Lenten Devotional: Unconditional Love? by Frances Jones


Over this Lenten season, the Spiritual Formation team at First Presbyterian Church in Bend put a call out to all to submit writings for a Lenten Devotional. I will do my best to post those here daily. You can also go to our website and access all of the devotions on a pdf file.

Here is the next submission:

UNCONDITIONAL LOVE?

Jesus died on the cross. And yes, his atoning sacrifice erases our sins backward and forward into infinity. But was that sacrificial act one of unconditional love, really?

When a lawyer asked Jesus to name the greatest commandment, Jesus gathered the prophets’ exhortations and the Ten Commandments into two sentences—”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:40). Those words are nicely said, but they are instructions on behavior. Even more alarming, Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Can love be unconditional if, when we accept it, we are told we must love God and our neighbor, and moreover, be perfect?

Paul says in a variety of ways that if we simply respond with faith to Christ’s love we will be transformed. He writes in Colossians 3 about our being “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” and says to “clothe ourselves with love.” But Paul gets to the crux of responding to Christ’s love in verse 15 when he says, “Be thankful.”

My friend, Gracie, told me a story about being saved and how she felt about her savior. She lived in an Eskimo village on the Kuskokwim River. She said, “In springtime we have to be careful. Sometimes river ice thaws back from the river bank. We can’t go by the river then. It’s dangerous.”

Gracie knew. When she was nine, she had gone out to play along the river. A chunk of river’s edge gave way under her. She slid down the muddy bank and under the ice. The ice curved up and over her. The muddy river bank curved over her. She couldn’t climb that slippery mud to get out.

As she heard water slipping past the ice further out, she listened for cracking and groaning that would mean moving ice. She remembered stories of men trapped as she was, eventually caught by the grinding ice and carried out to sea.

She called and cried until she was hoarse. She slipped down the muddy river bank again and again.

“I was there a long time,” she said. “I was just crying. A boy came past and heard me. He got a rope and pulled me up.”

Gracie was an adult when she told the story but she had tears in her eyes.

After a while I asked how she had thanked that boy.

She said, “He didn’t want me to do anything.” Quietly she added, “But I remember him. I’ll do anything I ever can for him.”

Her story is our key. Just as the boy asked for no reward, Jesus doesn’t set conditions on what we should do after we’re saved. But, like Gracie, we’re thankful, so how do we express gratitude for such an unspeakable gift of love?

First, since our sins are no longer counted, God sees us perfect through Christ Jesus. No need to perfect ourselves. Paul said for us to understand ourselves as holy and beloved beings and to clothe ourselves in love.

How do we, holy and beloved persons, say “Thank you” to Christ? Why, by putting on love and loving God with all our might, and caring for our neighbor the same way we care for ourselves.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, thank you. Let my life be one of continual thanksgiving for your unspeakable gift of love and salvation. Amen.

–Frances Jones

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