By: Daniel M. Doriani


What is Nike Christianity?

Performance Christianity, or Nike Christianity, is a “just do it” approach to the Christian life. Nike Christianity is a form of legalism. Nike Christians avoid the worst errors, but so accentuate obedience to God’s law that other ideas shrivel up. They think of Christian living as little more than obedience to God’s law.

They reason, “God says we should tithe, so tithe.

The Bible says we must pray, so pray.

It says submit to leaders, witness, read Scripture, so we should submit, witness, and read.


“Just do it!”

Some Christian leaders unintentionally support Nike Christianity. They reason, “God has redeemed us at the cost of his Son’s life. Now he demands our service in return. This is our duty.”

They dwell on God’s law and neglect the other aspects of the Christian life—the love of others, the nurture of character, the pursuit of noble but entirely optional projects, and more.

Here is how a counseling session from a Nike Christian may sound:

  • Some of you are doing bad things. You should stop! God wants you to do good things instead of bad things.
  • Some of you are doing good things. Keep it up!
  • Here is how to keep it up. You must plan to endure, taking these steps: Make a decision. Pray every morning. Commit yourself to God, 100 percent. Avoid temptation. Guard your mind, heart, and eyes. Seek a partner in accountability. Then you will stay on the right path.


The Problem with Nike Christianity

In one way, no one could object to this advice; those who dispense it certainly mean well. But the relentless stress on what men should do misses the most basic issue, the heart issue. Men fail to take the steps to “keep it up” because they don’t want to keep it up.

Please understand: it is good to submit to God’s law and follow Jesus’ example. The Savior is also our Sovereign and Lord (Jude 4). But obedience is one element of the Christian life, not the whole. Indeed, the emphasis on obedience places the will ahead of the heart.


Grace Before Law

From beginning to end, God’s love and grace go before his demands. We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). The love of Christ, who died for us, compels us to live not for ourselves but for God (2 Cor. 5:14–15). It is “the grace of God,” not the law of God, that “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions” (Titus 2:11–12). Commands don’t change people, love does. Unless God first loves a man and reconciles that man to himself, he cannot obey God’s commands. Law, by itself, cannot change the heart.


From The New Man: Becoming a Man After God’s Heart

Daniel M. Doriani

Daniel M. Doriani is vice president of strategic academic projects and professor of theology at Covenant Theological Seminary. Previously he was senior pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Clayton, Missouri.