The confusion between love and approval can begin at an early age, through discipline, or through a lack of genuine displays of affection. People generally feel more loved when we’re being praised. It takes intentionality to show that we love when we disapprove, and to not withdraw signs of love when we disapprove.
These feelings towards love, approval, and disapproval get transferred to our feelings towards God. This can lead to people feeling God is punishing them, testing them, or teaching them something any time something bad happens. Confusing love and approval can prevent you from resting in grace.
Instead of jumping to anxiety and assumptions in the face of pain or discomfort – instead of viewing pains as enemies – we should view them as opportunities to know God more. The only thing we should “assume” in a painful situation is that it is painful and we need God.
God is often accused of working in transactional relationships, but He does not. So what is a transactional relationship? Let’s look at some examples:
A child will often do something to get praise from their parents
A child might settle simply for attention from their actions
These interactions can never bring satisfaction because there will always be another “task” to be done, or eventually, an interaction will not go the way you want, which means you don’t get approval, which means all your “hard work” goes unrecognized.
Transactional relationships create a very unhealthy way to nurture who we are. It “feeds” a desire in us, like caffeine can “feed” our desire for sleep while depriving our body of the rest it needs
Transactional relationships bring “control” into a relationship. People try to control through their transactions, through their performance. It puts an unhealthy, critical eye on everyone else’s actions
Transactional relationships are often the subject of jokes and sitcom plots. While this makes funny television, unfortunately it “normalizes” transactional relationships.
Look at them as “economic relationships”. You would spend a set amount of money on an item at the store. You have performed a just transaction, involving expections, even exchange, etc. This is great for business, but utterly destructive for human relations.
The ideas of transactional relationships get planted early on in our helpless state as babies. All we know is what we feel, and that we are utterly dependent upon others. So we express displeasure at our circumstances until those circumstances change (hungry, hurt, tired, needing a diaper changed, etc). While it is good and healthy to indulge these “expressions of displeasure” on behalf of helpless babies, the nature of our nurturing relationships must change over time, and certainly once we receive the Holy Spirit of God.
Grace utterly destroys transaction. It is totally undeserved. It is the New Order of the Kingdom of God. It takes care of our mistakes, but doesn’t necessarily force our hearts to want anything. Some people don’t want grace, because it forces us to give something up. In a marriage context, I can do things that hurt or offend my wife, through impatience, aggravation, etc. But there is still love in the relationship. Our hearts still desire each other and our relationship. I have “sinned” by simply performing an act that was hurtful. However, once my heart starts wandering to others, now I have compromised the very fabric of the relationship. I no longer desire my wife or my relationship. It’s not a matter of “missing the mark”, now my heart is inclined towards other things. This directly applies to our relationship with God, and the relationship with sin and iniquity. A transactional relationship rarely gets to the point of the desires of the heart, and merely measures everything on a surface level looking at performance, while the true desires of the heart never get fulfilled, dispite how successful the transactions may have been.
Many people remain “fussing babies” complaining to try to get what they want. This is generally because of pain, or a vow, or never surrendering to God and being vulnerable. Once we are ingrained in this way of relating, we subject ourselves to imagined abuses. We turn every relationship into an abusive relationship, with ourselves as the victims of the abuse. It becomes a constant state of living in expectations, where those expectations are rarely verbalized, and rarely met, so we always feel wronged or slighted or unloved, dispite all our efforts to receive love. We will constantly misinterpret the words and actions of those around us, which simply sets them up to fail. So now we are every day experiencing “abuse” at the hands of people who are not abusing us.
God interacts through unconditional love. God loved us while we were still sinners. God told us to do all things out of love, and Jesus did that. So even things that He did that do not look “loving” (using whips, insulting pharisees, rebuking Peter, confronting crowds with bold questions, expressing impatience at people’s sin and doubt), these acts were in fact done out of love. Even when God’s wrath abides on us, it is love. The clear and distinct choice between Heaven and hell is a loving choice. They are not similar. There is no need to do a “cost/benefit analysis”. The choices are clear and entirely different.
Our relationship with God shouldn’t be one of trying to discern the task God wants us to do. He wants us to abide in His Grace. He wants us to know Him. He wants us to love. He knows that we are made of dust, that we are weak and sinful – this is what grace is for.
God sets out a way for us to live. This can bring blessing, but can also bring suffering. Jesus lived perfectly and suffered immensely. Obedience to God is not a transaction to get you what you desire. God does not work in transaction, but satan does. His kingdom is designed around them. He makes false promises, he amplifies offenses, he tempts us to arrange the whole universe around our desires and comfort. If God was transactional in His relationships, Hebrews 11 would look very different.
Transactional relationships are a trap of satan. There is no fulfillment or freedom there. There is only an endless striving to feed a bottomless hole of pain. Only grace and cover that wound. Only the healing power of the Spirit can set us free.
For more information about transactional relationships, please see the book “Love: No Strings Attached” by Rich Buhler
Josh Garrels – Burden Down www.joshgarrels.com
Brian Morykon – Prodigal Son http://music.morykon.com/
This episode originally broadcast live on August 14, 2015 on KXEN 1010AM in St. Louis, MO
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