10 Signs You Are Trapped… (Part 2)

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What is a religious performance trap and how to get free

A religious performance trap is a cycle of gaining your worth and security as a child of God from what you do, instead of who you are in Christ. Some people may call it legalism, or being a modern day pharisee, but I see it as a pit that any well meaning believer can fall into.

Following rules may change your appearance, but only a love relationship can change your heart. The performance trap will wear you out, because it will ask more than God does, but gives you little in return. It causes you to become judgmental rather than to seek real justice. True holiness is rooted in your connection to God, not your commitment to rules or your religious performance.

So how do you know if you are stuck in a religious performance trap?

Here is part 2 of 10 Signs of a Religious Performance Trap: (Click here for part 1)

You feel good about feeling bad, and bad about feeling good – A guilty conscience may appear to be a sensitivity to God, but is actually closer to a focus on sin than God. There is a godly guilt that leads to repentance, and then there is a focus on sin that leads to a performance trap. Condemnation only brings repeated failure. Grace breaks that cycle, takes the focus off of self and puts it back on God. 

You aim at perfection instead of pursuit – There is a difference between seeking the Perfect One, and pursuing perfection. Christians should strive for excellence, but also have the humility to know that there is only one man who has been or ever will be perfect – Jesus. The lie of the performance trap is that at the end of your uphill climb is a peak of perfection, when in actuality it is a hamster wheel that never ends.

You wear exhaustion like a badge of honor – If you have lost your joy, but not your sense of duty, that’s not necessarily a good thing. For those trapped by religion this exhaustion is normally where the justification to complain, compare, and criticize is found. I used to take pride in the fact that I had a hard time resting, and always felt that I needed to be doing something. This may sound spiritual on the surface, but reveals a restless soul that is not at peace.

The problem with prioritizing performance is that you end up getting less of it. Valuing what you do for Christ over who you are in Christ leads to inevitable burn out. The performance trap teaches that it is unspiritual to ever say no to spiritual things. It is not spiritual to always say yes to more. It is more spiritual to say yes to your priorities, and no to good things that may take you away from the best things.

You become discouraged easily – Burnout and discouragement happen when we make God our debtor. This is when we work hard expecting God to “bless” us with what we want at the end of our labors (position, recognition, etc.). The result is that our good works quickly wilt and whither away when we feel God didn’t keep His end of the bargain. In that situation, our good works weren’t rooted in the right motives and desires. 

Your focus is on you instead of God – Simply put, it is God doing the heavy lifting around here, not you. It’s not that we don’t have a role to play. It’s just that the weight of the world just more properly belongs on His shoulders than ours. We sometimes over emphasize our own importance when we start to believe the entire world or our city is just waiting on us to finally get it together. We get to play a part in what God is doing. As long as we keep our focus on Him, instead of us, we become channels of His grace.


The key to discovering a high performance Christianity is to not focus on your performance at all. Instead, fix your eyes on the Lover of your soul. Grow in your love relationship with Jesus. You will always do more, produce more, and find more meaning in living out of a love relationship with God than you ever will be pulling up your boot straps and being committed to religious duty.

Missed Part 1? Click here to get the rest of the 10 Signs you are stuck in a religious performance trap.

10 Signs of a Religious Performance Trap


How to keep from becoming an exhausted Christian

Have you ever met someone who was proud to say they were a modern day Pharisee? Probably not. Most well meaning believers that have become overly religious are unaware that they have slipped into a performance trap that resembles legalism.

What makes it even more difficult to identify if someone is in a performance trap or not is their commitment to religious activity. Things may appear fine on the outside, but on the inside it is a different story. Sometimes it is hard to even trust our own evaluation of ourselves. What we do for God is only sustainable as long as we also understand that it doesn’t determine our value to God.

How do you identify if you strayed unto a path of performance that will lead to exhaustion?

10 Signs you are stuck in a performance trap (Part 1)

You compete instead of serve – This first one is pretty obvious. If you feel the need to do better than others than you may be stuck in a performance trap. Your faith is not a race against other Christians to the top. Serving others erases a territorial mindset, and the need to compete. It helps keep the focus on God getting the glory instead of us.

You offer criticism instead of compassion – Being obsessed with your own perfection leaves little compassion for those who lack it themselves. Since that is everyone, you end up complaining more than encouraging. The performance trap causes you to see the cup of everyone else’s life and decisions as half empty.

You look “around” instead of “up” for your validation – Another way of saying the first three signs of being caught in a religious performance trap is that you compete, complain, and compare. A person stuck in a performance trap will at some point switch to seeking the approval of other Christians instead of responding to God’s heart as the chief motivation of their good works.

You have insecurity about your salvation – If you feel God’s love for you grows when you do more, or decreases when you do less, then you may be stuck in a religious performance trap. God’s desire to bless us is not based on His goodness not ours. There is naturally benefits to applying the Bible to our lives, and being disciplined. At the same time, God is always looking to turn our mess into His masterpiece.

You believe there are categories of Christians – The performance trap says that Christianity is divided into a caste system of those who are living a holy life, and the half-hearted who are abusing grace. Those who are more committed to their performance view themselves as elite, and everyone is in a subcategory of Christianity. The reality is that we are no better than others because we sin differently then them.

We all have access to God only because of His kindness towards us, not our own goodness before Him. This principle goes far beyond just the salvation experience though. As Tozer said, “even the breath we use to worship God, comes from Him.” Those stuck in a performance trap may be producing good works, but will end up disappointed if they do not balance their performance for Christ with their position in Christ.

What are some signs you see as being stuck in a performance trap? Come back next week for the rest of the 10 signs you may be stuck in a religious performance trap.

What they don’t tell you when you get saved…


7 things you need to know as a Jesus follower

Forgiveness is not a one time event. You will have to receive it and give it the rest of your life.

Going through a difficult time doesn’t mean God has abandoned you. It just means you are not in heaven yet.

After getting free from sin you may also have to find freedom from religion. Learn to value pursuit over perfection.

The soil of your relationships has a major impact on the type of fruit you produce with your life. Find positive faith-filled friends if you want stay refreshed yourself.

God doesn’t owe you anything based on your obedience. Being obedient to God has its own benefits. We will become disappointed if we try to determine how and when God blesses us instead of trusting Him along the way.

Becoming a Christ follower doesn’t mean that you leave the world behind. We are called to be a light in the darkness not to avoid it. You will probably have a more signifiant impact for Jesus if you plug into your community instead of criticizing it.

To do something new you will have to overcome opposition from those that are still holding on to the old. You will not accomplish anything of significance without finding victory over your own flesh, spiritual opposition, and unfortunately some well meaning Christians along the way.

What would you add to this list? What do you think shouldn’t be on it. Let me know!