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Let’s face it: At some point in our faith journey, we settle into a bargaining posture with God. We say something like, “God, if you will [ blank ], then I promise I will [ blank ].” Or we say, “God, if you will [ blank ], then I promise I will NEVER [ blank ].”
We all do it. That’s just part of religion—every religion. In fact, most religious systems foster a bargaining mentality. They create and nurture it. And it’s so much a part of human nature that even some atheists and agnostics do it when they find themselves in desperate circumstances.
But as we consider a new starting point for faith, is that really how God wants us to relate to him?
Deep Roots. We live in a world that rewards performance. At every turn, it often feels like we’re being graded in one way or another by somebody—teachers or professors, coaches or judges, bosses or managers, even our neighbors or homeowners association.
Deeper Problem. The problem with living in a performance-dominated society is we naturally carry that mindset into our relationships. And it always creates issues. Whether we’re the one grading, or we feel like we’re the one being graded on performance, it eats away at the relationship from the inside out.
This performance orientation has the potential to shape our assumptions about God. Just about every other aspect of life works that way, so why wouldn’t it be the same with God? After all, if God created the world, shouldn’t we assume he also created the way the world operates? And if that’s the case, then isn’t a cause-and-effect relationship between our performance and our value a reflection of some divine design?
Relationship Management. Last week we discussed forgiveness. That Jesus’ death paid for all our sins—past, present, and future. Through that, God removed all the barriers to us being adopted into his family. The problem is we often take our faith-based relationship with God and try to manage it with performance-based guidelines. We try to EARN God’s favor, which he has already given to us.
Two Assumptions. When we try to bargain with someone, whether it’s God or somebody else, we’re doing so based on two assumptions. First, someone has something the other party wants or needs. And second, the other party isn’t about to do anybody any favors.
When we think about it that way, it seems silly to try and bargain with God. We don’t have earning potential with God. And we don’t have anything he wants or needs from us.
We are saved by grace. God’s forgiveness is always received as a gift. And God never views us through the filter of our performance. He views us through the filter of father-to-child relationship. We don’t earn our way into God’s good graces. And we don’t have to perform to stay there.
The Reason For Obedience
Unexpected Grace. Think back on a time where someone extended grace to you. In fact, try to think of an extreme example. A time where you received something so undeserved and unexpected you weren’t even sure you could accept it. If you’ve ever been embarrassed by the weight or significance of a gift or favor, you can probably remember what that felt like. Now imagine if the person who gave that gift, or bailed you out, or forgave a loan unexpectedly said, “I don’t want anything in return. There are no strings attached to this gift. If you feel the need to thank me, simply do for someone else what I’ve done for you.” Chances are you’d look for opportunities to do just that.
Paying It Forward. With that in mind, consider how Jesus instructed his closes followers to live:
John 13:34 “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
This is the basis and motivation for all the New Testament rules. All the “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots”. We are to behave out of the overflow of our gratitude for how God through Christ behaved towards us. We don’t obey to GAIN anything. We obey as a response for all we have already gained.
For Jesus’ followers, obedience isn’t a bargaining chip. It’s a voluntary response of gratitude for what’s already been given. No bargaining. No begging. We are to do for others what God I Christ has already done for us. One hundred percent of the “to dos” related to the Christian faith are a response to what God has already “to done” for you. As the Apostle John put it:
1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us.
Used Under License from North Point Ministries