Performance Anxiety, Image Management & The Curse Of The Law

by Bobby Gilles

in Liturgy & Sermons

Below you can read, watch or listen to my sermon on Galatians 3:10-14. You’ll see how attempting to be made right with God by the Law brings a curse, but living by faith leads to abundant life. And we learn that this has very real applications for our marriage, parenting, work life and friendships. Although most Christians don’t attempt to “follow the Law” in the same way as the ancient Galatians, we fall into the same trap of performance and image management:

October 28, 2018 – Galatians 3:10-14 – Bobby Gilles from Sojourn Collective on Vimeo.



Good morning. My name is Bobby and I’m one of the pastors here. Lately we’ve been walking through a letter called Galatians, written to a group of Christians about 15 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

If you’ve been here these past weeks you’ve picked up on a theme: Christians live by faith in the work of Jesus to save us and bring us into God’s family, not by “rule-keeping.” By now you may be thinking, “Come on; I get it. We live by faith, not the law. Let’s move on.”

But often we know something intellectually though our emotions and our actions tell a different story. So, I have five short questions for you:

  1. Do you believe that God is loving but can’t see how he could be particularly fond of you?
  2. Do you feel like you don’t get enough credit for the good things you do?
  3. Do you feel others are unfairly holding you back from being as successful, effective or important as you could be?
  4. Do you feel a sense of burden or loss when you serve and give, rather than joy?
  5. Do you often feel like you need a break from ministry, while conversely feeling guilty about needing a break?

Now let me tell you the story of Max and Ava:

They met in college, and Max fell fast. He did everything he could to win Ava’s heart. Got himself in the best shape of his life, new clothes, contacts, hair style. Rededicated himself to his studies because Ava was sharp, and Ava admired sharp men.

Whatever he did, he did with gusto because he wanted to be the perfect man for Ava. Max’s “why,” his reason for living, was his desire to win Ava. And it worked. They got married and spent a life together.

But Max could never accept that Ava loved him freely, although she told him and showed him daily. Max performed for her throughout his life, struggling to earn the love that she’d freely given. Workout fiend, business wunderkind, lavish gift giver.

Max always suspected that Ava loved the kids more, her parents more, their church more. Eventually he became jealous at the slightest attention any male showed Ava – coworkers, neighbors, the postman. He was angry for much of his life, and his anger hurt Ava although she always loved him, until the day he died.

His “why” was “to earn Ava’s love,” and this “why” came from a place of insecurity. The cruel irony is that: In striving to earn her love, he did not love her well.

Now, final question: “Do you see yourself in Max?

Even though this story is about his marriage, if any area of your life is characterized by this kind of striving you may be living under the law rather than grace. We Christians know the right things to say about law and grace, but the way we relate to others speaks louder than our ability to recite theology. And there’s a strong connection between the way we relate to God and the way we relate to people:

if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?
1 John 4:20

When our relationships with people are out of alignment, our relationship with God is, too. Conversely, when our relationship with God is out of alignment then other relationships will be, sooner or later. So, when any area of our lives is out of alignment, we must dig deep because there’s a good chance we’ll discover that the underlying cause is our relationship with God – we’re living by law rather than faith.

We’ll learn more about Max and Ava in a bit. You may yet see yourself in one or both of them. If not, and if you answered “No” to all 5 questions, then congratulations. But still pay attention because this text may help someone you love. Let’s dive in:


But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.”
Galatians 3:10

To be ‘made right’ is to be ‘justified,’ which is to be declared righteous, to stand in God’s favor.

Attempting to be made right by our performance or rule-keeping means we are cursed: we are cutting ourselves off from the good life with God by rejecting the work of the one God sent to bring us into his family. Even if we leave out implications for the afterlife, attempting to be saved by works will lead to lifelong anxiety and insecurity. We can never be sure that we are measuring up. This makes us:

  • sensitive to criticism,
  • jealous
  • and intimidated by those who outshine us.

We’re either timid (because we are unsure of where we stand), or blustering (because we are trying to convince others and ourselves of where we stand).

11 So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”
Galatians 3:11

“Has life” means to be in fellowship with God. You’re in his family now and forever. Paul is quoting from the O.T. book of Habakkuk (2:4). Next, he quotes from another part of the Old Testament which seems to disagree. Paul writes:

This way of faith is very different from the way of law, which says, “It is through obeying the law that a person has life.”
Galatians 3:12

This is a callback to Leviticus 18:5, which says:

If you obey my decrees and my regulations, you will find life through them.
Leviticus 18:5

So which is it? Is Paul saying, “Habakkuk is right; Leviticus is wrong”? Not really. It is true that “through obeying the law a person has life.” But no one has ever done it except Jesus – not since our ancestor Adam who sinned in Eden and began one long legacy of lawbreaking. Even if you tell God, “Oh yeah, I can do it … watch me!” that’s rebellion. If his word says, “No one is righteous,” and you don’t accept that, then you’re calling God a liar, which proves your unrighteousness.

And we can’t blame Adam. God, in his fairness, gave us the representative we deserve when he created the first human – the one who did what we would have done. And we prove it daily.

The curse gets passed down through the generations because even the best, most well-intentioned parents, caregivers, teachers and pastors often fail to communicate, “Do this because we love you and we have learned from God that this is the way to a happy life.” Instead we communicate, “Do this and I will love you. Act like this and you will earn my stamp of approval. Avoid this and don’t say that, so God will think you’re a good person.”

And this cycle – trying to be made right by the law – repeats itself in our kids.

those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse — Galatians 3:10

Let’s revisit Max and Ava, and this time look at their careers because remember, if your relationship to God is out of alignment, other things will be as well. You’ll recall that Max and Ava met as MBA students. They each got jobs and, on the surface, seemed similar. Both were rising stars in promising young companies, and both helped their companies grow. They were innovative, productive, creative, efficient.

But their motivations were different. Max needed to prove himself: to Ava, to the company founder, to the memory of his Dad who had always made Max feel like he didn’t measure up.

Ava loved her work. She was grateful for opportunities to solve problems for her clients, she enjoyed collaborating with the team, she was thrilled when coworkers excelled. Ava’s “why,” her reason for working the way she did, seemed to be different than Max’s, and it seemed to come from a different place.

In the first few years of their careers, it was hard to tell who was the better worker. Maybe even Max had the edge. Boy, could he get stuff done. But I’d rather work alongside Ava. Or for Ava. Or with Ava as my assistant, or my client, or my supplier.

Max’s “why,” and the place his “why” is coming from, will eventually lead him to project a false image or sabotage others to make himself look good, put himself above the team, take credit for things that subordinates and coworkers did, or compromise the quality of his product so he can appear more productive.

Or he’ll just start going through the motions at work because he’s upset that he doesn’t get enough credit. He’ll become resistant to any change of procedure, and irritated by any suggestion of what’s obvious: that his heart isn’t in it anymore.

Why is Ava different?

Gospel Turn:

13 But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”
Galatians 3:13

Jesus redeemed us by becoming a curse for us. The scripture reference is Deuteronomy 21:23:

for everyone who is hung from a tree is cursed in the sight of God.
Deuteronomy 21:23

Because of this verse, many followers of the Old Testament couldn’t understand how we could claim Jesus was the Savior. “You’re telling me Jesus was God’s Anointed One? Come on … he was hung on a tree.”

When Jesus took our curse upon himself, he was telling God the Father, “Treat me as if I were a sinner. Make me liable for all that every wicked person would be liable for.”

Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith.
Galatians 3:14

Jesus took upon himself the curse we earned and then he gave us the blessing he earned. And through the Spirit, we not only have forgiveness of sins, but the living presence of God and full privileges of the promise to Abraham, the Jewish patriarch through whom God had vowed to bless the whole world, and whom you learned about in last week’s sermon.

But how does this radical teaching of what God has done for us make its way into our hearts so that we don’t just know it on an intellectual level, but we feel it way down deep?

It comes to us as we continually move through the truth of today’s text, and we see Christ’s sacrifice for us as the embodiment of love. As this same teacher Paul expressed in another letter:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.

Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
Romans 5:6-8

When we look at the love demonstrated on the cross we can’t help but ask, “Am I that bad? Really? I can see Jesus having to spend a night in jail for my sins, or maybe just a good, stern talking-to, but … that? The most torturous death that a bloodthirsty empire could devise?”

We become aware of that “utter helplessness” that Paul wrote about (the knowledge that we can’t fix ourselves). And this is where healing and transformation takes place. When you know Jesus loves you that much in spite of your failure, you trust him enough to confess you need him to make you righteous.

Only from this place of forgiveness can we know what freedom feels like. We begin to experience a deepening gratitude and a growing compassion for other people because we’re all in the same boat.

This leads us back to marveling at Christ’s love for us, in an ever-expanding cycle that enables us to feel more and more secure. We don’t change if we don’t feel secure. Not on the inside. Rules don’t change people, security changes people – a deep trust that God loves us and has provided the way for us to be with him, at great expense to himself. His love is not based on our performance.

We can even see how this works by observing the relationship of Jesus and the Father. Remember at Jesus’ baptism when God’s voice thundered from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”? At that time, in his earthly body, Jesus hadn’t done anything impressive. He had no followers, he’d performed no miracles. And yet God is saying, “That’s my boy. I love him. I’m proud of him.” Then, in the words of author Tish Harrison Warren:

“Jesus … is sent out with a declaration of the Father’s love. His every action unfurls from his identity as the Beloved. He loved others, healed others, preached, taught, rebuked, and redeemed not in order to gain the Father’s approval, but out of his rooted certainty in the Father’s love.”
– Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy Of The Ordinary

And that’s what he wants for us. We work hard with no fear of failure. We aren’t trying to win love; we are loved.


Now, some of you may say, “Wait. I get that the Law can’t save us but it seems like Jesus and Paul give us a lot of commands. Why would they do that if we aren’t supposed to obey them? Is there really no place for God’s Law in the life of Sojourn?

Sure. To show us how and why, let’s rewrite Max’s story. We’ll erase all that stuff we’ve said about Max and come up with completely new character development for him, and see how his plot changes.

Max worked hard before marriage to win Ava, but then never again because he was secure in her love. He let himself go physically, intellectually, spiritually. After all, he’d won his prize, and he was sure she’d never leave. And he was right about that. But in his complacency his health suffered, his career suffered, his relationships suffered, and he died in his 50s of health complications that could have easily been avoided if he cared.

Did Ava love Max? Yes. Did Max really love Ava, and was Max transformed by the blessing of marital union? Max, Max, Max …

When God brings us into his family and gives us his Spirit, we want to please him and obey him – this becomes our “why,” our reason for doing what we do. And it’s not to prove ourselves or earn what he’s freely given, but because we’re grateful for what he’s done and we trust that he knows what leads to our happiness. Our “why” is coming from a different place.

But what about all those Old Testament dietary laws, and laws related to clothing, animal sacrifice, temple worship, cleanliness – laws like circumcision? These “ceremonial laws” functioned like signposts pointing to what the coming Messiah would do – how holy he would be, and how clean he would make his people. Paul’s point is that now that Christ has come, if we say, “I’d like to stick with the signpost,” we’re saying, “Thanks but no thanks” to the sacrifice of Christ.

So, does this mean we disregard the ceremonial laws but we still have to memorize all the others?

Remember, Jesus himself summed the Law up in two commands (or, one command in two parts): Love God and love others. So:

  • Because we trust that God is good and knows what is best for us …
  • Because we’re grateful he saved and adopted us through the cross …
  • We love God and love others.

Serving, giving, learning, and witnessing are no longer drudgery when we’re basking in gratitude of God’s grace.

Your Monday Challenge:
your why, and where does it come from?

Think about areas in your life that bring you dread. Ask yourself, and those who know you, “What is my why? Why do I do what I do? Is it because I love God and love people, or some other reason?”

And where is it coming from? Is it trust and gratitude to the one who gave his life on the cross so I could be forgiven of my sin and given full inheritance in the eternal kingdom of God?

If your answer is anything else, then that’s why you’re having a dreadful time. You’re living by law when grace is here.

Let’s take parenting. Maybe an honest self-assessment will show that your “why” is, “So people will think I’m the perfect parent,” and it’s coming from a sense of inadequacy. You’re stressed in your parenting because you’re subjecting yourself to the curse.

“It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” – Galatians 3:11

It was God’s idea to bring your child into the world through you. Have faith in him. He will help you, out of his great love for you.


Remember, earlier we were talking about Adam and I said that God, in his fairness, gave us the representative we deserved.

But then … when we were utterly helpless … at just the right time … God, in his goodness (*pick up the bread) gave us the representative we needed.

What’s my why? Because I love God and love people.

Where does that come from?
Well, on the night that Jesus was betrayed, he took a loaf of bread like this one. And after giving thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you.”

Then he took a cup of wine like this one, and he said, “This is my blood, shed for you. Drink this and remember what I’ve done for you.”

After I pray, those of you in the front half of the room will come forward and tear off a piece of bread, dipping it into wine or juice as your conscience permits. The cups with wine have strings of twine tied around them. If you need gluten free communion elements you’ll find them here in the front – my left, your right. For those of you in the back half of the room, you’ll find communion stations in the back, right in front of the sound booth.

If you’re not a Christian I ask that you don’t come forward and partake of communion because it symbolizes something you haven’t accepted yet. Instead I urge you to pray to receive Christ, and then we can prepare you in the weeks to come to be baptized and receive communion. Let’s pray.


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