God’s Acceptance

God’s Acceptance

Why do so many enjoy striving for God’s acceptance, even after he went to such lengths to prove it was already ours? Perhaps they feel more secure if they think they can control the relationship. Perhaps they’re afraid that if they no longer have to earn his acceptance they’ll find themselves using grace as an excuse to pursue their selfish desires. Perhaps they don’t want a relationship with him at all, they simply want his help when they hurt and the coveted get-out-of-hell-free card.”

If you have never known the joy of simply living in God’s acceptance instead of trying to earn it, your most exciting days in Christ are ahead of you. People who learn to live out of a genuine love relationship with the God of the universe will live in more power, more joy, and more righteousness than anyone motivated by fear of his judgment.”

From the chapter: “Trying to earn points with somebody who is no longer keeping score” in “He loves me!” by Wayne Jacobson

Of course! What else?

Last week I got another interesting insight while reading “He loves me!” by Wayne Jacobsen.

The story where Jesus talked to the “businessman” (Lk 18:18ff) – who had asked him what he must do to inherit eternal life, and who then turned away sadly – don’t we usual think it’s all about dedication and that he did not want to let go of his fortune? And in sermons, is it not the most common application of this story, to ask what are our “idols” that we don’t want to let go of, and that keep us from following Jesus wholeheartedly?

When I read how Wayne Jacobsen interprets the story, I felt like banging my forehead and saying: “Of course! Why did I not think of it myself?” This makes much more sense than many other attempts of explanation.

Jesus was not interested in the businessman giving away all his property in order to prove his dedication, but Jesus rather wanted to give him an impossible condition. In the hope that he will finally realize that he can’t receive eternal life through “DOING.” – His questions was: “What must I DO?” When Jesus pointed to the law – “I have DONE all that.” Really? Is this possible? Nobody can fulfill the whole law and it’s purpose was exactly that – showing people that it can’t be done. Unfortunately, the businessman (and so many of us) are so busy with DOING the right thing, that we don’t notice, that Jesus was about something else. He wanted to shake him up and lead him to the realization that the eternal life can’t be bought (neither with money nor with DOING). Jesus wanted to free him from the bondage of performance. He just wanted his (and our) admission that we can’t make it. Regrettably, the businessman did not catch on to it and turned away saddened.

Shortly after that I heard a sermon about the Beatitudes (Mt 5). In this context the remark was made that “Jesus radicalized the law.” Again I had the same reaction <bang my forehead> “Of course! What else?” When Jesus said things like, for example, that we are subject to judgment even if we just get angry at a brother, we easily read these statements as requirements for salvation, we feel guilty and try to reinterpret or rationalize these sayings, because “really, nobody can measure up to this standard.” Right! We can’t. This was exactly the point Jesus tried to make. This is why he had to come to fulfill the law for us. What we are missing is often the honest admission: I can’t do it!

The man understood the lesson, but missed the point. Jesus wasn’t trying to be mean to him. He raised the bar beyond the man’s ability to get over it precisely because Jesus wanted him to stop trying. The gift he offered the man was to be free of the incredible burden of having to earn God’s love by his own efforts. He was caught in his own doing and Jesus was trying to free him.

He was hoping the young man would look him in the eye and say, ‘I can’t do that!’ To which Jesus might have answered ‘Good, then stop doing all the other silly things you’re trying to do to earn God’s favor. Stop striving, stop pretending, stop trying to earn that which you can never earn!’

We cannot earn God’s love and acceptance. He gives them to us in Jesus as a gift. One-hundred-ten-percent, as my grandfather would say. We only make our lives more difficult when we continue in this performance orientation. Even if it is “just” the thinking, that we have been saved by grace but now we need to prove that we were worth it.

Fear or love

I just started reading “He loves me!” by Wayne Jacobsen. In the third chapter he brings up the question of what motivates us to follow Jesus – fear of hell or love for God. Unfortunately, it is true that there are many people who believe that a clearer vision of hell would motivate us to be more mission-minded. In the past this approach to evangelism has probably worked fine. But it is a pertinent question what kind of Christian this approach will produce when their conversion happens out of fear of hell.

When I thought back of my own conversion experience, I realized that fear of hell was not a major factor, but fear to miss out on something important all the more. This was partly rooted in the drawing that the evangelist showed me (which I found very helpful and have often used myself) – the broad road leading away from God, no matter whether it is paved with small or big sins, on the other side the narrow road that leads to God, and the door that connects the two roads – Jesus, the door to eternal life. At that time it really seemed to me as if this doorframe was throwing its shadow on my path, inviting me to change my direction of life. A unique chance? Maybe. Nobody can know when there will be another situation where God speaks into our lives and touches our hearts.

Unfortunately, I also realized that, there is a pattern in my life. I had to admit that there are things in my life that are often motivated by fear to miss out on something. Who knows when I will get this opportunity again? In this way, I often cram things into my life, that are not beneficial and are causing needless stress. But one does not want to miss out on things, right?

Along a similar line was the fear to miss God’s will for my life – if I don’t listen well enough, I might miss it and then take the wrong path. Then I might have to travel on the wrong track for the rest of my life and would miss God’s blessings and the fullness of life. <ironic>

When I think about it, I realize that these patterns of thought are – or better – were in my life. I notice that they don’t quite fit with how I experienced God during the last few years. Of course, there are situations were we might miss something important because we can’t make up our minds or we procrastinate a decision. But God does not motivate us through fear. Through the Life Model I became more aware over the last two years about the difference between love-based and fear-based relationships. As a result this kind of situation happens less and I am thankful for it.

What can I learn from this? Wherever my motivation is rooted in fear, most likely it does not come from my heavenly Daddy. I want to learn to be even more sensitive to this and realize earlier when I am driven by fear instead of motivated by love (which reminds me of the book “Getrieben oder Berufen” meaning “Driven or Called” which is the German title for “Ordering Your Private World” by Gordon MacDonald).

God is not interested in our sacrifices but in our obedience, one out of love, for who he is, out of joy over our relationship with him, and because this relationship is precious to us.