We’ve established that love is not a responsibility. God didn’t send His Son to serve as ransom for our sins because He had to, but because He chose to. God could’ve just wiped us all out and started over, but He didn’t. Out of love Jesus came, to save us.
Because we’re made in God’s image, this same truth avails us today. We no longer need to feel like we have to do things for God or for other people because it’s ‘the right thing to do’, but to do them because we choose to and want to.
And the incredible thing is this freedom didn’t cause me to go off on the deep end and forget about everything and everyone, but instead brought the things and the people I love to the forefront of my mind, and gave me a desire beyond the natural to want to do more for them.
A closely related point, but just as important, is that love is also not a bribe.
Ok, that sounds a little strange. What does that mean?
The simple definition of bribe by Merriam-Webster Online is “something valuable (such as money) that is given in order to get someone to do something”. The something valuable could be time, money, a service or favour, even life itself. Keep in mind the phrase at the centre of the definition, “in order to get“. A bribe is something done to induce or influence someone to a certain result.
Now, God didn’t send Jesus to die for us for the purpose of getting us to turn to Him. He didn’t do it to raise an army of harvesters for His kingdom or to raise a church of worshippers to praise Him. He doesn’t need to. God has legions of angels at His command, and a whole universe of stars and all creation praising Him all the time. God sent His beloved Son Jesus to die for our sins purely out of His great love for us, so that we could have a way back to Him. God knows that when we realise the magnitude of what He has done for us, we will turn back to Him.
The reverse holds true: There is nothing we can ever do, out of our own works or efforts, to become accepted by God. No amount of good works, achievements, philosophical wisdom, or religious enlightenment can buy our way into heaven. Because it is a grace gift from God – purchased at a price beyond measure, but given freely to all who believe and receive it. Everyone who is saved and accepted by God, is saved in Christ, by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8).
It’s true that many Christians first turn to Jesus because they had a need, myself included. And Jesus meets all these needs – be it healing, peace, debt cancellation, relationship restoration, deliverance from addiction, whatever – and more, regardless of the reason for coming to Him. It’s part of His all-encompassing grace.
And it is His grace – this incredible goodness that we don’t deserve – that leads us to repentance, to change our minds and our hearts to fall in love with Him (Romans 2:4). Once we taste the goodness of God through Jesus and His grace, we no longer come to Him to have our needs met, but out of love.
And because God’s blessings are grace gifts, neither can we ‘bribe’ God into blessing us or answering our prayers. Before you start to look disgusted and outraged at the audacity of the suggestion, hear me out. You’ve probably heard of Christians who have served God long and faithfully, but then suffered a disease and didn’t get healed, or had a longstanding need that wasn’t met. And we ask why. They may ask why. But the very asking of this question reveals the heart’s belief that all those years of service and faithfulness and obedience to God had to mean something in obtaining His blessing.
The truth is, no amount of our service or faithfulness or obedience or good works can do anything to merit or earn God’s blessings and answers to prayers. A gift cannot be earned, it can only be received. God cannot be persuaded by man to do anything or to change His mind (Numbers 23:19). He has promised to love you and bless you and multiply you, and take all sickness away from you (Deuteronomy 7:13-15), and He will do it. Just take His word for it and believe Him, and you will receive, by that simple childlike act of belief.
Does this mean we should expect to receive nothing from serving God? Well, I thank my God that He is a very practical God. God knows all about your needs and mine. And He promises that as we simply seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness – which is our righteousness in Him, not our righteousness for Him – all the things we need will be added to us (Matthew 6:33). And Romans 14:17 further explains and reinforces that the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
The Bible also promises in no uncertain terms that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Jesus Himself promised His disciples that everyone who has given up things for His sake and the gospel’s sake shall receive a hundredfold back in this present world, with persecution, and eternal life in the age to come (Mark 10:28-30). There’s no way to spiritualise the rewards Jesus mentioned – He clearly listed them: houses and lands, and brothers and sisters, and mothers and children.
So while we don’t serve God in order to get ourselves into heaven or to get Him to bless us, which is a works mentality, we can expect Him to reward us by grace when we receive His grace and we serve out of the grace that He has first given us.
Does all of this really matter? Does it really matter if we serve God and people out of responsibility or out of love, if both bring the same result and get us to the same place? Or if we serve God hoping that He will then answer our prayers, if it means serving Him anyway?
When we approach God from a wrong foundation, of works, obligation, of trying to get into God’s favour and blessings through serving Him, it will benefit us nothing and we will only bear fruit to death (Romans 4:4, 7:5). Christ will have no effect in our lives when we try to do things out of our own effort to fulfil the law – which He has already fulfilled on our behalf (Galatians 5:4). It is not sustainable in the long run and over time people will sense the lack of authenticity in our efforts. And even if they don’t, God will, for He is a discerner of all hearts. God wants us to approach Him through a foundation of grace and righteousness by faith, because only then can we access the fullness of God’s blessings that He wants us to have.
Jesus wants us to know that it is by grace alone that we are drawn to Him, by grace alone that we serve, and by grace alone that we are blessed and rewarded. Jesus wants you to receive, by grace. That’s the only way it works. And you will receive, when you seek Him.
Because when you encounter Jesus, you encounter grace.