by Lee Stewart

how love messes up your religion

Sometimes people tell me I take things too personally. Thick skin? Not me, I’m the sensitive type. If there’s a molehill, I’ll make it a mountain. But you know we sensitive types can be selectively hardened. We should make a big deal out of something, but we don’t. My mind hears a big truth, but my soul puts a gag order on it. I sit in church and my pastor preaches about God’s unconditional love. He talks about God as our Father, and I nod and agree. Maybe I get emotional. But my everyday life—the part where I eat breakfast, pay the bills, instruct my children, talk to my husband—that part of my life keeps the truth of God’s love at a distance. I edit that truth because the toned-down version makes more sense to me. But when I do all this editing, it distorts my thoughts about the Christian life and how to live it. I flip flop between two thoughts in particular.

Here’s the first thought:

Salvation is by grace through faith alone. But now it’s time for sanctification, and that’s mostly up to me. If I keep the rules, God is happy. If I break the rules, God is mad (or just disappointed). When I sin or struggle, I should remind myself what a worm I am. In fact, I should probably focus on my badness most of the time. This will keep me from becoming a Pharisee.

And so begins the second thought:

Pharisees are hypocrites—shiny on the outside, but proud on the inside. The Bible says God resists the proud. They’re the ones who like to find fault in others. They do a lot of comparing. Appearances and reputations are important to them, but attitudes not so much. So I don’t think I should focus much on rules and behavior. I’ll end up like the Pharisees. But wait, if I don’t behave well, God will be upset with me. I should work on my sanctification…

And there I am back to the first thought. Back and forth and over and over this can go. Both of my ideas have some truth in them, but both are fueled by religion instead of relationship. I need to take something more personally: GOD IS MY FATHER. The situation is not that God offered me a fantastic job—a job working for God!—and now it’s up to me to get to work on time, be highly productive, and strive for employee of the month. Instead the situation is this:



If that sounds abstract to you, then stay with it until it makes its way into your bones. If you want a glimpse of it, then ask yourself how you love your children. Remember when they were brand new and right away you reached for them, kissed them, fed them, and stared at them? Did you wait for them to make the first move before you loved them greatly? Did you wish they could pay you back somehow? No! Their very existence was itself the reward. Now tell me. Do you ever think, “I better not tell them they’re fully accepted. If they figure it out, they may never listen to a thing I say! Should he know I’ll never stop calling him my son? Should I tell her she’ll always be my daughter? Do I tell them I’ll love them, today and every day, no matter what?”

Consider how you love your children and want them to know it. You hope this will help them trust you better, even when you make tough decisions for them. Think about the things you do to help them grow and learn. You are cheering them on just by doing everyday mom stuff. The hugs, the laughs, the food provided—all of this says, “I’m FOR you, not against you!” Think of the things you protect them from, even when they don’t have the wisdom to ask for it.

Now consider that love again, and this time not from a flawed human heart, but from a divine heart. Multiply your own love a billion times and supernaturally. That’s God’s love—the love of the Father. If you know Him, you are His daughter. You’re all the way in. Adopted. Accepted. A joint heir with Christ. And EVERYTHING ELSE gushes from that well.

Why should you trust God? Because He gave you the Way into His family. He sent His Son to die a bloody, sacrificial death for you. Jesus paid it all. So follow Him! And remember guilt, and fear, and moral reputations will never know how to motivate you. But Love. Love will call you by name. Love knows the story doesn’t end with how well you behaved. And that’s true for all of us in this family. We will let each other down. We will ache. But know this: We’re all crippled in some way, but we’re also unconditionally loved. So reach out for both of those truths at the same time and never one without the other. Don’t make any edits. And remember the gospel is based on an IT IS FINISHED theology. Operate under that. Drink that in. Religion can’t give you the road to God. It can’t even help you walk on it. The road is Jesus. The road is highly personal and highly exclusive. Yet it’s all-inclusive—it pays for everything and all are invited. You bring nothing but empty hands to His table. But as you feast with Him, you’re not a slave anymore. Everything He has is yours. You are His daughter! Now wake up every day and take it personally. It will change you. It’s changing me.

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it.” John 3:16-18, The Message

Lee Stewart


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