A Treadmill Of Merit

I recently read this testimony from a guy who grew up in the pop-Evangelical culture of the late 20th century and who, for 7 years, was a full-time staffer at a large, well-known Evangelical para-church ministry. Sadly, I’ve heard this same kind of testimony from numerous people who grew up inside the church. As you can see from how he describes his experience, distinguishing law and gospel is not simply a theological exercise. Perhaps you can relate:

I experienced what happens when the Law and the Gospel are not understood and therefore distinguished. My Christian life, truly begun in grace, was now being “perfected” on the treadmill of the Law. My pastors did not end their sermons by demanding that I recite the rosary or visit Lourdes that week in order to unleash God’s power; instead, I was told to yield more, pray more, care more about unbelievers, read the Bible more, get involved in church more, and love my wife and kids more. Not until I came to the [theology of the Reformation] some 20 years later, did I understand that my Christian life had come to center around me and my performance: my life, my obedience, my yielding, my Bible verse memorization, my prayers, my zeal, my witnessing, and my sermon application. I had advanced beyond the need to hear the cross preached to me anymore…What had my Evangelical training done to me? The Gospel was critical for me at the beginning, critical for me to share with others, and still critical to get me to heaven, but it was of little other value. The “evangel” in Evangelicalism was missing. My training had me on a treadmill of merit.

  • Gary B. says:

    This is my testimony too — only when God opens our eyes to the truth of the doctrines of grace will we be rescued from this cycle of dispair!

  • the Old Adam says:

    It’s the same stuff as Rome.

    Luther was right to call them “two wolves tied at the tail”.

  • Melody says:

    Maybe it is equally a man’s own heart. When we blame the outside influences too much we are still missing the sin in our own hearts. How do you repent of it if you don’t own it? Did Paul blame the Jewish culture that he grew up in for becoming a murderer? Maybe he did in some way and I missed it.

  • the Old Adam says:

    Great point, Melody.

    The problem does lie in our own hearts. Pride.


    This is pretty good and it’s only 4 min. in length;

    on the differences between the Roman view of faith…and our own.

  • MarkO says:

    Old Adam,
    So true. Great comment. I am seeing of late how we evangelicals can simply re-package Rome in our own churches on the matter of our Christian walk. It’s a thot that may be clear to you all already, but wow…for me it is so easy to point the finger of blame at other groups and think I’m ok.

    I happened upon an article about Plenary Indulgences offered by the RCC during their Year of Faith (late 2012 to late 2013, I think). As I read thru I began to see how we have different but still similar approaches to “sanctification” in our Protestant bubbles.

    In those moments when the Gospel of God’s free grace becomes clearer to me I have never felt more alive, more free and more willing to do what I know I should do.

    Pastor Tullian,
    Thank you very much for you endless Jazz on Grace. It is an improvisation that continues to delight. Early on I used think that there would come a day after reading this blog for many months that I would get tired of hearing about God’s grace. You know, a point of saturation… but no, I keep wanting more and more. Only thing I can figure is that it takes God’s grace a long, long time to ooze down into the crevices of my soul.

  • Paul ST Jean says:

    What I learned from your preaching is we need to be more concerned with what in the world we are doing; Than how we are doing. Our relationship with God is secure in the knowledge of what Christ did for us, therefore we need to go to our neighbor and share Christs love. and get involved in doing something in the world.

  • John Dunn says:

    If most pastors suddenly realized that the Bible was not a moral code for regulating human behaviour but a revelation of Jesus Christ crucified and risen, they would have nothing to preach.

    As redeemed saints, we have been released from the Law as a way of serving God, having died to that which held us captive. But we absolutely must serve Him in the new way of the Spirit, by faith in the risen and exalted Christ. We cannot do both. A little bit of Law sprinkled with Grace is “another gospel”.

    But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. Romans 7:6

  • Jim Butler says:

    Thank you.

  • that’s quite often the case. Thanks!

  • anonymous says:

    Re comment above: “If most pastors suddenly realized that the Bible was not a moral code for regulating human behaviour but a revelation of Jesus Christ crucified and risen, they would have nothing to preach.”

    don’t think that’s true, here, now, still…not yet

    -long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 1 Peter 2:2
    -all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Tim 3: 16-17
    -for whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Rom 15:4
    -until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. 1 Tim 4:13

  • Paula says:

    anonymous, John Dunn’s comment above was more about the pastors than about the Scripture.

    All Scripture is profitable yes, that means ALL Scripture, but if you removed the law from what some preachers preach they would be left with nothing. i.e. they have NO idea how to preach the gospel.

  • Chris says:

    Great point, Melody. I think the sin in our human hearts will continually tempt us to run away from the free offer of God’s grace in the gospel. We constantly run back to more “manageable” taskmasters that will give us some standard with which to boost our own moral/pride and validate us.

    In short, if we aren’t resting on the justification we have in Christ and the joy of our adoption as children of God, we will always seek to justify ourselves by other means and find our identity in something else.

    God bless.

  • the Old Adam says:

    We are “cat theologians”, not “monkey theologians”.

    Big difference.

  • st jean says:

    Not sure what you mean?

  • the Old Adam says:

    Cats hang onto their young. Young monkeys hang onto their mothers.

  • Paul says:

    I heard a Pastor say this while teaching on James. “One way that I know that God has saved me is when I compare the way I live now (which is radically imperfect but radically different) to the way I use to live before God saved me, I know I’m saved”.” Were are saved by faith alone but saving faith is never alone”. So shouldn’t we examine ourselves that we are obeying God’s commands as our assurance of salvation? God Bless.

  • […] my last post, I shared a testimony I read recently from a man who experienced the devastating on-the-ground, […]

  • Mitchell Hammonds says:

    So you want to base the proof of your salvation on a certain degree of failed obedience? In other words the degree to which you obey “imperfectly” is enough to convince yourself you’re really saved?

  • Mark B. says:

    I agree with Paul above. We are saved by grace, but that grace is appropriated through faith. I would hope that all Christians would examine to see whether they actually have faith or not.

  • JeffB says:

    I think this is the balance that will keep us from confusion:

    Titus 3:4-8 – But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love
    for mankind appeared, He saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done,but according to His mercy,through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. He poured out this Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by His grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life. This saying is trustworthy. I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed God might be careful to devote themselves to good works. These are good and profitable for everyone.

  • FedExMOP says:

    Paul and Mark,

    In Response to the question:
    “So shouldn’t we examine ourselves that we are obeying God’s commands as our assurance of salvation?”

    The answer is an emphatic “NO”, or perhaps to quote Paul, God Forbid. If we are looking to anything other than the promise of Jesus to give eternal life to all who trust Him for it, we are putting our faith in the wrong thing. If our filthy rags are the evidence of our salvation, then none of us can trust that we are really saved. If, however, we trust in Jesus who is truth and never lies when He says “he who lives and believes in me shall never die”, and “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me will live, even if he dies.” and We trust His work alone on our behalf for our justification, then we have assurance indeed because we trust God who is true and not our own selves.

    A better question is “So shouldn’t we examine ourselves that we are obeying God’s commands as a measure of the health of our relationship? To look to ourselves for proof of “true faith” is a doomed endeavor from the start. To look at our lives, however, and examine whether we are living like we have placed our trust in Jesus and recieved eternal life, and are experiencing salvation right here and now, is indeed a fruitful endeavor.

    The difference between the two approaches is the difference between constantly revisiting our own salvation and our own works (the tradmill) and knowing these things to already be true based on faith alone in the person and work of Jesus and living our lives in accordance with what is already true (getting off the treadmill and running the real race).

    Pastor FedEx
    Men of Praise Motorcycle Ministry
    Set Free Ministries
    Colorado Springs

  • Paul says:

    Pastor FedEx, when you read what the pastor said didn’t my question reflect his thoughts? I say amen to all you said in your post. These statements were said in a series on James a little over 2 years ago. I wonder if he would make the same statements today. God Bless

  • FedExMOP says:


    I apologize for misunderstanding your point. I have found many pastors who use James to try to prove that there is “true” faith and spurious faith. I believe this is a misapplication that is not consistent with the rest of the new testament. James us a difficult book, and one that many misapply in an attempt to tie works to salvation. God Bless

    Pastor FedEx
    Men of Praise Motorcycle Ministry
    Set Free Ministries
    Colorado Springs

  • […] any other spiritual blessing by your sin. The gospel frees us from sin, and it also frees us from the treadmill of merit, or the constant need to perform better so God’s not angry with you. God’s anger was poured […]

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