I remember the exact moment when it finally hit me that my relationship with God wasn’t all about me.
I’m fully aware of how that shouldn’t have been a revelation to me. I’m also aware that I said it before I knew it.
It was my senior year in college, and I was talking to a girl who was involved with a Christian organization I was thinking about joining. We met around this time of year (I remember it being Fall) at lunch time. The girl asked me what I would say to plead my case to get into heaven. My response was that I would tell God that I tried my best to do what He told me to and treat people the way He wants. And she said, “What if I told you it had nothing to do with you?” She explained to me, someone who was already a believer, that it was the love of God that got me into heaven and nothing I did.
I’m a little embarrassed to say that this shook me. Because being a Christian, and one that had been through so much in my spiritual life at that, I knew the love of God. I was all about the love and forgiveness and mercy of God.
I was forced to look at my salvation as a living, breathing entity. What birthed it? What sustained it? How much of a role did God’s love play in it?
“But the aim of such instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith. Some people have deviated from these and turned to meaningless talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions. Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane…” (1 Timothy 1:5-9, NRSV).
Paul goes on to list specific issues and sins that were a very big deal both then and now, but I’m going to stop here because this alone pretty much covers it. Doesn’t it? Have any of us always strictly obeyed the rules set out before us, been constantly obedient, been a believer, been pure and holy and righteous? Paul writes in Romans 3:23 that all of us – every single one of us – have sinned and fallen short. And in a much longer way, he says that here too.
The law was established for all of us. This means I have no real right to demean or judge or condemn someone for not upholding one aspect of God’s law when and if I’m not upholding another part of it. It’s for all of us to follow.
This is sort of where I was caught in my spiritual walk. In some way, I felt that the law was going to make or break me. I knew that God’s love was what saved me, but it was like I thought that how I acted from there on depended on whether or not I got to keep my saved status.
In retrospect, I know exactly where this came from. I got saved at age nine, and what growing up I did in church was spent listening to a lot of sermons that proclaimed God’s love but mostly focused on what to do and what not to do. After hearing that preached so much, the message had embedded itself in my brain. Knocking it loose took the wind out of me.
The trouble with all of this, and this is exactly what Paul is getting at in 1 Timothy, is that we often don’t associate the law of God with the love of God. We get so caught up in following the law that we either forget the why of it or never bother to find it out.
It starts with love. From the moment God created everything, it all began with love. The world, the law, Jesus’ sacrifice, Paul’s letter to Timothy, God reaching out to you individually, all of it. Paul says the point of instruction comes from a place of love. He then says that people have lost that connection and are teaching without understanding what exactly it is they’re teaching. These rogue teachers, without the love behind the law that they’re speaking about, are just preaching rules. And without love, there’s room for so many things – condemnation, bitterness, slander, hatred. These people preaching without love lack compassion and ultimate understanding.
Let me rephrase. Since these teachers aren’t motivated from a pure place and don’t really care about why, they don’t know what they’re saying.
I always talk about how sin hurts God, but it hurts other people too. Me being reckless in my spiritual life often wrecks something for someone else whether I mean it to or not. My being disobedient and irreverent impacts someone else somewhere along the line. This is why Jesus brought every godly law back to two simple ones: love God and love your neighbor.
It’s the concept of our actions and sin affecting God and other people that lead us to understanding how love and law are related. If I don’t love the people around me, as difficult as that may sometimes be, I’m going to break one of God’s laws. If I uphold the laws of God out of a sense of duty, I’m missing it.
I shouldn’t have been so stunned that my relationship with God isn’t about what I do. Don’t get me wrong; I believe my actions have consequences and can drive a wedge between God and me. But for me to think that I have to do certain things or check off all the items on a list makes God’s love so conditional. It reduces who He is and how strong His love for me is. There’s nothing I could do to make God love me less. How well I comply with what He’s told me to do reflects how much I love Him back, but it has no effect on how He loves me.
The reality I had to face when I sat outside with that kind girl was that my salvation has relatively little to do with me. Yes, it matters that I accepted Christ, and yes, it matters that I do what I can to show God how thankful I am for salvation and how much I love Him back, but without God’s love, none of that would matter or exist. All of the credit for my salvation is due to God and His love.
The love of God is why we should obey the law of God. It’s why we should do anything and everything. It should be our motivation, our hope, our outlook. And that’s a lot. I know it, you know it. The great thing is that God also knows it. And when we run out on God or when we run low on ability to demonstrate God’s love, His love will still be there to meet us and carry us through, free-flowing and potent as ever.
By Carrie Prevette
P.S. – I feel sort of awful that I can’t remember the name of the girl who pointed the bottom line of all of this out to me. She helped me in a really huge way. But on the extremely slim chance that she’ll ever come across this and read it until the end, I would like to thank her. If she never does anything else (although I’m sure she will), she’s had an immense impact on me and my spiritual life. And that’s invaluable.