Not Performance. Not fear of Punishment.

mine

“Live for the Audience of One.”

I remember the injunction clearly, and pondered what it meant for me, a teenager and new believer. I knew salvation was by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone. I understood my need, responded to his relentless pursuit, and experienced his saving power. I saw radical transformation, wildfire growth if you will. And I wanted to follow Christ with all my soul.

“I am no longer who I once was,” my heart rejoiced!

But many facets of this thing called the “Christian Life” were still fuzzy. Audience of One?

“Well that must mean ‘to live for God’s approval alone.’ I suppose God is more pleased with me when I don’t do certain things, but do other things. If he’s the audience then I must perform, right?”

And so, I tumbled into the trap of performance. Do this. Don’t do this.

My failures crushed me. I couldn’t measure up. “Didn’t read my Bible every day this week. Epic fail. God must love me less.”

I may never have said the words aloud, but if I was honest, I thought they were true. I knew I’d been saved by grace, but I lived like I still had to earn it.

I’d love to tell my teenage self some things. I suppose I had to learn them over the passage of time, but if I could, I’d save her years of guilt ridden, faulty belief.

The Audience of One already approves.

Have you forgotten who He is?

As a father grins at his lisping child, stumbling through one line in the Kindergarten play, so does the Audience of One beam. Everyone else sees a gymnasium, but a father sees Carnegie Hall.

The father approves, not for the merit of the performance, but because he looks and says, “Mine.”

I’d say to my teenage self, “Christ justified you. By His blood you are declared innocent. He took your sin, and put it on Himself. Not only that, He gave you His righteousness. You belong.”

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1

“But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us in the heavenly places in Christ.” Ephesians 2:4-7

Justified.

Just as if I’ve never sinned.

Just as if I’ve always obeyed.

He approves. On my best days and worst days, God loves me just the same. He looks at me and sees His Son.

“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by his love; He will exult over you with loud singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

He looks at me and sees a daughter, no longer slave to sin but heir with Christ. I’m in the family. I belong. A proud father, he beams, “That one’s mine.”

Furthermore, He does not punish His own.

One root of a performance driven life is the fear of punishment. “If I don’t do xyz, I will be punished.” However, if I believe the gospel is true, I know that Jesus already took my punishment.

“By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also  are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” I John 4:17-19

Jesus is very definition of perfect love. And His death and resurrection are the ultimate manifestations of perfect love, therefore crushing the fear of punishment. Because of Christ, believers stand confidently before God.

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” I John 4:10

Propitiation is one of my favorite words. The consuming fireball of the Father’s wrath should have been hurled at me. Instead it was hurled at Jesus, and on the cross He took it all. He drank the cup of wrath completely.

Propitiation is “a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath and turns it into God’s favor.” (ESV Study Bible)

I will not face wrath. I do not fear punishment. In Christ I am the recipient of lavish, never failing, never ceasing, tangible, incomprehensible grace.

Sure, God disciplines His own, but that’s a vastly different action than punishment. Punishment exists to exact justice and judgment. Discipline is to instruct and to train.

Sure, my actions have consequences, and when I sin and need to repent. BUT my sins are covered by the blood of Christ. There has been atonement.

To live for the Audience of One isn’t fear of punishment. And it isn’t performance.

It is worship, the delight that flows from all Jesus accomplished on my behalf.

“Our obedience is not a fearful striving to please God but a thankful and joyous response to the love with which he has already embraced us and provided for us by the sacrifice of his Son. The gospel is indeed news of great comfort and joy!” (Gospel Transformation Bible)

The Audience rejoices, not on my merit, but because I belong to Him. My lines may be lisped, my song sung with cracking voice, but He looks and says, “Mine!”

Only one was an audience, the Audience of One. The smile of the King’s approval swept through the choir like fire across dry wheat fields. When the song was complete, the Audience of One  stood and raised His great arms, then clapped His scarred hands together in thunderous applause shaking the ground and sky, jarring every corner of the cosmos. His applause went on and on unstopping and unstoppable.”  -Randy Alcorn


I first published this post two years ago under the title “Mine.” I regularly need to be reminded of who Jesus is and who He has made me to be. So I thought it was worth revisiting. As I read through my original thoughts, some necessary additions came to mind. For why do we perform? Fear of punishment. Misplaced identity. Not knowing God’s character. A faulty understanding of grace. I hope this post has strengthened and encouraged you. Believer, I pray it makes you sing with confidence. I pray the truths of justification, adoption,  and propitiation resonate deeply with you today.

Our need for Jesus is exceedingly great. Without him we are doomed to face wrath and judgment for sin. He is the only true Savior, and through Him we know peace. Through Him we are reconciled to God, declared righteous, and no longer face wrath. Justification and propitiation– they aren’t just “theology” words. They are life-transforming realities.

And for the heart that is still struggling-

Advertisements

Joy and Sorrow: A Beautiful Dance

Stirred anew by the beauty of the gospel, an overwhelming sense of illumination spread like fire in my heart. Joy and sorrow intermingled, two cords of the same braid. I call it a beautiful crushing.

It’s the place where God reminds me of my desperate need for Him, and just how much I’ve been given in Jesus. The worship gathering continued, but I lingered, astonished by a singular concept.

For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive, But if her husband dies, she is free from the law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brothers you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to Him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” Romans 7:2-4 

  • I no longer belong to my husband.
  • One day I may belong to another.
  • I already belong to Jesus.

I’ve read this passage countless times since Jon died, but never have its contents seemed so radical.

Sorrow and joy wove an intricate dance, somehow moving harmoniously together. I still miss belonging to Jon, but joy swelled at thoughts of renewal, reversal, and redemption. Joy blossomed at the idea of belonging to another. A year ago, sorrow would have vastly outweighed joy, but now they feel more compatible.

joy and sorrowI’ve long since realized that counter to cultural expectations, joy and sorrow may be equally present. The ultimate oxymoron, one does not necessarily exclude the other. For Christ had deep sorrow over the weight of sin, but also deep abiding joy to do the Father’s will. Joy and sorrow mingled at the cross, and learned they could dwell together.  And if I didn’t know death, I wouldn’t understand their harmony.

Joy and sorrow: a profound illustration of the gospel, yet death and remarriage exemplify it further. While Jon was here, we were bound to each other by a covenant made before God and man. And of course, I cherished that covenant. As hard as it is to process, at his death, we were no longer bound together.

Clearly the analogy breaks down, for marriage to Jon was not sin, nor was I captive to him. But the application is clear.

“Before receiving the gospel, we are ‘married’ to sin because we have broken God’s law and are chained to its verdict and mastery.” (Commentary, Gospel Transformation Bible)

I once was bound to sin. But now I belong to Another. I belong to “Him who has been raised from the dead,” free from the law’s condemnation and sin’s inescapable vice.

I belong to Someone. 

In marriage Jon was mine and I was his. How I loved belonging to him and miss belonging to him! And how I long to belong to another again someday. However, infinitely more precious than belonging to a husband, I belong to Jesus. I am Christ’s and He is mine. I’m not guaranteed remarriage, but I already belong.

Joy and Sorrow. Death and thoughts of remarriage: an intermingling I wouldn’t have chosen, but I marvel at such a beautiful dance.

Lord, no longer belonging to a husband is a hard thing to grapple. Sorrow. But to belong to You is inestimably better! Joy. In Jesus, I belong. And I always will belong! Oh, God, use the intermingling of sorrow and joy to draw me ever closer to you; through them I see all that Jesus accomplished. I marvel that Jesus embraced sorrow, so I would have joy.


You might also like:

belong