For years I tried so hard to please God. I knew that salvation from hell wasn't accomplished by my works, but somehow I believed inside that my sanctification - my becoming more like Jesus - was accomplished by my good works. If I do everything right, don't waste a moment of my life, and be as responsible as possible, I will earn God's smile - his "Well done, daughter!"
In my very personality, I want to get things right. I want to make people happy. Unfortunately for me. It became this almost sick obsession. I could take care of the needs of everyone around me and keep them happy. And doing that kept me happy. I felt satisfied. But the satisfaction didn't last and God started showing me that keeping people happy wasn't always what was best for them. Sometimes they needed some things to be hard or to go wrong, so they could learn dependence on God, not me.
And then God began revealing that he loved me just as me and I didn't have to DO anything to make him happy with me. Anything I did for him should be done because I loved him and because we had a relationship - not because I had to earn his favor. Grace is favor we don't deserve. God is so good to us.
But it was hard for me to connect the dots in a practical sense. We still have to put in work on our end of the relationship - that much is evident in the New Testament - we don't become more like Jesus automatically. But I was still trying hard. Too hard. And feeling like I was failing all the time.
That's when I began to understand that following is not about trying and failing. Following is about love. And love is sacrifice. Love is laying down yourself to meet another's needs. Just like God did in Jesus. He died to pay for my sins. The ultimate sacrifice.
Love in any relationship is sacrifice. Sometimes that means giving up the chance to make a person happy so that they can learn something on their own - in particular dependence on God. Sometimes it means stepping in to serve them, over and over again, with no reward. Sometimes it means give and take - you give and are blessed with a return. But you can't have a meaningful relationship with anyone unless you die to yourself in some way.
Jesus talked about this all the time.
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.In his own death, the seed of his life brought forth a never-ending harvest of fruit.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
But it is relinquishing, not grasping. It is "How can I lay my life down today in sacrifice for my relationship with Jesus?" not "How many things on my 'Be Spiritual' to-do list can I scratch off so Jesus is happy with me?"
This is freedom.
1 John 5 says
This is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.In a way this verse has always confused me, because aren't commands in their very nature a kind of burden?
But not if they are kept out of love! God gives us commands in love - life goes better when we obey (I am always reminding my son!) - and he wants life to be the best it can be for us. So if I keep them because I love him and trust that what he says is best, I am obeying God because I love him, not because I want him to love me.
Oh, my heart. God is so good. And it is so good to breathe the fresh, free air of grace.