Promise or Performance?

BY PAUL DUNK

Looking at our dining room table most days, you might think we were running a cartoon factory out of our house. Drawings. Everywhere.

When a small child presents you with some artwork, it's heart warming. They love you, they thought of you, it provoked them to create, and then they present you with their work.

All their effort is because they love you, not because they need to leverage you.

Imagine though, if a cruel teacher went into your child's classroom and began teaching the class that their artwork was actually securing their parent's love. As a result, you begin to notice that your fridge is covered in more artwork than ever.

Then the false teacher begins teaching that if their work improved, their life would be filled with more dessert after dinner and their birthday presents would increase in proportion to the excellence of their work.

The next thing you know, your entire kitchen is overflowing with artwork and your child is up in their room each night, curled up on their bed struggling with anxiety. They're hoping you're happy with what they've done. They're having trouble sleeping because they can't help but wonder if they've done enough. They no longer enjoy their work because they are consumed with comparing it with everyone else's.

That teacher misrepresented your heart for your child. They destroyed the joy behind their work that once flowed freely, from love. This false teaching has caused your child to relate to you with anxiety instead of assurance. They caused your child to doubt that your love is a promise by convincing them that your love is hinging on their continued performance.

If you found out about all this - what would you do? You'd go into that classroom and probably not quietly.

You'd have a few things to say to that art teacher - and you'd have plenty of things to tell those students. You wouldn't mince words, you'd be passionate, strong and your tone would be parental and unapologetic.

Everything you said would be driven from your love for your child and you'd use every fibre of your being to get them to reject the false things they'd been taught. If the teacher remained - your love would provoke you to pull them from the school. You wouldn't continually subject your child to that harmful ideology.

Then you'd sit your child down on your knee, look them in the eyes and categorically separate the promise of your love from their performance. "My love for you is unchanging because of who you are to me, not what you do for me - you're mine."

That's Galatians.

United to Christ we live under grace. All our obedience is from pleasure not for payment. It is from blessing, not for it.

False teachers ignorantly mixed the law and the gospel, and insisted that salvation was a both/and proposition. The apostle Paul rejected that and insisted the exact opposite. "Christ alone" means that salvation is either /or. Either Christ did it everything for you, or He didn't do anything for you.

Christ's divine action does not require our human contribution.

In Chapter 3, Paul used the term "inheritance" for the specific reason of highlighting the fact that the grace of God is founded upon His promise, not on our performance. An inheritance is obtained by a promise, not a performance. If something is promised, then what is required to receive it is belief, not work. If we add performance, we erase the promise. 

The apostle Paul categorically separated the purpose of God’s law from the promise of God’s grace.

The false teachers mixed them together, confused the kids and had the church running off to fearfully produce more and more artwork, hoping it was good enough for God to hang it on heaven's fridge.

By mixing the purpose of the law and the promise of the gospel together, these false teachers showcased their ignorance of both. By doing so, they erased God’s one way covenant based on a promise of grace and replaced it with a two-way contract based on performance to the law.

To illustrate how God's promise of grace is separate from the purpose of God's law, Paul appealed to God's promise to Abraham from Genesis 15. God's law came 430 years after that promise. His point was this: the law did not replace the promise of grace - it came to show us our desperate need for the promise of grace.

God had Abraham participate in an ancient practice that was common in the ancient world. Animals were cut in two and both parties made promises and walked through the pieces as a way of saying, "If I don't keep my end of the contract, let what happened to these animals happen to me."

Gruesome.

In a shocking turn of events, God did the unexpected. He caused a deep sleep to come over Abraham and God passed through the pieces alone. God's promise of salvation came through rescue, not rule keeping. In the end, God's blood that was shed on a cross for us.

Gruesome.

If we believe and teach that our continual obedience to God’s law is what ensures our salvation, then the one saving us -  is us.

In that scenario, Christ's work didn't make salvation actual, it only made it possible - and that grace erasing nonsense is not the gospel.

God gave us His law to show us our need for His grace.

Redemption history is not an account of how God got better performance from of His children, but how He got His gracious promise to them.‬

Our guilt is met by God's grace, which propels our gratitude.

In His great grace, God has provided for us what He requires from us. Therefore, living under this great grace, our obedience to Him is from sheer pleasure not for payment.

Paul has served in ministry as both a pastor and in evangelism since 1995. He is the founding pastor of KW Redeemer, a law/gospel-centered church plant in Ontario, Canada, and is currently completing his M.Th at Knox Theological Seminary. Paul is an MCO race school grad, but his main hobby is drinking coffee because it’s cheaper. He blogs regularly on his church website and he is the token Canadian co-host of Big Screen Theology.

Twitter @PaulDunk