A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
—1 John 13:34-35 (NKJV)
When we realize that God loves us freely without condition, we learn that we have nothing to earn. Jesus gave us a new commandment—one that takes precedence. We are to love unconditionally as He has loved us. When we believe that God loves us unconditionally, loving others with His grace and without judgment flows out of us. But many Christians have the tendency to turn the grace of God into legalism because they believe grace has to be earned.
In his book, The Common Rule, Justin Whitmel Earley writes, “Legalism is the belief that the world hangs on what I do and that God and people love me based on how I perform. This is an important concept because it is the exact opposite of the gospel: God loves us not because of what we do, but rather in spite of what we do—in spite of our good deeds and our bad deeds. Legalism takes the unmerited love of God and bends it into something earned—and just like that, the world is about us and not about him.”
Legalism is excessive conformity to the law that restricts free choice. Performing—working and striving so God and others will love and approve of us—bends the grace of God into something that has to be earned. Performing corrupts grace. When we believe that we have to earn God’s favor, we are self-centered, prideful, and concerned about ourselves and not about the love that God wishes to take root and flourish in our heart. When we believe incorrectly that God judges our performance—what we do or do not do—then we also judge the performance of others. Loving unconditionally with His love becomes impossible. Life revolves around us and is not about the love of God that has the power to set us free.
God loves us in spite of our bad or good behavior—in spite of how we perform. To be His disciples, we need to understand our blameless standing in His love—the righteousness He has bought for us. It could never be earned. His righteousness was freely given as a gift. We received His grace and love when we believed by faith that Jesus paid the cost for our right standing with God. And we don’t have to keep performing in order to keep His love. Freely we have received, and now we freely give His love away without binding others in the performance trap.
When we know who we are in Christ, we believe we are free from performance and striving to win God’s approval. Jesus won that for us. He was the only one who could ever “perform perfectly” to meet the requirements of the law given by God. His grace changed everything and gave us a new commandment.
Let’s climb off the performance wheel that will never set us free. It is impossible to receive and give His love away when we believe we have to continually win it. Let’s believe that our price of performance has been paid. Freely we receive so that we can freely give. Let’s freely love and forgive as He has loved us. By this all will know that we are His.
© 2021 Lynn Lacher