What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:9
Most of us who believe in God have, at some time, felt that God loves us more or less, based on our performance. When we fail, we feel God turns away from us and when we live well, we feel that he embraces us. We see God as a fickle father, who either favors or spurns us based on how well we behave. At a recovery meeting recently, a friend pointed out the fallacy of this belief. He rightly said that God loves us no matter what. Because of Christ’s redemptive work, we’re forgiven for all eternity. Nothing we do can make God love us more or less. He just loves us. That’s all.
As important as it is to understand that reality, I’m always tempted to twist God’s love to mean something that it doesn’t. As someone who wrestles with a self-destructive appetite, I want grace to mean that I can do what I want and get away with it. If God loves me no matter what, then I can do whatever I want and be forgiven later. I’ve lived this way and even though I believed in God, I experienced painful consequences. In that disaster, I had the audacity to ask God why he allowed me to suffer. If I’m forgiven, why am I going through this calamity?
In today’s passage, Paul once again pointed out that, even though we’re forgiven for eternity, our actions have very practical consequences here on Earth. In the passage, he said that we must seek God’s presence, living for justice, excellence, and purity. When we do so, Paul said the God of peace will be with us. The reciprocal is also true. If we live seeking only ourselves, we won’t experience God’s peace and presence.
Does God not love me when I fail? Does he withhold his blessing? If I live right, will I be financially successful?
The image of the loving father is helpful here. I love my kids no matter what. Nothing they can do will make them not be my kids. If they blatantly defy the house rules though, that creates some conflict, which inherently puts distance between us. I don’t leave them. I don’t stop loving them, but practically, the destructive behavior needs to change to restore the relationship.
We’re not promised financial success in following God. We are however promised life, joy, and peace, when we choose to live in a right relationship with him. God always loves us, but practically, our behavior often determines whether we’re capable of experiencing that love.