Though my parents were born-again Christians with a deep faith and personal relationship with Christ, I was raised with a legalistic spin on Christianity. There were more “don’ts” than “dos,” and many activities were prohibited in the name of Jesus. No dancing, no movies, no Sunday activities except church, naps, and studying my catechism lesson. We were taught that “wordly” things were evil, and as Christian we could not participate. This was fairly typical for the culture and era in which I was raised.
Over time, as Christianity shifted to a more positive focus, I learned to have balance in the way I live out my faith. I know that salvation comes by believing in Jesus as my Savior. It is a gift of God given by His grace and mercy and not a result of my works (Ephesians 2:8). God’s love is unconditional and does not depend on what I do or do not do. My obedience to His Word is not to earn His love, but rather to return my love and receive His blessings.
One of my best-selling children’s books with steady sales and mostly 5 star reviews for the past decade is now getting some criticism from millennial parents. They feel the devotions about pleasing God and doing good things reflects a “works-based” religion. They cringe at the word obey. They want the entire focus to be on God’s grace and His abundant love. Period.
In one of my devotions that is being criticized I wrote, “The more you read the Bible and pray, the more God will help you.” Communicating with God is how we grow in our relationship with Him and see answers to our prayers. If we have little or no communication with God, how can we see Him working on our lives? I know God will help us whenever we call on His name, but an ongoing relationship requires ongoing communication with Him.
God’s abundant and unconditional love is too magnificent for us to comprehend. And God’s grace is given freely to those who put their trust in Jesus. He keeps no record of our sins when we confess them (Hebrews 8:12). This frees us from all guilt and shame. But shouldn’t obedience, with the help of the Holy Spirit, be our response? Didn’t God bless Noah and Abraham because of their faith and obedience? Isn’t obedience for our own good to receive God’s blessings?
In John 14:15, Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commands.” And in Matthew 28:19-20, known as the Great Commission, Jesus tells His followers, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
I know today’s parents expect their children to follow their rules at home and at school. But when it comes to God, if we use the word obey or being good, are we being too preachy and legalistic?
I welcome your thoughts!