We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (1John 4:16-21)

New Christians seem to instinctively grasp “the love which God has for them. They just know, “God loves me!” Being loved is natural to them. It is as though life flows directly up through the root system into the new heart: flowers bloom and fragrances abound. Yet, new Christians often wilt. It’s as though a winter overtakes the new plant, robbing it of its color and aroma. What has happened? Having bloomed and wilted, I have asked, “Are we annual or a perennial plants?”

Annual plants are only enjoyed for one season. When the first freeze comes, they perish. Perennial plants also appear to die at the first frost, but they return each year because their root systems remain alive. Christians are like perennial plants, except our above ground beauty and fragrance appear in less predictable cycles. Because our root system lives, we can bloom and provide color and aroma even in times of drought and harsh weather. A scene comes to mind:

 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. (Acts 16:25-26)

Plants that sing in prison have learned to abide. Sadly though, an abuse of this word has wilted many a plant and kept a multitude imprisoned in a perpetual winter. It is essential to remember that abiding is facilitated exclusively by the Master’s grafting skills. Beyond acknowledgement and thanksgiving, we make zero contribution to this miracle. However, religion is crouching at the door with its anti-gospel, preaching that it is our job to cling to the root in order to abide. We are encouraged to cling with all our hearts to the Lord. A young and child like heart recoils: “Yikes! What happens if I can’t cling tight enough?” Fear has now reentered the garden. Religion has challenged grace and the plant has begun to wilt.

How then must l be saved?

Religion asks this question then provides the answers, “Thou shalt comply.” “Thou shalt commit thyself.” Embedded in our religious codes are penalties for those unwilling to comply. In myriad and sundry ways, religion enforces its codes. Penalties await the non-compliant and uncomitted. Religion threatens the young plants:

“If you do not conform, if you do not commit, then … pick your poison; then, you will be bad; then, God will be angry; then, you will be rejected. The if-then thought loop is religion’s maximum-security prison. Fear (our jailer), taunts, “Just you try and escape!”

Sitting in our cell, we might dream of escaping; What would happen to our relationship with God, with the church, if we went non-compliant with that most hallowed practice of the group’s particular religious code? It could be church attendance, baptism, recomittment, bible study or all the above. It really doesn’t matter as long as you believe that anything you could do might  currie favor with God.

The degree to which we fear the penalty is the degree to which we are imprisoned. The lie that imprisons us is thinking we could ever cling tight enough to secure ourselves to the root. We cannot sustain in our own strength what God has miraculously done in His. We can’t sustain with works what began in grace. Just ask the Galatians. Paul called them foolish.

What is the Christian life, then, if it is not working out right and wrong in fear and trembling, always uncertain about the then penalty? Isn’t this the fear of God? These are the dead end questions of religious bondage. The only escape plan that has ever worked is abiding.

We must abide in order to draw life from the root. Abide simply means to remain in, to continue in, to dwell in. To illustrate abiding, I am going to draw upon Wayne Jacobson. He is working with the Father to set captives free. He exposes the if-then and the we-must-cling myths for the damning lies they are. Listen to this paragraph from his book, He Loves Me:

“He loves me. He loves me not… He loves me. He loves me not. A little girl stands in the backyard chanting as she plucks petals one by one from the daisy and drops them to the ground. At games end, the last petal tells all: whether or not the person desired returns the affection” (From Chapter 1: “Daisy Petal Christianity”).

This picture seems innocent, but the child has been bitten by a cobra. Its venom, mingling with the child’s insecurity, does its work. It produces an alternating conscience driven by fear. In He Loves Me, Jacobson exposes the bite and provides the anti-venom. He exposes the myth that God’s feelings about us change when our sin management failsHe makes a clear case: we were not designed to cling—we were designed to abide. Abiding is not clinging. It is simply remaining and continuing at rest in the gift of God’s initial grafting. It means that, with each petal plucked, we voice the refrain: “He loves me. He loves me. He loves me. He loves me.”

Color and fragrance return when we are liberated from religion. As we rest in God’s love our identities are sealed. We start to see who we actually are. We are His with zero outstanding debts. Free of the backbreaking burden of trying to please God, we are now free to enjoy the gift—Christ in us, the hope of glory. We can return to childlike innocence where we too know, “God loves me!”

Father, let this be the day and the hour that you put your foot on religion’s neck. Expose every place this spirit has its claws in us. Liberate us from the constriction of works-oriented religion. Where evil has abounded in this way, let grace abound all the more. Clarify to our deepest selves that, in your love, there is zero basis for fear. Let us walk among the religious captives. May they hear our song. May the earth be shaken. May the captives finally go free. So be it.


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