If you and I are friends and you can tell I am constantly trying to do things to win your approval and earn your friendship, how are you going to feel about me? Likely a little weird, right?
If you and I are friends and I regularly do things to express my appreciation for our friendship, how are you going to feel about me? Grateful to have a good friend?
What’s the visible difference in these two scenarios, because the actual actions taken might look very much the same? For example, if I insist on buying you lunch, am I trying to earn your approval or just being appreciative?
Even though this really comes down to motive, we can “feel” when people are doing things for the wrong reasons and the right reasons. There’s a “yuck” when you can tell someone has an ulterior motive for doing something for you and a peace when someone is being a good friend. One is about them; the other is about you. One is self-centered; the other is selfless.
So, in our relationship with God, do we obey to win approval and earn His love or obey out of gratitude for the relationship? Can these not look very much the same as well, watching believers live their lives? Our “good works” come down to motive. But who can really tell the difference? Well, you can.
If you believe salvation is a free gift of God and you can do nothing to earn His approval and love, then working to earn it is pointless, tiring, and futile. It’s like working two jobs to save up for a car that is already sitting in the garage, bought and paid for. Why work for something that you already have?
So, that leaves obedience practiced out of gratitude. Taking action out of a desire to please the Giver, using the gifts given for exactly what they were intended for in the first place.
So, in your relationship with God, do you earn or owe? Earn love from God or owe love to God? One is about us never being enough and the other is knowing God is always enough.
“For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.” —John 6:27c NLT