This is the final part of the sermon I wrote but never preached. If you want to read the sermon in order click Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
2. Faith Practices are about a person not a performance. The Pharisees knew how to perform. No one knew the Law better. No one practiced the Law better. They were A+ students in Theology. In fact, acts of righteousness became so much about their flawless performance, they missed their true function: to drive them to the heart of God.
I understand their mindset. It was engrained in me as a kid and it suited this task-oriented competitive child well. First, there were attendance charts. Every week I attended bible class I got either a gold sticker or a smiley face to put on my chart. After several months, I could look up at the chart and see that I had more smiley faces than most of the kids, and for this I was applauded. Sometimes we even received special treatment for perfect attendance. Then there was the class where we were given verses to commit to memory and Bible passages to read and answer questions. For each assignment and memory verse I earned points toward an end of the year trip. If you earned enough points the teachers would take you to Six Flags. If I performed I was rewarded. I know these things aren't bad. They are means of motivation, to encourage children to learn their Bible, but it engrained in me and many of my peers a paradigm, "Faith Practices and acts of righteousness are about performance." The better you perform the more you please God.
It carries over into adulthood. Our faith tends to focus on perfect church attendance, reading my Bible more than you, praying more than you, and giving more than you. We begin to rate our Christian status by our performance, as if God and the angels are in heaven placing bets, "Oh... Otis Adams just moved ahead of Tish Deffenbaugh.... wait, Duane Bells is gaining ground on the turn, but, hold on... here comes Susie Dawson from the back of the pack. It's Susie Dawson in a last minute push pulling ahead. Susie Dawson wins by two links!"
The church becomes about "What I do." It becomes about how well I perform. The focus is on me. I place confidence in me. My faith is in me. That's when it all goes terribly wrong. If you put your faith and confidence in yourself, you will always feel like a failure because you can never outperform Christ. Try as you might you will fail and when you fail you will tell yourself, "I just have to try harder." And so you will put more confidence in yourself, and you will fail again. So you will try harder... and the cycle continues. All the while Jesus is saying, "PUT YOUR CONFIDENCE IN ME!"
Acts of righteousness are not about performance. They are about a person. They are about the person of God, about pushing us into a deeper relationship with him. It's not about checking a chart, making sure you're winning the race against other Christians. Prayer, fasting and church attendance are practices that drive you into deeper intimacy with God. When we realize faith practices are about a person and not a performance we no longer place confidence in ourselves but in God. We realize that our worth is not based on how many "T's" we cross or "i's" we dot. Our worth is based on a God who loves us unconditionally. We realize our standing before God is not based on a merit system but on the precious blood of his son who pulled us out of the sloppy sewer pit in which we played, washed us off and put us in front of God as holy and blameless. When Faith Practices are about performance there is no need for the gospel. The gospel declares to us every week, "Your performance cannot save you but Jesus can!" If you need Jesus this morning come talk to me when we are done here. Faith practices are about a person and not a performance.
Conclusion: If you take anything with you this morning, take this truth: Motives determine movement. Ask yourself "Why?" Why do I go to church? Guilt? Recognition? To earn points with my wife? Why do I give? Responsibility? Fear of what others think? Why do I pray? You've been told to your whole life? Why do I fast? "Oh, I don't fast. I guess I should if I want to be a good Christian." Ask, "Why?" What is your motive? Because, your motive will determine your inner movement - your movement toward God or your movement away from God. Love you! Let's sing!