In the four Gospels, Jesus talks about forsaking all, giving up everything, not laying up treasures on earth and being willing to walk away from even your own life. First Corinthians 13:3 says, “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” Unless the motivation behind the sacrifices we make is love—unselfish and genuinely motivated by God and His grace—our sacrifice profits nothing.
The teachings laid out in books such as True Discipleship need to be balanced by those presented in books such as Grace Awakening. The church at Ephesus made great sacrifices, worked hard and endured difficult times. But the Lord said to them, “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent” (Revelation 2:4–5). He said this simply because they had lost the reason for all the sacrifice and work; they had lost their first love—Jesus.
One of the marks of people who serve God with great sacrifice, but without the inner reality of grace and love, is that they criticize and condemn others, putting them down and finding fault. They look at others’ houses and think something is wrong with them for living in such wealth or squalor. They look at their clothes. They look at their kids. They compare and complain and murmur, despising people who may not even have the so-called “deeper life,” or revelations and gifts of the Holy Spirit that they have.
The older son in Luke 15 was much like this. While the younger brother was squandering the father’s wealth with wild living, he was laboring in the field as a full-time worker, sweating away. He was not wasting his father’s money. But he was full of jealousy, anger and bitterness. He had a condemning and unloving spirit. He imagined that his younger brother had done all sorts of wicked sins, such as living with prostitutes, all of which the younger brother may have actually never done. He accused his father. I can imagine him saying, “How can you claim that you are my father and that you love me? I’ve been with you all these years, and you haven’t ever given me a party. Yet my wicked brother returns, and look what you do for him.”
This attitude is the fruit of legalism and Phariseeism. It is sacrifice combined with a hard, unloving heart, and it is no good. That is why it is so important to keep a balance between living a life of sacrifice and extending grace and love to all.