love :: a transaction or a gift

Feb 14, 2014

She began with a story. Within her story a brief church history lesson…

The church started in Palestine as a fellowship. Then moved to Greece as a philosophy. Then Rome as an institution. Finally to the West as an enterprise. –Ann Voskamp


photo credit

Most people tune out the topics: church, history, and especially church history.

But Ann continued, using the perspective of a little girl in the story, she pointed out the church started as a body of believers (fellowship) and is now a business (enterprise).

“When a body becomes a business, isn’t that prostitution?” she asked.


Suddenly she has our attention. Did Ann Voskamp just say “prostitution”? And now she keeps saying it.

Her goal was not shock-and-awe (okay maybe a little shock). She wanted to address how we approach God.

Is God/Jesus only useful to me? A tool to make life better? Am I a Jesus-user or adorer? Is my relationship with God a business transaction?  -Ann Voskamp

If you do ____, God, then I’ll do ____.

If I see love as a transaction, then I think my works earn His love. Striving in my own strength to please Him.

She went on to point out even my most righteous acts–hours of quiet time, reading His word, prayer, serving others–would never be enough to gain the holy love He shows us.

“all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).

Because (thankfully) God’s love equation is not a transaction, but a gift. 

His perfect love is one-way grace.

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ —
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 2:4, 5, 8, 9 NIV)

Once I let this sink in, my mind moves to reality. To my day-to-day living.

If you were a fly on the wall in the MacFadyen home, then you would see I often treat God’s love as a transaction. I approach my other relationships the same way. Specifically the boys…

If you behave, then I will give you positive attention.

If you clean up your toys, then I will congratulate you.

If you___, then I will show love.

That’s transactional parenting, not grace-based. 

Since Ann’s shocking yet insightful prostitution, church history lesson, my eyes have opened to True Love.

This week when I open the Bible, His gift of unconditional love glares.

His love has no end: 

“Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.” Psalm 36:5

He gave His only son to show me love:

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

He is love: 

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8

If His love has no end and is sacrificial, then shouldn’t I love in the same way, based on this…?

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12

So, thank you Ann, for being bold with your words. To wake me up to my perverse approach to loving God and others.

Today, Valentine’s Day, may I begin to understand how to give love freely, without conditions, in the same way God loves (through the power of His Spirit). Amen.


Do you view love as a transaction or a gift? What are practical ways we can give love to our kids, not based on performance? 

(Would honestly love your ideas as I’m fleshing out this idea in my daily living.)


  1. Heather H.

    wow. I’ve been thinking along the same lines here in our home as we’ve been learning about honor – both in honoring God and honoring people created in his image. I was struck this last week about how the opposite of honor is self-centeredness. And then it hit me that much of my parenting in recent months has been out of selfishness. Not that what I’ve been expecting or teaching has been bad, but my motives and heart weren’t in the right place which meant that the results were stagnant, reluctant obedience on their part and demands and impatience on mine. Fellowship thrives in the mutual giving.

    We are focusing as a family on Romans 12:10 “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” My competitive boys are loving the challenge and since they get their competitiveness equally from their parents, we ALL are delighting in asking God to reveal ways that we can serve and love each other just as God has so extravagantly loved us.

    • Heather MacFadyen

      So much goodness in this comment Heather. Thank you so much for sharing. LOVE the idea of focusing on a truth from God’s word on the topic. We are big in talking about honor around here too. Have you ever read a Turansky book? Love how they define “honor” as treating others as special and going above and beyond what’s expected. Don’t know how many times a day I repeat those phrases! hope to see you soon!!

  2. Heather H.

    hahaha… Yes, I’m actually in the middle of it. It’s my “mommy reading” assignment for our unit on HONOR. 🙂

  3. Kelley Mathews

    So sorry I missed meeting you in Austin at IF. I met a number of FaithVillage bloggers but didn’t realize you would be there. Ann’s analogy was so powerful – probably the most shocking (& therefore memorable) one. And now you come along and apply it to parenting… ouch! But, thanks. Where else do I live my faith the most but at home w/my family. Where else am I going to have the strongest influence but at home? Where else can I express the grace of Christ the most… but at home? Good word, Heather!

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