I see it all the time. Especially amongst people that ought to know better.
“Do it my way and I’ll love you.”
I know so many that have said, “If I have to earn it, no thank you.”
or “I’m tired of trying to earn your conditional love.”
When my 2 young men were little boys there were many rules to protect them and of course us as parents. Rules to protect the boys from hurting themselves, pain, and possible death. The same rules protected their mom and me from angst, worry, and our possible pain of going through watching and being with one or both of them getting hurt. Their mom and me did not make rules for the boys to follow so that if they followed the rules they would get the idea that their obedience caused us to love them more. Because of my background I was and I am dead set against making obedience or lack thereof a condition for love or withholding love. Consequences natural or calculated have meaning. Indeed, discipline, honest disapproval is all part of screwing up. In truth, sometimes natural consequences are a great teacher.
I hope my two now young men have never felt from me that their obedience moved me closer to them. On the flip side I hope my boys never felt that when the disobeyed I moved away. A long time ago one of my boys picked up a rock and through the rock through the neighbors car window and then denied it. What would I do? Would I yell at him? Make him feel more shame? I had to deal with him, and I know that I thought first its time to move toward him. I didn’t want him to think that because he did wrong I would love him less. As a matter of truth, there were many times I failed and there were times I felt I had to earn my parents love back. There is a difference between trust and love.
Of course I lead a student ministry. I work with many students which means there are many parents. Interesting that most of the parents I don’t know very well. On the flip side they don’t know me very well. One of things they most likely don’t understand is why I can’t stand the whole idea that following rules makes someone more lovable, better and even spiritual. It doesn’t. That is not Biblical, that is not how God loves people. That is not how Jesus interacted with the pharisees (they were great at following the rules) or His disciples that most likely had chucked the law years prior to Jesus asking them to just plain ole follow. On the flip side, many students know that I don’t appreciate their bad attitudes toward “righteousness” because they are only hurting themselves in the long run. Hard hearts, hard shells are part of the misunderstanding of spiritual matters. Indeed. Many times a hard heart is due to the belief, the idea that God has turned away, therefore the student says “because I can’t do this thing 100% I will give up, go inward thus a harden my heart. After all, I messed up, I blew it, God isn’t happy with me, God must not love me the same, so to get past letting myself down, letting God down, I’ll just get tough, be tough, hate the stuff that I know brings me peace and joy and move on with my life without what I know I really want and desperately need– a relationship with God that goes beyond the list that I keep failing– and the more I fail, the harder I will allow my heart to get.”
What’s this all about?
Biblical truth. The fundamentals. People are not justified by works. People are not better or more lovable because they do it all. The fundamentals matter. Its the base, the foundation. If students don’t get the basics they are bound to become either pharisees, arrogant, God haters, apathetic, indifferent and so on.
Check out this basic Biblical principle:
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
Basic principle? God will credit to us, make us righteous who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. We are justified by the work Jesus Christ by His death for our sins and being raised to life. We that by faith believe that Jesus is the Christ are considered righteous and therefore justified not by our works, not by our not breaking the rules, not by anything more or less than by our faith. Basic right? Not. But every one that has been around “Christians” should know this right? Not really. I know so many students and parents that are confused. Some still practice the idea that doing right things makes a person lovable for God. Some still live in shame because they can’t seem to get past porn, being loved by the opposite sex, using, being used, drugs, or some other thing that is afflicting them. Where does righteousness come from? Is it in obedience? Or is obedience due to an understanding of God’s provision called Grace? Does faith produce righteousness or does behavior produce righteousness? It’s one or the other. It really is. The scriptures do answer the question.
Basic principle #2
Notice Romans 5.1-8
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Paul starts in verse in verse 1 saying because you received justification by faith– here’s what happens. Peace with God. Really? Isn’t that important? After all, isn’t that why most people go nuts pursuing the law, pursing “righteousness” through works and such? Peace. Inner peace. Peace with God. Isn’t that true? We somehow have believed that peace with God comes because He loves us so much because we are so awesome in obedience… but there is no peace. We keep trying, and teaching our students to do this, don’t do that, be this, wear this, don’t listen to, do do do, but look at our lives– there is no peace, we haven’t found peace because we just aren’t ever going to be good enough period. I see so many students hurt by the idea that they just can’t do it. So many parents that want others (pastors, leaders) to do it for their student– give the list, make them obey, make them understand–thus parents then are filled with angst and hurt as they watch their student not “do it” like they are “supposed” to do it. You know live for Christ, walk with Christ.
Notice basic principle #3 in Romans 5 “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”
Suffering matters– it produces perseverance, character and hope. Suffering is part of being a follower of Christ. Suffering does not produce shame but because His love has been poured into our hearts– notice given to us– poured into our hearts. Interesting. Right? Dig the last basic principle: In His time, while we were powerless to do it for and by ourselves, Christ died for who? The powerless. the ungodly. Who is the that? All of us. I believe because of my own experience, and the support of Biblical truth that once a person understands their utter, complete depravity, their total need for God’s unconditional love and kindness they can then embrace their life of ups, downs, failings, moving forward, lover for God, love for others, compassion and just a plain ole movement through life with a settled heart fixed on Jesus the Christ. Suffering may not just be about the obvious, it may be that as we go through life we suffer our depravity until we wear the robe of righteousness supplied us by His unconditional love and GRACE!
If God’s love for us is really unconditional. If that is true. What does it look like? How does that truth get lived out? Hmmmmmmm