What would you call an arrangement where Person A agrees to perform a series of actions for Person B in exchange for some form of reward? You’d call it “work,” right? Isn’t that what it means to have a job? You tell me what you expect of me, and if I get it right, then I experience some form of positive reinforcement.
What if this was how I treated my daughter? What if my daughter had to check an item off a list or do something specific in order to receive a kind word, a hug, or a gift from me? Would you envy our relationship or vote for me as “Dad of the Year”?
There’s nothing inherently wrong with a performance-based relationship in the right context. Can you imagine expecting unconditional love from your employer? And yet, many of our marriages function more like a workplace than like a family. Some of us must avoid certain topics of conversation, avoid criticism, tell each other what we want to hear, and flawlessly fulfill our expectations of our spouses. If we fulfill these obligations then we are pleased with each other. Under these conditions we give each other our attention and affection. Is this true love?
All of us bring a measure of this performance-based relationship to our marriages and friendships. It is part of sin and self-interest alive and well in our hearts. But can you imagine for a moment what it would feel like to be free from the need to perform for the people around us? Can you imagine what it would feel like to have more acceptance and joy and love and value and relationship than we can handle - all with no expectation or strings attached?
This unconditional, “free” love is what God offers to you through Jesus Christ. So, why do we treat him like an employer? Why do we watch our steps so carefully, afraid of making a mistake that might cost us our raise at our next review? Why do we live like the boss is looking over our shoulder, about to pop around the corner and scold us for not sweating hard enough? Jesus fulfilled all of God’s expectations on the cross and made a way for us to be adopted as God’s sons and daughters - not with a checklist to keep, but with open arms that delight in giving us the best of His vast resources. And this, for no other reason, than the joy that lights his face when He hears us call His name.