That Which Cannot Be Earned

Years ago, I sat across from my counselor to hear her say, “Nothing you do can make God love you more or make God love you less.” My thinking was forever changed.

Freedom Sarah ClewsTo some, this might sound like a no brainer. But even though I was raised as an evangelical Christian, it was news to me. I knew my good deeds wouldn’t save me. Yet this felt like a new and remarkable truth because I did think my deeds could change God’s love. I found myself laboring under this idea that God was perpetually disappointed in me, that my sins and failures were making Him love me less. I lived my life in a cycle of shame and striving.

I had been so burdened by a yoke of slavery where I was constantly living in self-reproach, agonizing over my ungracious response to a family member the previous week or my unkind action to a friend a month ago. I was desperate for spiritual and emotional freedom. Jesus offers just that, freedom that says, “Not only do I forgive you, but I also free you from your shame.”

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 (NIV)

God is so clear in the Bible that He has FREED us from our striving. Living by a religion of works is so exhausting because it’s clearly never enough and obviously imperfect.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2 

Sarah Clews freedomWhat freedom this scripture brings! I was recently thinking back to the story of when Adam and Eve first sinned. For the longest time, I thought they were ashamed for God to see them because they were naked. But they weren’t naked! They had tried to cover themselves with fig leaves. They tried to remove their own shame by their own efforts, by their own works. Yet it wasn’t enough. They couldn’t truly be covered until God covered them by His work.

It was God’s work that freed them from their shame, not their works.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Because I know my own weakness and inability to follow every rule, what a relief it has been to know that God’s love doesn’t depend on me at all! It is a gift that sets those held captive free. There’s no better hope than that.


sarah-c-squareSarah Clews is a wife, mother of two little girls, and prolific reader. She received her BS from Corban University in English and still loves writing. She helps her husband run their martial arts school, and in her free time, enjoys sewing, experimenting with makeup, and reading blogs.

Seeds of Joy

Earlier this year when the leaves first began to turn, my family moved for the 4th(and hopefully last) time in 2 years. As this summer approaches I am seeing life I did not work for spring up. I’ve been exploring the bounty someone else planned, invested in, and hoped for in my small corner of earth.  Whoever the woman was, she loved gardening. I’ve eagerly anticipated finding out what would appear as the days grew warmer, and longer. Tulips, Crocus, Peony, Roses.  SO.MANY. ROSES.

The corner of my yard became a thorny jungle and I realized 15 rose bushes would be too much to maintain for a novice like me. I offered several bushes to anyone who wanted to come dig them up. As we chatted and dug, I realized three of the bushes I thought were roses were actually producing blueberries. Like I said, I’m a novice. Since I didn’t even know they should be producing fruit the plants had little support. I had done nothing to help them winter over, add nutrients, or even prune the dead branches. However, they were made to produce blueberries, and they automatically brought forth fruit when the season was right.

That is how fruit works. At the right time, for no reason other than the creative intent of God who fashioned them, my bushes were dripping with berries.

The natural process challenged me to think about the fruit of my life. Much of what God has called fruit, I have over time turned into striving. The biggest culprit: Joy. While it is true that joy is a trademark of the Christian life, somewhere along the way my mind had adopted a caricature of “joy” far from the truth.

Always happy. Fairly cheesy. Dependable, hard working, always excited. She doesn’t get upset, or at least doesn’t show it. The perfect friend, a listener, this woman won’t let you down. Even though she comes off as inauthentic at times, you know that she truly loves others, and loves God. She must have figured it all out. Her life runs smoothly, with plenty of time and energy to pour into everyone around her. If she faces a rare bad day, she has a perfect platitude ready and waiting. She signs up for every team, every need. When life is hard, she is happy anyway. She keeps striving.

Striving is the worst.

The very things that should be natural outpourings of being a child of God and listening to the Holy Spirit instead became a checklist—a measure to attain. In the end, it wasn’t joy at all, but a facade of cheerfulness smothered in good intentions, but without true power.

I am exhausted. Are you?

Is anyone else walking around acting like they have joy figured out, because it’s what Christians are supposed to look like?

I have good news. Joy isn’t in the circumstances, something we must scramble to obtain, or the varsity Christian team mantra.

A little digging, and I discovered that the word for joy in Greek is tied to grace. I’m no scholar, I took one class that gave me enough understanding to use the biblehub.com Greek interlinear and a concordance to study word meanings. Joy (chara) and grace (charis) are so close that if we read Greek today we’d see these cousin-words and immediately feel the connection. Deeper into definitions I determined this: joy is the ability to see God’s grace.

Did you get that? The root of joy is seeing God’s grace at work in your life. There is no joy you can produce, it is caused by noticing God’s gifts. His love. His favor. On the darkest day, as long as His grace remains, so can your joy.

Though happiness and circumstances do not induce joy, neither does working and striving. My false picture of “joy” had a lot more in common with people pleasing or attempting to earn God’s favor, than living life as an outpouring of the acceptance already found in Jesus. Joy isn’t a goal to put on a list and something to “work on” improving. It’s a fruit of the spirit; the natural product that comes forth from the Holy Spirit, not from us.

Joy growing from the seed of grace is the reason we can experience deep joy in the midst of sorrow. I look back at every season of suffering and difficulty, the times when I felt that Joy had left me forever, and I see that God had actually generously sprinkled them with seeds of grace. They did produce joy, I just didn’t realize that is what it was because I thought I needed to work to find it.

The friend who texted they’d been thinking of me and asked how to pray, when they didn’t know. He has not forgotten me.

A slice of red velvet cake, my wedding cake, that showed up on my desk on a day marriage was hard. He’s got this, do not fear.

The way that even when I could not make myself pick up my Bible, he put something in front of me that I needed. On Facebook, through a friend, the song stuck in my head. He is still working.

The magnolias blooming in the rain, when loss and grief were close and tears were never far. He is making all things beautiful in his time.

~~~

Readers, No matter what season you are in, can you see seeds of grace? How has God given you joy?

Holly is a wife, mother of one, and foster mother to many. She seeks to glorify God in all she does, for all her life. She studied Intercultural Studies at Corban University and loves to build bridges between cultures and people. She welcomes people into her life, into her heart, and into her home with hopes of offering encouragement. You can find more from Holly here at Anchored Voices or at her blog Called to Restore.