Can Love Be Earned?

Silhouette of bride and groom with sunset behind

Roberto and Maria were a fine couple who really adored each other. They were frequently found taking walks around the lake near the center of town. They loved to hold hands and to talk about all kinds of subjects, but especially about each other. The whole community thought highly of them as having a model relationship. It wasn’t long before they announced their engagement, and less than a year later, they were married.

But after marriage, something did not seem totally right between them. They never fought with each other, in fact, they never even had a sharp disagreement. Neither one ever exploited the weaknesses or strengths of the other. They had no deep secrets or hidden past. They just never seemed to feel adequate for each other, especially in the case of Maria.

graphic of woman washing car

Maria would clean the house from top to bottom, scrub the outside walkways by hand, and wash and polish both of their vehicles. She kept the landscape immaculate and even repainted the house. She was constantly doing something just to make Roberto happy, because she was determined, as much as possible, to earn his love. Yet it seemed like the more she tried to do things to please him, the farther she felt from him.

Roberto appreciated all that Maria had been doing around their place, but he could also sense a widening gap in their relationship. He also did many things to try to please her, but she hardly noticed as she ran from one project to another, trying to please him. After a while, he was grieved over all that she was trying to do for him.

He had always loved her for herself, not for what she could do for him.

The situation finally reached the point where he knew he had to get Maria away from the house and have a serious talk with her. But, sadly, it never happened. Every time he tried to make an effort to speak to her, she would enter into a monologue, and then dash off to continue with yet another project for him before he could say what he wanted to. But it wasn’t that she didn’t want to hear him; she just never really took time for him to have an opportunity to speak.

mid cropped shot of man and woman with upset relationship

Their marriage eventually became stagnant and lifeless, in spite of all the work Maria had done for the one she loved, and that Roberto had done for her. It never led to a divorce, but there was no longer any real fellowship or meaningful communication between them. Yet, the whole time, Maria still continued to try to make Roberto love and want her, because she had always considered herself not good enough for him.

A scenario similar to this story happens all the time in the heart of true believers in the Lord concerning God and some of His children.

When we accept Jesus into our life, we have actually entered into a spiritual marriage covenant with Him.

In a proper marital relationship, neither person needs to work to earn the other’s love, because the acceptance and commitment has already been made. In fact, the love was already there before the engagement and, in many instances, even the relationship, had occurred. Conversely, nothing we can ever do will earn the love and favor of Jesus. He already loved us more than we could ever know long before we ever knew Him. His love is His gift to us, not a reward for our actions toward Him.

Maria and Roberto spent most of their time and energy trying to earn each other’s love, allowing no time to just enjoy each other’s companionship. This approach only left them feeling incomplete and saddened in heart instead. The Bible says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 emphasis added). God has already shown His true desire for us through the ultimate sacrifice of His Son made over two thousand years ago.

photo of a cross on a hill with sun, clouds and red sky in background

Once we have become part of Jesus’ bride-to-be, we should realize that we need to refrain from trying to win Him over, and start living in the manner of one who is already promised to Him in marriage.

Jesus wants His bride to focus on Him, and what He did for her on the cross.

That is where He showed His true love for us. His interest is not so much in what we can do for Him. That is the product of our relationship with Him, not the goal. His desire is to have intimate fellowship with us. He wants us to spend time with Him, and to learn more about Him through His Word (the Bible) also. Then, the more we open our heart to Him in prayer, the more He will be able to speak to us in His own special, distinctive, loving way.

 

[Image credits: stocksnap/Lilly Cantabile/Gerd Altmann/Germán R]

Where Is The Center Point of Our Faith?

A drawing of a plumb line attached to a small wall

Builders constructing a building make regular checks as they go to be sure that it does not lean in any direction. In spite of all the advanced technology available today, there is one ordinary, non-technical device still being used to make sure a structure being built is straight: the plumb line. This tool consists of just two simple components—a line, such as a string, a rope, or a strong, flexible wire, and the plumb—a small metal weight attached to the end of the line. When it is held at a specific position on a structure, it will show how far off center the building being constructed is, by revealing how straight the framework is in relation to the line itself. A plumb line left unhindered will always swing back to the center point in relation to where it is hung.

A photo of a gold pendulum swinging on a printed diagram

A pendulum also follows the same principle as a plumb line. It is essentially a weight attached to a string, a rod, or a flat decorative piece of metal that is connected to a pivot point. A pendulum may swing back and forth in many different directions, but when left to itself, it eventually slows down and comes to rest at the center point.

We can apply these examples to our walk with God. If a plumb line was held next to our spiritual position with God, how far off would we be in relation to His straight standard? Our center point must always be Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross. If we lean in any direction toward anything other than Him, the faith we are ‘building’ will become off center. And, if left unchecked, it will eventually lean so far off center that our faith will collapse and fall. Therefore, our central focus has to remain on Jesus and nothing else.

In order to stay right in the center of what God has planned for us, we need to stop trusting in our own efforts and start trusting in His Son instead.

Now, the question for us is, where is the center point of our faith? Is it in Christ and His finished work on the cross, or in something else? It doesn’t matter what we do that is good, bad, or somewhere in between—if Jesus is not the focus, the center, of our life, then we will always be ‘off.’ Whenever we turn to anything other than Him, we are swinging away from the center point of true peace in our heart.

When we put our efforts into other areas, we are basically saying that His sacrifice was not enough, that we also have to do something ourselves to make our life right with God. The more we try, the more we move away from the plumb line, and lean the wrong way spiritually. We need to stop swinging back and forth, like the pendulum, away from our center point.

The Apostle Paul said, “But to him that worketh not [himself], but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). Who is “Him that justifieth the ungodly”? Jesus.

By believing on Him and what He has done for us on the cross, our“faith is counted for righteousness.”

That’s it. We have no need for special programs and rituals, or counseling and treatment, or anything else. We just need to place our total trust in Him, keeping Him continually as the center point of our faith—not the world, not religion, not our own ideas, not anything else. Then we will be able to rest secure, trusting in the center point of our faith—our Lord Jesus.

 

[Image credits:(plumb line) Pearson Scott Foresman [Public domain]; (pendulum) Manfred Antranias Zimmer/Pixabay]

Dirtied Jewels


picture of smokey quartz crystals

Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0

The children were extremely bored, so they wandered around the house in a futile attempt to entertain themselves. Their mother was next door preoccupied with the neighbor’s new baby. Their father was stuck at an airport heavily entrenched in snow. Then an ugly scenario began to unfold after the children discovered a box containing mother’s jewelry collection.

“Open it! Open it!” the children cried in unison, while one of the older boys pried unsuccessfully, first at the gap in the lid, and then under the lock. After several minutes, their disappointment turned into mild anger as some of the children begin to push and pull at each other. Then the bureau was jarred. Suddenly the jewelry box crashed to the floor, bursting apart at the hinges. Precious jewels scattered everywhere and glee was the result. The room filled with awe and squeals of joy as necklaces with diamonds, earrings with rubies, and bracelets made of emeralds were passed around like candy. It wasn’t long before the whole group was in the backyard strutting around in a manner that would leave a fashion diva aghast.

Given their fleeting attention span, the children (mainly the boys) soon lost interest in the jewelry debacle. One boy then made the challenge to the others that jewels will still shine even if they have become dirty. Naturally, a handful of children jumped at the opportunity and started churning some jewelry through a muddy patch in the yard. But their escapades did not stop there. One discovered a small bin nearby of odd lawnmower parts with lots of oil and grease in the bottom. If there ever was a possible point of stopping their progress and restoring everything to its original state, they had long since passed it. The jewels they smothered in mud, grease, and grime were now virtually unrecognizable. Then one girl taunted the others, “OK, let’s see all that shine you boasted about!”

Sadly, there was now absolutely no shine, no glimmer, or anything good left to remark about. When they held the jewels up, they were nothing but a collection of black blobs. Another boy took a clean rag from the shed. After a great deal of scrubbing, he tried his best to get them to at least hint at sparkling again. But, to his great dismay, the jewels refused to gleam. In fact, they would not even come close to being clean. Then he tried dipping some jewels into a heavy-duty cleaning solution full strength. Yet, after a lot of soaking and wiping, they still were only about seventy-five percent clean. The rest of the children peered over his shoulder with great concern.

“What’s Mom going to say when she sees these?” one girl inquired. A boy retorted in exasperation, “She won’t see them! Quick, take all the other jewelry and put it back in the case.” He then ordered one of his brothers to repair the broken hinges and lid. “Maybe,” he muttered softly to himself, “just maybe, she won’t even notice.”

To the relief of all the children, days passed into weeks without a single mention of the jewelry case. One older boy scrubbed and scrubbed, but the film and dirt that remained kept the beauty of the jewels from reappearing. He knew their mother would not overlook the grimy residue, so he continued holding on to the jewels, hoping to figure out something he could use to get them totally clean again. But he got no opportunity to try again.

“OK, who has been in my jewelry box?” their mother yelled down the stairs. “Where are my precious jewels?”

“Uh-oh,” the boy who had tried cleaning them muttered loudly to himself. He knew that it was hopeless at this point to try to hide or escape. He grabbed the jewels and ran to his mother instead. “Mom, it’s all our fault. I mean, actually, it’s my fault,” he blurted out, as he began to sob. “I made a challenge to everyone that the jewels would still shine when they are dirty.” Now he was crying. “I tried and tried to get them clean, but they just won’t look pretty anymore.”

His mother reached over and gave him a big hug. She told him how she appreciated his honesty and willingness to come forward. “But why did you hide this from me?” she gently inquired.

“Because I was afraid of what you and Dad would do to us if you saw how dirty these are.”

“My son, your father and I greatly love you all. You still need punishment for what was done, but that does not mean that we hate you or want to hurt you. Besides, I have methods to clean these jewels you don’t know about. You should have come to me in the first place. You never could have solved this in your own efforts; in fact, you might have ruined them permanently.”

picture of clear gemstone

Do you realize that God sees each one of us as a perfect, sparkling, precious jewel? We usually see ourselves as dirty and blemished, like the jewels mentioned here, and are constantly trying in our own strength to make ourselves shine. And, like the boy trying his best to get the jewels clean, we go through all kinds of programs and rituals, yet in the end, we are still just as soiled as before—if not worse. We try so often to make ourselves pure and right, but we usually cause even greater damage to our hearts and lives instead. The devil wants to keep us believing the lie that we are too polluted and have to keep working at getting our life straight before we come to God. So we hide from Him, hoping He will never notice what we have done. This only causes our relationship with Him to suffer. “For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad” (Mark 4:22).

Only God can cleanse us so that the true beauty and purity He alone sees in us will shine forth. The key is that we must yield our self to Him and let Him do the work. The more effort we do, the more we remain mottled and murky. But if we actually could cleanse our heart and life ourselves, then it would just lead to boasting and pride—making us dirty all over again. “Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:9). Therefore, we need to stop trying to clean up our heart and life by our own efforts, and yield our self to Jesus instead. He wants to make us into the bright polished precious jewel that He sees, not the muddy, imperfect, unclean one that we see. He is the only One who can do it.

Ritual or Relationship?

 

Do you ever felt like you are making great efforts to do all of the right things (or at least what you were told were the right things) to please God, yet He still seems distant or unreachable to you? Do you feel like a sense of guilt comes over you if you don’t pray or read the Bible? Or have you stopped praying and reading the Bible because you can’t seem to get anywhere, and everything you did read seemed so confusing and dull? Maybe you go to church because this is what you were told do, but you have never felt any real enthusiasm in being there. Or, are you doing as much as you can for your church, yet you still don’t seem to have any reward from God—or even worse—you just feel used by your church? Have you often asked yourself, just where is the fulfillment, the satisfaction and the real joy in following Jesus that others have told you about?

On the other hand, maybe you are one who really does find excitement and satisfaction with God and what He has done for you, but only after you attend church or various religious events and entertainment, thereby necessitating repeat visits to maintain this enthusiasm. All of these are common ploys of Satan to prevent you from having true intimacy with God. He tries to keep you in a mindset where you feel that you have to continually do works to be right with, or accepted by, God. When you left Satan’s domain and entered the domain of Jesus by getting saved, it certainly did not go unnoticed by Satan. And, in revenge for leaving him, he will persist in trying to keep you from having complete peace in Jesus. His goal is to turn your focus off of Jesus Christ and onto yourself (and ultimately onto him alone).

He wants you to wear yourself out in trying to be right with God on your own, to the point where you become bitter or discouraged and turn back to him. Actually, Satan would really like for you to hate God just like he does, and to never want to even try to follow the Lord again.

Since he has had thousands of years to observe others like you, he knows just what technique works to keep you from truly following Jesus.

What Satan tries to do here is to turn all of these ‘good’ efforts into a ritual. Jesus does not want rituals or your ‘works’; He wants a personal relationship with you. He wants yourcross worship trust and faith in Him alone. Religions have rituals, but they add up to nothing in God’s view. When Jesus died on the cross on your behalf, it was a complete work. There are no works, no rituals—there is nothing that you can do to improve on this or make yourself more acceptable to God on your own. Every time you try to do something to make yourself more holy before God, you are, in essence, canceling out the sacrifice that His Son made on your behalf. He already did everything necessary to make you acceptable to God.

You may now be thinking that reading the Bible, praying, or attending church are wrong. Each of these in themselves is right, and God expects them of you. But when doing them becomes your motive behind being accepted or becoming right before God, then doing them becomes just as wrong as worshiping idols. And you also enter the area of self-righteousness, which is just as sinful before God as idolatry or any other sin.

couple on bench

When you accept Jesus Christ into your heart, you are entering into a personal relationship with Him. In our human relationships, one person does not work to make the other accept him or her; instead, each accepts the other for who he or she is, by faith in him or her. They no longer have to prove themselves; they now have established trust between them.

If you have just become married, and you constantly do things to make your spouse love you, then you have entered into marriage for all of the wrong motives (and your spouse will really begin to wonder about you).

Your marriage partner should love you for who you are, not so much for what you do. What you do is a by-product of love, a way of expressing it.

Similarly, Jesus wants you to have trust, and simple, child-like faith in Him. He never set up a complicated set of rules and requirements that you must follow to improve your standing with woman worshipingHim. These only lead to things like favoritism, jealousy, regression, and failure. If you yield your self (or will) to Him in a loving personal relationship, you will soon find that you will want to pray, you will want to read His Word, and you will want to be in a fellowship of other believers who also want to do the same thing. You will also find that that all of these efforts to please Him before will now be the by-product of a relationship with Him now. It is only in a true relationship, not in a ritual, that will you find real peace in God.