How We’re Learning
by Ginger Harrington
Free From Trying to Get Ourselves Together
My good friend stands at the mailbox, holding the weight of too many burdens on her shoulders. I can tell she’s had a difficult day as I stop to say hello. Knowing my neighbors is one of the things I like about base housing. I ask her how things are going.
“I try so hard to be a good mom, but I feel like I’m not doing it right,” she says with a sigh. “It’s a constant challenge to give my best at work in a busy command. The kids bicker and fight all the time. I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked, but it feels like there’s nothing to show for it.”
With a weary sigh, she says, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to dump on you. I just need to work harder to get it all together. I’m trying to be a better mom, soldier, and Christian, but . . .” Without words, her body language finishes the sentence that hangs in the air: but I’m not.
How well I know this struggle as I listen to the discouragement in my friend’s words. Do you know it too?
We get hung up on doing things right—performing well in all of our responsibilities and roles. God wants us to know that our identity in Christ sets us free from the pressure of trying to earn God’s favor and get ourselves together through our own efforts. The performance prison is a trap of self-righteousness, a way of living where we are constantly trying to get it all together and do it all right.
Here’s the problem of self-righteousness, this getting-ourselves-right way of living—it’s never enough, and we’re never sure, never free, and never at rest. Truth is, trusting rather than trying is the path freedom walks.
Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:24 The Message).
In a broad sense, righteousness is defined as the “state of him who is as he ought to be, righteousness, the condition acceptable to God.” It includes integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness, correctness of thinking, feeling, and acting. (Strong’s 1343).
He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5 NASB).
The work of trying to make our soul OK is an exhausting, relentless toil of self-effort that quickly leads to the bondage of performance and perfectionism.
This is the struggle of self-righteousness—trying to make ourselves right apart from God. This is the war our flesh wages against our spirit, leaving us weary and wounded on battlefields of independence and self-effort. Too often, we twist holiness into self-imposed molds of perfectionism dressed up for Sunday and lurking behind our efforts to please God (Holy in the Moment, p. 70).
How to be free from trying to get ourselves together:
Understanding that righteousness is a gift to receive rather than a standard to achieve, whether in our relationships, work, or spiritual life, is the first step to experiencing freedom in Christ.
Though we may mentally assent to the truth that righteousness is our identity in Christ, working to get ourselves together can be a subtle and quick shift to self-righteousness and self-effort. I struggle with performance too often, but God helps me make practical choices to find freedom from the performance prison of trying to do everything right.
- Embrace the truth that you are holy and righteous. When you worry about working harder to get it all together, remember righteousness is a gift of identity and not a reward for good performance.
- Rely on Christ in your efforts. Make intentional choices to invite Christ into your work and relationships, “Lord, help me in all my work today. I rely on your righteousness in all I do today.”
- Surrender your roles to God. Trust Him with the people and responsibilities in your care.
- Rest the outcomes of your efforts in God’s capable hands and let go the stress of performance.
- Recognize when you are trying to control circumstances by trying harder in your own effort.
Try these intentional choices to find freedom from performance and self-righteousness. What would it look like for you to step out of the trap of performing for acceptance and approval from God or from others?
You can make the choice to let go of the pressure to perform, because here’s the truth: Free in the righteousness of Christ, “who you are is just right and He will help you do what is right” (Holy in the Moment, p. 72).
Lord, thank you for the gift of righteousness that sets me free from the prison of self-effort and performance-based faith. I choose to rely on You to work in every area of my life. Remind me to choose freedom when I feel the pressure to perform for the approval of men or of God.
Verses to Ponder:
Be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Ephesians 4:23-24).
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21 NASB).
- John Ortberg, Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You
- Bill Gilham, Lifetime Guarantee: Making Your Christian Life Work and What to Do When It Doesn’t
- Dan Stone and David Gregory, The Rest of the Gospel: When the Partial Gospel Has Worn You Out
- Ginger Harrington, Holy in the Moment: Simple Ways to Love God and Enjoy Your Life