Perfect love expels all fear. ~ 1 John 4:18
We are a fearful people. We think we are safe if we just follow the rules. We build elaborate structures to fortify our faith, effectively placing God in a tidy box, like a cosmic cause and effect that believes, “If we do this, then that.” But this is merely a fearful attempt to control a God that we do not fully understand nor trust. We may even conclude that if we simply play by God’s rules and get them all right, He will keep us from all harm and “bless” us. The trouble is we can’t get them all right.
God is infinitely larger than our constructed confines and faith much more complex. We cry for order, easy answers, and straight lines. But life is messy, confusing, and full of detours. We don’t always get what we deem we deserve. Often, we receive the opposite. We misunderstand that God’s blessings are rarely in the form of a neatly wrapped gift.
The religious leaders in Jesus’ time were meticulous rule keepers. They were so taken by rules – and the power of wielding them – that they added more rules. With their Saviour in their midst, they missed the One who came to save them. They overlooked relationship in favour of rules.
But God is more interested with intimacy than rule following.
The rich young ruler, after asking Jesus what else (besides keeping all the rules) he needed to do to inherit eternal life, went away despondent because he had hoped for another rule to follow. Instead, Jesus felt love for him and points him to the one thing that was keeping his heart from His Saviour. Sadly, the “ruler” missed the very thing his heart and soul most needed. He passed up his freedom and future in favour of riches and the rule-ridden order of the now.
Because it’s much easier – even safer – to keep rules than relationships.
It’s easier to declare one deserves what they got and let them wallow in their pit, than to reach out a recovering hand and love – even when it makes no sense.
It’s much simpler and more satisfying to judge others when we have a rule book to follow than, as Jesus did, to walk into the messiness of relationships, travel alongside pain, disparity, poverty, or amid the fresh stench of repeated sin.
No, that takes fearlessness forged by God’s love.
It’s easier to throw fear stones than to be willing to lay down your life for another or take the hit on their behalf.
It’s simpler to choose bitterness than the kind of deep, soul-searing love that Jesus exhibited which declared forgiveness while being nailed to a tree in order to secure that love from now into eternity.
It’s much more manageable to keep people in line with rules that exact control and order than to fearlessly love no matter the cost.
But God is love. And He invites us to the divine feast.
Man’s rules limit God’s love, crowd out grace, mask mercy, and are, at best, mere behavior modification, when God would give us an entire heart transplant. Rules make us a slave, whereas God’s love makes us fearless and free.
Jesus came to teach us that it’s not about rules but relationship. Not about striving for salvation but accepting an invitation and resting in undeserved, unearned grace. Not about working to be loved, but learning to listen to the Lover. Because “nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38)
We need to give up fearful control of our own lives – and of others – and replace it with love. “Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” (1 John 4:18)
Fear crowded out makes space to effectively hear God’s voice. Fear removed leaves breathing space for God’s Spirit. Once freed of fearful control, God can become the author of your – and others’ – life stories. Your best penmanship will not come close to the love story God desires to write through your life. Release your grip and let God take hold.
Is it possible that God’s kingdom is a good deal more spacious, free and joy-filled than we permit? In our feverish rule maintenance, we find ourselves rebuilding walls around ourselves or others to keep things neat, tidy and manageable. Our pristine, white-washed constructs are the very obstructions Jesus tore down by His death and resurrection alongside other walls like guilt, shame, rejection, hate, jealousy, and everything unlovely – from these Christ freed us. And God yearns for us to live secure in His love and the freedom from bondage He died to secure.
In what ways are you confining God, yourself, or others and bridling the freedom of Christ? I bless you that you might live in greater freedom in Christ.