From an early age I thought of God as this really distant figure that I had to somehow impress. He would be up there judging my actions, and points were awarded for good behavior like going to church and deductions taken away for every time I did something wrong. As I entered college, this idea of God keeping score evolved into a list of rules by which I had to live. I only had to do enough nice things to outweigh all the bad things I did. I knew I would never be able to achieve a perfect score with God, so I had my eyes set on doing just enough to get in the door of heaven. I didn’t need an awesome place there, I just wanted to be the last guy in the door. For example, well… let’s just take about everything I did in college on a Friday night as what I did wrong. To make up for that I would go to church on Sunday. Then to get ahead, I would hold the door open for people and try to be friendly to make sure I got my points up into the positive column.
The truth is that God didn’t create us to follow a set of rules that would prevent us from being bad, or sit through religious services out of obligation while being bored out of our minds. He created us to be in a loving relationship with Him. He doesn’t love us because of what we do, He just loves us. He loved me while I was still in my mother’s womb and unable to love Him back. He loved me when I did everything wrong in my life. He loved me when I turned away from Him because I couldn’t keep track of where I was on His scoresheet anymore. He loved me when I returned to Him on my knees because I knew of no one else who could help me.
When I chose to start living in relationship with Jesus rather than by the “rules”, I found that I didn’t have to worry about what I was doing. The things that I did wrong started to lose their appeal, and the things that I did right became more natural. I still mess up a whole lot, but I’m not trying to make up for it anymore to settle some score. I ask for forgiveness and move on. I let love and hope motivate me more than fear and regret. Slowly, I can see God changing me so that I can love others better and love myself better.
The challenge for all of us is this: how do we respond to that love? God allows us the freedom to ignore His love and to pursue the things of this life that are destructive and unfulfilling. But what if we decide to make a change? Jesus didn’t come so that we could experience heaven someday, but that we could have that experience now. When Jesus taught us how to pray He asked His Father, “may your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” Heaven is available to us right now when we act through His love inside us. Jesus didn’t leave us with any rules, just one request, “You must love others as I have loved you.” Love your neighbor enough to ask about their day when you see them, love your coworker enough to encourage them when they are having a hard time, love the poor of your city enough to build a shelter for them when they don’t have one. When we recognize that we are so loved by God and feel compelled to share that love with the people around us, we can change the world.