For much of my life, I have found it easy to view God as an angry God whose love for me was based upon my performance or failures. Surely, He was just sitting up in heaven waiting for me to screw up. Even after reading that God is “slow to anger” (Exodus 34:6), it can be easy to view God the same way we so often mistakenly view each other - based upon what you have done for me lately.
It has become common in collegiate and professional athletics for coaches to be fired if they go more than 2 or 3 years without contending for a championship. Even if a coach just won a championship with his or her team a few years ago, it can often be assumed that the coach no longer knows what they’re doing or has what it takes to do it again. Forget what you have done in the past; we need to see it now. Again. And again. And again.
When I worked for Auburn University football in 2013, our head coach Gus Malzahn had essentially become a god to Auburn Football fans. In Coach Malzahn’s very first season as head coach, we not only defeated rival Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and won an SEC Championship, we made it all the way to the National Championship game. You’d have sworn there would soon be a statue erected of Coach Malzahn in front of the stadium.
Even before that first season had ended, Auburn quickly raised Coach Malzahn’s salary and extended his contract to 6 years in hopes they could keep him around for the long haul. By 2018, his contract was once again nearly doubled in value and extended through 2024. However, within a couple of years of that extension, Auburn had lost all faith in their once invincible coach. Despite winning records, Auburn had lost so much confidence in Coach Malzahn that they opted to pay his $21.5 million buyout instead of having him continue as coach.
We live not just in a performance culture. But a “what is your performance TODAY” culture. The expectation to perform can be crushing.
It can become dangerous when we mistakenly believe that God also holds us to the “performance today” standard. I often convince myself that God’s love for me is based not only on what I have done for him but on what I will do for him as well. The Word of God clarifies that we couldn’t be more wrong in our view of God. I have found this truth to be most evident through the endless list of imperfect people God chose and used throughout scripture.
Consider the following individuals.
Noah: He was given his name, which means “provide relief,” when he was born. I am not sure what he did in the womb to “earn” this name. Later we read that Noah “found favor”, and God declared to him, “I will establish my covenant with you.” This had nothing to do with Noah’s performance but everything to do with who God is and His promises.
Abram/Abraham: When I was reading about Abraham’s life, it’s made clear he obeyed after he was called. His calling was not based upon previous performances. Also prior to Abraham’s obedience, God invited Abraham to “receive” an inheritance, declaring “I will show”, “I will bless”, “I will make”. The “I” refers to God, not Abraham.
Sarai/Sarah: Even after she “received power” and an incredible promise from God, she abused her servant and her servants' child so badly that they had to flee. Still, “the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised.”
Moses: The only reason he even lived was because he was hidden as a baby for three months. A baby. No matter how good of a baby Moses might have been, it was not Moses’ performance as a baby that kept him from being killed. Later in his life, Moses’ anger got the best of him to the point that he committed murder.
The Israelites led by Moses: Great fear, grumbling, and complaining was their “performance” prior to God performing a miracle that allowed them to cross the Red Sea while the Egyptians, who were chasing them, drowned.
Samson: He was given his name, which means “he would save Israel”. He married a forbidden woman, doubted God, and complained of thirst to God moments after God gave him the power to defeat 1,000 men. Shortly after God graciously provided Samson with a miracle of water, Samson goes to sleep with a prostitute.
David: Described as a man after God’s heart, but was also a man who, instead of going to war with his soldiers, stayed back and had an affair with the wife of one of his soldiers, Uriah. His response when that woman became pregnant, and he ran out of options on how to cover it up, was to murder Uriah.
Clearly, God was not choosing based upon human performance.
Yet, what do all of these individuals have in common? Each one of them is listed as a “hero of the faith” in Hebrews 11.
Yes, they all demonstrated faith at times throughout their life, but let’s not forget they were first and foremost “chosen” by God, not based upon performance.
It can be easy to assume that every character in the Bible is some spiritual giant we must strive to become. When the reality is that this couldn’t be further from the truth. The Bible is incredibly transparent about the lack of performance in nearly every character highlighted. Let’s just say none of these are men or women you’d agree to let babysit your children, nor are they individuals who would be highly regarded for very long in our performance culture.
So what do all of these characters help teach us?
The goodness of God.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this, While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.- Romans 5:8
It has never been about performance. It has always been, and always will be about God’s love. What did Noah, Moses, or David do to earn this love? Nothing. In fact, they were even disobedient at times. Yet God chose them out of His loving kindness.
Unlike Auburn with Gus Malzahn, God never pursues a buyout agreement. In fact, He even declares through Paul just a few chapters later in Romans 8:38-39 “.. nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[b] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Nothing means nothing. Nada. Nothing.
Lay down your “earning”, and rejoice in being CHOSEN.