Conditional

conditional

Yes, you read the title correctly.

Last time, I wrote about “unconditional” love and grace.

I want to look at the other side of the coin today, mainly to make clear what that article was not insinuating. It was *not* promoting universalism (the idea that no matter what, everyone is okay in the end). To move on with even a chance of leaving that impression would be a dire mistake.

God’s love is unconditional. At no point do I want to reverse or undermine that idea. It is a core truth, and our freedom depends on knowing and believing it.

Let me say it again. His love is unconditional!

But our relationship with Him is not.

Let me explain.

First, Jesus was very clear when He said “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

Entering into a relationship with God is certainly conditional … conditional on only one thing – the need to trust that Jesus Christ was God and He died for us. But conditional nonetheless.

Second, the quality of our relationship with Him is conditional.

Jesus: “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21).

Paul: “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).

So apparently, our actions and attitudes influence not only the existence, but also the closeness of our relationship.

We tend to want to sometimes paint with a broad brush.  Either (1) obedience is key, so everything is conditional – God absolutely won’t bless you unless you have everything in order, or (2) God’s love is completely unconditional, so everything is okay, and God will love and automatically rescue you in the end.

The truth is actually somewhere in the middle.

So…from the top, just to make sure we’ve got it:

Nothing is beyond the reach of God’s love and grace.  We can never mess up so bad that He won’t rescue us (unconditional).

But we have to ask for that rescue (conditional).

And the more we obey, the more precious is our relationship with Him (conditional).

I’m not saying God will bless or withhold blessings based on our actions. Sometimes it works that way, but not as a rule. We can point to lots of biblical examples where God blessed or didn’t bless based on people’s actions. But I can also point to plenty of examples where blessings fell on the dishonest (scheming Jacob, socially deviant Samson) and curses fell on the obedient (righteous Job, humble Ruth). Jesus Himself said that God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt 5:45).

What I am saying is we will feel more connected to Him, recognize His activity around us, and hear His voice more clearly as we live the way He desires for us to live.

Allow me one more example: Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

A sheep that is standing at the other end of the field and refusing to pay attention doesn’t hear very well. The Shepherd is not deserting him. The Shepherd is not punishing him. But the quality of the relationship is definitely affected.

We have to get away from this image of God as some sadistic bully hovering over us waiting for an opportunity to punish us. We must also not allow ourselves to go to the other extreme of thinking of Him as some washed up pacifist who indiscriminately doles out passes to Heaven.

God is an uncompromisingly just Judge, who loves extravagantly.

He is a pure unconditionally loving Father, who does not abandon His perfect standards.

We can never allow one to cancel out the other. Both coexist, because Jesus reconciled them.

He came to open the door to that one condition that would make the unconditional accessible to all of us.

Unashamed!

Church Windows 031

“For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.”   – Hebrews 2:11

I don’t know about anyone else, but this is a precious promise to me.

The perfect God of the universe, in the form of Jesus Christ, came to earth and died a brutal death so that I could be made holy (sanctified) in God’s sight.

And now, seated in Heaven, He is not only willing to extend grace and forgiveness to me, not only willing to declare “holy” one that is furthest from holiness. But on top of all of that, He is completely unashamed to call me His brother!

This is especially precious to someone like me, whose mistakes have brought shame and brokenness into some of his relationships – one who has experienced both blood relatives and spiritual brothers and sisters turning away in shame.

Those who have been there know all too well the pain of carrying the guilt of bad choices, the agony of realizing there’s nothing we can do to undo them, and the torment of knowing that loved ones are literally (and rightfully) ashamed of him.

There’s a song called ‘Your Beloved’ by Brent Helming, the chorus of which says:

‘Cause I’m Your beloved,
Your creation,
And You love me as I am.
You’ve called me, chosen
For Your kingdom.
Unashamed to call me Your own-
I’m Your beloved.

Unashamed to call me your own!

As I let those lyrics sink in recently, that one phrase hit me like a freight train. Then, just days ago, I came across Hebrews 2:11, and I was knocked to the ground again by the very same train!

That the God of the universe would be unashamed to be associated with me is astonishing.

You see, here’s what really makes this amazing: Jesus doesn’t love me because He has to. He doesn’t love me because He feels obligated to stand by a promise or commitment (actually, His commitment was made because He loved me, not the other way around). He doesn’t love me because someone might think differently of Him if He didn’t. And He certainly doesn’t love me because I deserve it.

He loves me because He loves – it’s what He is, and what He does (1 John 4:8, John 15:9).

And out of that love, because I have entered into a relationship with Him, He is unashamed to call me His brother!

If you don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I urge you to make that move right now. He loves you, just as you are. No matter how ugly, or how undeserving, or how ‘far gone’ you think you are…He loves you and wants a relationship with you. And He will be unashamed to call you His brother or sister.

If you do have a relationship, take a moment today and bask in the knowledge that He is unashamed to call you part of His family. It’s definitely a truth worth meditating on!

Nothing to Prove

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    I have two dogs.  An 85-pound Black Lab and a 17-pound Jack Russel Terrier.   

    Shadow, the Labrador, has nothing to prove.  She doesn’t get worked up about much of anything.  If we pass a barking dog while we’re out walking, she doesn’t feel the need to respond.  She may stop and stare for a minute, but then will just move on leisurely.  As we’re walking, she is content to mosey along at her pace, with no ambitions to take the lead.  Shadow is secure in her ‘doghood’ and doesn’t feel like she needs to prove anything to anybody.  The other day while we were out walking a poodle got loose, ran up, and began to jump and nip near Shadow’s ear.  Shadow stopped walking and waited patiently until the other dog’s owner came and got her.  No attempt to  nip back, protect herself, or establish dominance.

    Maggie, the Jack Russel Terrier, on the other hand, is a little Napoleon with a major ‘alpha dog’ complex.  She retorts at any animal that dares be vocal toward her.  She has to be in the lead and will literally choke herself pulling on the leash until she secures the forward position.  It’s always a competition with Maggie, and she has to be winning.  Maggie has everything to prove.

    As my wife and I walked the dogs the other day, amused at this dynamic, it occurred to me how representative that is of our freedom in Christ. 

    When we are striving and working in an attempt to gain freedom, we are like little Maggie.  We are relentlessly putting one foot in front of the other, responding aggressively to every threat, straining against the chains to get in front of the pack.

    Contrast that to when we are resting in Christ and relying on what He says: “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).  When we trust Him at His word, we no longer have anything to prove.  

    Just take a moment to review Ephesians chapter 1: Jesus says you are blessed (1:3), chosen (1:4), without blame (1:4), adopted as a son/daughter (1:5), accepted in the Beloved (1:6), redeemed (1:7), forgiven (1:7).  He says He is the guarantor of our inheritance (1:14), and backing us up is the power that raised Christ from the dead (1:19,20).  With all of that on our side, why should we ever feel the need to prove ourselves to anyone on this earth?

    So when the ankle-biters of life run up on you – whether they be poodles or accusers or gossips or Pharisees, or your own guilt and shame – you don’t have to push back.  Rest in Him and know that we are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).