:6
Depression and anxiety are very common fruits of this lie, especially for the perfectionist. In fact, these two painful maladies are often (not always) accurate indicators that a person is living according to this lie.
The good news, if there can be any in the midst of something like this, is that if you struggle with believing your value comes from your performance, you’re in great company. I know and have counseled plenty of wonderful people who, despite everything else they have going for them, are burdened mightily with this particular lie. Simply put, this way of thinking is a very common, if not universal, human struggle. What’s more, this lie is often learned and absorbed in either a home environment, a “religious” environment, or both.
But the truly “good news” is that this lie—and its fruit—can all be overturned and reversed through the truth and grace Jesus abundantly offers us. It can also be exceedingly helpful to find someone Biblically qualified and equipped to come alongside and walk us through exposing the lies and replacing them with the truth and grace of God as taught in Scripture.
Breaking The Lie Down
THE MAIN MINDSET >
“If I do enough, if I do everything perfectly, if I complete everything, if I achieve a certain level of ______, I might be worthy enough to be accepted and loved by God and others. Then I might be happy and have peace, contentment, joy, etc.”
THE MOTIVE >
The motivation here is along the lines of fear and shame, and avoiding undesired feelings (e.g., unworthiness, guilt, feelings of failure, anger, etc.), rather than the motives of loving God and others according to the truth – and, from this, being faithful (not perfect) with what we have been entrusted with.
THE FRUIT >
Depression, hopelessness, anxiety, insecurity, fear, anger, stress, fear of failure, feeling overwhelmed, feelings of condemnation, negative thinking and harsh criticism (especially toward one’s self), strained relationships, resentment, a struggle with trusting God (e.g., “trust issues,” “control issues”), and a lack of joy, peace, freedom, patience, contentment, etc.
THE SOME GOOD OR PARTIAL TRUTH >
As we talked about in Part 2, the idea of some good or partial truth in a lie is a primary reason people fall for lies in general. In this case, performance, or performing well enough, can have value – and is definitely important to a family, individual, church, or society as a whole. Yet, the truth is that performance is not necessary for the believer to be loved, valued, accepted by God – or to experience peace, joy, and blessings (Gal 3:5).
Does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? – Galatians 3:5
THE DECEPTIVE FRUIT >
Due to the emphasis on performance, quality, and completion when we are living some variation of this lie, we will likely “succeed” in achieving many things, perhaps even more so than others (e.g., career, grades, money, admiration, material goods, overall appearance, etc.). Of course, such “success” only serves to convince us that this lie is good or right – thereby tightening its grip on us. At the same time, because the nature of the lie is dissatisfaction with our performance, we will continue to work hard(er) and achieve even more. While outwardly our circumstances might be good, or even get better, inwardly the struggle often gets worse and worse (e.g., anxiety, depression, hopelessness, stress).
THE FALSE NEED >
The false need inherent in this particular lie usually goes something like this: “I need to perform enough, or well enough, in order to be loved, accepted, saved … Furthermore, if this need is not met, I cannot be happy. I cannot experience peace and joy. And I will not be acceptable to God.
*Note: Many religions and even false teachers within the church teach a works-based value system – that in order to be saved or loved, we need to be worthy enough.
We have sufficient value in Christ alone and His grace. This abundant blessing and worth comes from God alone. Not from ourselves. Not based on our performance. It is His work, not our work, that brings us worth and acceptance. This value is a gift given to us through faith alone, despite our performance and lack of worthiness. God’s gift blesses us and glorifies Him.
Yes, we can and should, “perform” (do good works, obey Him, repent of sin). Yet the motivation for doing these things is not to gain acceptability or value. Rather, the motives behind our performance should ideally spring from gratitude towards God, out of love for Him, along with a desire for others to share in these blessings.
Meditating on God’s Word and truth (the specific truths above). Knowing these truths and principles, and believing them. Trusting God, and resting in His love for you and His grace given to you. And finally, putting these things into practice daily. This is the solution – for all of us, no matter where we are in life.
Performance & Grace
Let’s be clear here: our performance, obeying God’s Word, serving, working for the Lord … all have value, now and especially in eternity – if our motives are right (Matt 6:1ff; 1 Tim 4:7-8). These things are all wonderful. They are how we show love for God and bless others. But these things are not needed for salvation. Or to be loved by God, to be acceptable to Him, or to know love, joy, peace, hope, freedom, fulfillment, etc.
Performance and “good works” are evidences of salvation, they are the fruit of a redeemed and regenerated heart, they are the overflow of a love for God and others, but they are not required to obtain salvation or love (Eph 2:8-10).
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. – Ephesians 2:8-10
Service, giving, obedience, etc. are how we love, but they are not why we are loved. God loves us because it is His character, not because of our performance (Rom 5:8).
But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8
We should not love in order to be loved. Ideally, we love because we know we are loved. We know the blessings of love, we know the truth about God’s love, and, therefore, we respond with love to His love – along with confession, repentance, obedience, “dying to self,” etc. (1 Jn 4:7-5:5).
We love because He first loved us. – 1 John 4:19
Practically speaking, when we live this particular lie (e.g., my value comes from my performance), we are taking on too much responsibility (which is a common cause of many problems in life and relationships). Also, we are often not trusting God for our value. In the midst of this lie, we are not believing the truth about the sufficient value He has given us. Instead, we are trying to gain our own value through our good works (to make up for what we believe God failed to give us).
It is common to confuse the value that comes from our performance with the sufficient value (e.g., for salvation, adoption) that comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
Taking Advantage of Grace
On the other hand, if we are saved, or claim to be saved, but are not “performing” or loving according to God’s Word, then it is right and good to be concerned as well as seek to understand why this behavior and fruit may be in our lives.
Here are a few questions to ask ourselves:
- Are we just struggling for no particular reason (as we all do)?
- Have we bought into a lie?
- Have we believed a false gospel?
- Were we taught a works-based salvation/gospel/love?
- Are we unrepentantly clinging to sin?
- Are we holding on to stubbornness?
- Did we believe (often early in life) that who we are or what we do is “never good enough,” thereby encouraging us to always strive harder to become worthy?
Regardless of the reasons, sin is still sin. It is always serious, and it always has destructive consequences. Even though we enjoy grace, we shouldn’t live unconcerned about our own sin and disobedience. Rather, because we love God, our sin should deeply grieve and concern us all the more (2 Cor 7:10-11; Matt 3:8; Acts 26:20). Faithful obedience to God’s Word, with the right motives, is how we love God (Jn 5:3). And that obedience is a sign of a saved soul (through grace alone, apart from works).
Grace is not merely a truth or a fact that we learn one time and then automatically always remember and live by (e.g., 2 + 2 = 4). Furthermore, grace is not something that we “have to” learn (e.g., a painful, tedious duty or hardship). Nor is grace something that we will fully understand in the next week, month, year, or even a lifetime.
Grace is an incredible reality that we get to learn, absorb, and practice living in and giving for the rest of our lives. So, let’s take the long-term approach to learning the truth about grace, remembering that growth in grace takes time. Each step in the journey is a blessing and a “get-to,” never a “have-to.”
- There is absolutely no downside to accurately learning and living in grace.
- Every moment giving and living in grace is a blessing. But, because many problems arise when grace is distorted, it must always be uncompromisingly rooted in truth. (Col 1:6; 1 Pet 5:12; Jn 1:14,17)
- A believer living outside of grace usually experiences far more pain and grief than an unbeliever outside of grace. (Matt 18:23-35; Gal 3-5)
- Grace is never deserved. Yet, the performance-based mindset is erroneously based on the lie: performing well = deserving favor, grace, or good circumstances. (cp Ps 37, 73)
- While grace is never earned, living according to lies, clinging to sin, and putting our trust in the creation rather than the Creator hinder or prevent us from knowing and growing in true grace. (Jonah 2:8; Gal 6:7-8; Rom 1:25; 8:5)
- Genuinely and accurately confessing and repenting of our sins opens the door to an abundance of grace. (Rom 5:20; Prov 28:13)
- Our sin and unworthiness is not the main hindrance to grace, acceptance, or reconciliation. Rather, it is our failure to contritely confess the whole truth about our sin and error, and to expose and expel the lies we live, replacing them with believing and living according to the truth. (Ps 32:1-5; Prov 28:13; Jn 3:19-21; Eph 4:17-5:2; 1 Jn 1:6-10; 2 Thess 2:10-13; 1 Pet 1:22-25)
- We do not deserve grace, ever. Yet many live as if they can earn it, or as if God’s grace is not enough. The grace of God is all we need to overcome death and separation from God. It is a “gift” to all who believe, to those who walk in faith. (2 Cor 9:8; Gal 3:1-10; Eph 2:8-10; Rom 1:16-17; 6:23)
- Performing well enough to “deserve” or earn grace, love, forgiveness, freedom, or salvation is not only counter to truth and reality, it is counterproductive to producing the fruit we desire. If the fruit in your life is not so good, consider whether you struggle with this or other lies.
A Similar Lie
A common problematic mindset that often accompanies this performance driven lie can be summarized in the phrase: “Tasks over People.” Tasks Over People is a way of thinking that goes something like this: “Completing this task is more important than how I am treating those around me. Therefore, I am justified if I treat others poorly because they are interfering with the ever-important completion of this task!” The outward evidence of this mindset is often displayed in attitudes and actions such as: angry responses toward others; harshness with our children; disrespecting our spouse (in big or small ways); and sarcastic, cutting comments or put downs to “motivate” others to change or stop interfering with the all-important task in front of us.
Note: This is in the same vein as another big lie, “The end justifies the means.”
The solution to this lie, and all lies, requires a shift in truth and treasures—and in this case a complete inversion. The true and loving mindset is just the opposite of the lie. So, the right mindset to have is simply this: “People over tasks.”
When we live according to this truth, we value people far more than the tasks at hand. In other words, how we treat people (with kindness, respect, love, etc.) becomes far more important than the task in front of us. That is love. It is not that the tasks become unimportant (they all have their relative value), but instead in our hearts—and therefore in our attitude and actions—we make sure we treasure people far more than the current project. Tasks come and go, but every person will enter into eternity. How faithfully we love God and people—according to the truth—will produce lasting fruit for all eternity. This shift in values requires changing the “treasures of our heart” (Matt 6:19-21; Jn 6:27; 15:16).
How faithfully we love God and people—according to the truth—will produce lasting fruit for all eternity.
While changing this mindset is usually far easier said than done—and often takes a good deal of practice—the loving mindset always produces joy, peace, and freedom, as well as improvement in relationships (trust, rapport, love, respect). At the same time, those things that hurt and damage relationships are avoided (sinful anger, hurt feelings, bitterness, resentment, etc.).
The Over-Correction Lie
On the flip side, a common mistake we can often make upon discovering that we have been believing a lie, is to over-correct our error. This over-correction can then result in our buying into a different lie – but one that is no less opposed to the truth, and sometimes more so.
For example, the “opposite lie” of this particular faulty belief, that of Performance = Value, can come in various forms, such as:
God loves me just the way I am … therefore I don’t need to change, or repent, confess, conform my heart to Scripture, or live for God.
I’m covered under grace, and grace is all I need!
Truth and accuracy don’t matter much if we are just loving God and others.
Yes, loving God and others is supreme. But, “love” becomes sinful, toxic, and destructive, if not downright deadly, when we attempt to “love” according to error, falsehood, sin, and without the truth. If we emphasize “grace” which is not true grace, and if we don’t seek the truth, then we are harming, not helping (Col 1:6; 1 Pet 5:12; Jn 1:14, 17; 8:31-32; 2 Thess 2:10-13). Plainly stated, we are not being truly loving. Truth itself is absolutely required in order to truly love or to experience true grace.
Truth itself is absolutely required in order to truly love or to experience true grace.
But, as with all effective lies, there is some truth to this over-correction lie. Furthermore, this lie is growing in popularity as the willingness to accurately address sin and personal responsibility is declining, as the true gospel is replaced with false gospels, and as the esteem for truth is dying in the hearts of many.
It is very common for a person who has believed in the first lie of “My value comes from my performance,” or who was involved in a (real or perceived) legalistic church or religion, to “over-correct” with this particular “Over-Correction Lie.” I call this the “Over-Correction Syndrome” (or OCS). Not only that, many “over correctors” retain a fair amount of bitterness and anger, especially towards those who might have similar beliefs to those whom they deem “legalistic,” “Pharisaical,” etc. (I call this “OCSB” … Over-Correction Syndrome with Bitterness Complications).
In addition, many who have “over-corrected” in this way can become very aggressive and antagonistic towards the real or perceived offenders, or anyone in a similar camp. To make matters worse, bitterness blinds a person to the truth (e.g., Ps 73:21-22). Yet truth is precisely what is needed to accurately correct a lie. Sadly, people often remain hopelessly entrenched in their errors while they themselves—through their chosen bitterness and resentment—consistently slam the door on coming into the light.
Truth is precisely what is needed to accurately correct a lie.
Finally, if you struggle with overcoming the lie that your value comes from your performance, please be encouraged that there is hope. There are answers, and many have overcome this deception through the truth and grace that only God can give.
If you are looking for more help in overcoming this specific lie, along with further study on true grace, the first thing you can do is spend a good deal of time in God’s Word, particularly the book of Galatians (emphasizing Chapters 3-5). Next, read the book of Romans (specifically Chapters 3-8) and 2 Corinthians (especially 2:14-8:39 and Chapter 3, with special focus on 3:5-6).
Nothing defeats a lie like the truth.
Nothing sets us free like the truth.
Nothing transforms us like learning God’s written Word of truth.
The more time we spend accurately learning, knowing, and believing His Word, the better able we will be to recognize the lies and hold fast to the truth.
Nothing defeats a lie like the truth.
* Additional Resources: Authentic Christianity by Ray Stedman is a book that has helped many, including myself, tremendously in grasping the concepts of the Old and New Covenants. Over the years, the ministry of Hope For Life has developed materials on this topic that are used in our counseling with great results. We are also currently working on a book to help equip anyone in this area of grace-filled living.