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What does it look like when we fear God’s love?  We buckle the seatbelt of caution and batten down the hatches with legalism. 

This was the conversation in Freedom Builders a couple of weeks ago, our Soulation community of spiritual health and meaningful discipleship.  God’s love in churches, we shared, is often met with big BUTs. God loves you, BUT obedience cannot be forgotten! God loves you, BUT beware of displeasing him. God loves you, BUT it will lead you to sin. Work harder for grace, fear failure, and burn-out to please God (which means pleasing others).

Actually, God loves you, BUT you fear it. So lay down your weapons, learn to accept it, and let love go to work in your life.

Now, do we understand love enough to know what that means? Are we willing to unlock our seatbelt of fear and face the headwinds transformation? 

In the conversation, I wrote a version of this reflection that I hope will nourish some of your deeper roots:

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When Brennan Manning wrote The Ragamuffin Gospel, he got the same replies about too much of God’s love. Too soft. Not enough about discipleship and obedience. But he replied that people hear obedience and judgment all the time, yet lack understanding any of it in light of God’s love.

Evangelicalism has sat in the shadow of legalism for a century. We are so comfortable with it, we label legalistic things as grace. We are always so concerned about messing up, about even messing up God’s grace, that we fail to gaze on the real love and grace offered to us. We fail at the meaning of the gospel as we tiptoe around abundant life in ongoing attitudes of being undeserving and woe is me and a plethora of emotional self-flagellation we conjure up to make ourselves okay in God’s eyes. 

God made us worthy already! He made us worthy of life in the moment he breathed life into his creation. We need to accept it, get past the mind-numbing truth that God created worthwhile creatures long before the Cross, and get on on with the life he’s pouring out like a well springing up into everlasting life. We need to get over the baffling idea of being forgiven without merit and stop acting like we better deserve such forgiveness because of our many eloquent postures of unworthiness…. As if any such posturing makes us worthy of grace.

If people are concerned, if people must quickly rush to “obedience” language to corral us from running in the wild meadows of God’s love, I do wonder what they think God’s love does. Do they think it empowers wickedness? If so, they do not understand wickedness. Empowers laziness or fear? If so, they do not understand fear. Empowers us to sin? If so, they do not understand sin. And they do not know God’s love.

When your best friend loves you, are you more prone to be loyal or to betray? When a mentor takes us under their wing and believes in us even more than we believe in ourselves, do we run away or grow in gratitude and wonder that maybe we are more remarkable than we realized because someone else saw us that way?

God’s love, rightly understood, means we have nothing to lose and nothing to fear. It makes sin look paltry, small, meaningless, just as it truly is. It breaks the chains that keep us habituated in lies and addiction. It is worth selling all we have for the great pearl. 

All the fearful and graceless talk about presuming on grace is just more presumption: pride dressed in the words of grace to keep people from grace. It is hogwash and ignorance…. ignorance of the love of God. Such presumption fails to realize that our sin grieves God, not because it damages him, but because God knows our sin damages us. And God doesn’t want us damaged or burdened. He is true to himself (holiness) and seeks that we be true to ourselves, bearing his image (also holiness). We don’t get there through posturing, groveling, or moralizing, but through love.

What kind of love would compel us to leave all we have and follow and worship? What kind of love would compel us to lift our eyes to the hills where our help comes from? Whatever love touches the deepest places and accepts us in our hidden shadows, whatever love makes triumphant meaning of the torturous cross, whatever kind of love does that… is God’s kind of love.

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 If you are want to build your life around God’s love, instead of fear, click here.

Read Next: 10 “Biblical” Beliefs that Poison Christians