If you work hard to obey God, do you think He will love you more? How would you answer that question?
Every week, our counselors talk with Christians who believe God’s love for them is based in direct proportion to their obedience. It seems like common sense, right? That’s how we tend to treat each other in our human relationships.
Worse, Christians sometimes act like schizophrenics in the way we view God’s love. For instance, we tell people outside of Christ that God loves them no matter what they have done. As we evangelize, we explain that God wants a personal relationship with them through faith in Jesus Christ. However, once a person comes to Christ, we can infer or say outright that God only loves them if they obey Him.
Wait a minute! Let’s get this straight. God loves us is unconditional when we come to Christ. But, once we’re saved, God changes His love to be conditional? That sounds like hypocrisy. Wouldn’t our Father’s love remain unconditional after we’re saved? The word, “unconditional,” is supposed to mean no strings attached to our behavior, whether good or bad.
What does the Bible say? Let’s start with 1 John 4:19, which states,
“We love Him, because He first loved us.”
Notice that this verse never mentions anything about our behavior or our level of obedience. Instead, our awareness of God’s love towards us first is what leads us to obey Him.
For instance, what if a son told his father that he loved him, but refused to obey him? You would probably question the sincerity of the son’s love. Plus, their relationship would seem pretty shallow. On the other hand, if the son said he loved his father and wanted to obey him, most people would consider that normal and healthy.
Although, some Christians believe that anytime the topic of obeying God comes up, they immediately label it as “legalism.” That’s not what we’re saying here. 1 John 4:19 describes that when we know God loves us first, we want to obey Him because we love Him. That’s not legalism at all. It’s a genuine love relationship. In 2 Corinthians 5:14, the Apostle Paul wrote:
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.”
If you are a recovering legalist, you may have obeyed God for all of the wrong reasons, such as guilt, fear, or shame. The word, “compel,” may conjure up some very bad feelings. You may need to ask the Holy Spirit to renew your mind about the difference between love-based obedience versus legalistic-based obedience.
For example, when I (Mark Maulding) first understood the reality of God’s grace, I had no idea how to pray – even though I had previously prayed for two hours a day on many occasions. Afterwards, my mind was blown away, and I had to ask God to show me the real reason for prayer. Previously, I had prayed primarily to impress God so He would love me more. Today, that burden is gone and my prayer life is replaced with joy and freedom.
Is your view of obedience rooted in an attempt to win favor with God? Have you obeyed Him thinking He will love you more? Here’s the amazing news…God loves you and me whether we obey Him or not! It’s a biblical fact. Rest in this reality and ask the Holy Spirit to deepen your understanding of this great gospel truth!
If your relationship with God feels based on guilt and fear rather than love and peace, I invite you to attend our Grace Life Conference. We offer one each month that walks you step-by-step through the amazing freedom that God offers every Christian. Join us and discover the life-giving power of God’s grace!
“Compliance” image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net