What does God put first, our behaviour or relationship?

Unique to Christianity is the belief that humans can have an affectionate relationship with God. God is “Abba, Father” in Galatians 4:6, which is like calling God ‘Papa’, or ‘Pops.’

Calling God Papa, however, would be close to blasphemous for some people because God, to them, is not like a Dad who enjoys his kids. God expects his children to behave. Proper respect and submission, they say, are what God requires if one hopes to gain his favour.

I used to think that too, so it was surprising to read in Romans 5:8 that God loved us “while we were yet sinners.” So it isn’t behaviour that comes first in God’s dealings with us, it’s relationship.

With that in mind I wondered what would happen if I put relationship first in dealing with my own children. It would mean loving them no matter how they behaved, or how badly they messed up. But what if they caught on that they’re loved – even at their worst – and they exploited it to slack off, or as the Bible says, they turned “grace into license?”

Well, yes, that’s the risk I’d have to take, but isn’t that the risk God took with me? He loved me while I was yet a sinner, when my behaviour was at its worst.

Which faced me with the question, “What do I really want from my children?” Is it their best behaviour I’m after, or a relationship? Is it children I can feel proud of, or children who call me ‘Dad’ with affection?

If it’s an affectionate relationship I’m after, then I know how God won my affection. He did it by loving me to death for nothing more than being me. It was strange getting used to a God like that, because religion had taught me that God only loves and favours those who behave. But if love worked on me, why not on my children?

So I made it obvious to my children that they don’t have to live up to my expectations to be loved. There is no need for them to impress me, no demands they must fulfill to win my favour, no hoping for 100% on a report card to make me “really” happy with them, no pressure to make me feel proud of them, and no condemnation when they messed up. I wanted them to feel free to strike out on life knowing they were loved no matter what.

And twenty years later, sitting on our front deck with all my children and their extras around me having a great time together, I thank our Abba Father for teaching me it’s relationship that comes first, not behaviour.


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