The Transactional Gospel vs. Unconditional Love

*I rarely share my podcast transcripts, but this episode felt too important not to share the whole thing*


Friends, this episode in many ways represents a core piece of my own faith journey. While I don’t expect everyone to agree with my conclusions, I do hope you’ll feel my intention which is simply to share my story of how upgrading my beliefs about God and the Gospel has changed my heart for the better.

To begin I want to share an experience that profoundly marked my life.

In the summer of 2000 I spent my first of many summers, working at a lodge in Grand Teton National Park. Because it is a National Park full of wide open space it’s much darker at night without any city lights. It makes for some amazing night skies but also some increased danger if you are driving. You have to be alert and aware of many kinds of wild life that could cross the road at any moment. Deer, elk, moose, bears, coyotes, antelope, and especially Buffalo. This was their habitat after all, and we were the guests.

One late night my cousin was driving us back to the lodge after a fun night in the town an hour away. It was pitch black outside. We were part way through the park wilderness talking and laughing as we travelled when she suddenly slammed hard on her breaks. We went from 55 miles an hour to zero in just enough time to see through the headlights the fur of a massive 2000 lb Buffalo brushing across the hood of her car. Time stood still and we were both left breathless. There was no physical impact. The buffalo continued his trek across the road, leaving us with panicked and pounding hearts. Had she braked a single second later we would surely be dead.

After a stunning silence of amazement, the first words out of her mouth were, “It wasn’t me that pushed the brake. I didn’t see it until we were stopped.”

The rest of the drive back was full of shock as I processed the adrenaline and emotions that came from seeing my life flash before my eyes and knowing the only reason we were still alive was divine intervention. Why were we spared? Why had some unseen force pushed the brake? It obviously wasn’t our time to die, but my mind immediately went to work trying to figure out why.

As my cousin and I talked through this miracle that had just occurred, I made the comment that this blessing must be because I paid my tithing, or because I had been active in church, or I had been living righteously enough to deserve it. In my mind that was how blessings worked. By doing certain good deeds I was earning certain rewards or blessings.

My cousin immediately and firmly rejected such a thought. She said, “No. It doesn’t work that way. This miracle has nothing to do with how righteous we are.”

My reasoning for this miracle is what is called the transactional Gospel. Believing that God rewards and punishes us based on our behavior and compliance.

I have believed the transactional Gospel for most of my life. I wasn’t consciously aware of it of course, but on some level I operated on this understanding. How many times have I heard someone comment on a blessing in someone’s life by saying, “you must be living right.”? In other words, “you earned this blessing by your righteousness.”

This belief can bring confusion and a lot of judgement when I do all the things to live a righteous life and still don’t have the blessings I want. Maybe it’s marriage, or being able to have children, or the perfect job, or health, or a happy Homelife, or financial stability, or any other righteous and desirable blessing I’m hoping to be deserving enough for.

Ultimately, the culminating way this has reached its peak in my faith, is that I have inadvertently believed I can save myself by being righteous enough. Of course, in theory I would say Jesus saves me by grace, but that’s not what my subconscious actually believed. It’s quite shocking to me to look at my life and see how many of my actions have been motivated by this idea of a rewards system that I’m trying to keep score and stay on top of so I can earn my way to heaven. I just need to do the right things, answer the right questions, get the right ordinances, and endure to the end. Complete the checklist so I can insure my salvation.

In the past few years I have been thrust into an unexpected faith journey. One by one I have begun to consciously examine my beliefs and ask myself if I want to still keep a specific belief or not. Choosing to let go of some beliefs has been deeply painful, yet one of the good fruits of this inventory has been the opening of my own heart and mind into a beautiful expansion of faith. At this point, I am using my agency to choose for myself what I want to believe and who I really believe God to be. My filter has been the question, “Does this help me love God with all my heart, might, mind, and strength? Does this help me love my neighbor as myself?” If it does, then I keep it. If it doesn’t, then I work through the process of letting it go.

Through this journey, the buffalo miracle conversation has played regularly in my mind. Though it has taken me more than twenty years to see it, I now believe my cousin was right. I do not believe we earned that miracle through any of our righteous actions.

This transactional Gospel belief is not what I want to put my faith in anymore. I have finally realized I can’t earn my way to heaven no matter how much good I do and I’m tired of trying. This doesn’t mean I don’t want to be good anymore, it means I’m tired of doing good for selfish reasons. I’m tired of feeling like I have to earn God’s love. I’m also tired of believing heaven comes only after I die and that all those eternal rewards I’m supposed to be saving up for only come in the next life. I do believe in life after death, but it’s becoming more and more important to me to believe in life BEFORE death.

Can I experience heaven now?
Jesus taught us “the kingdom of heaven is within you.” That doesn’t sound future tense or far away.

Can I experience experience Zion with all of humanity right now?

In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus taught us to pray ” thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” He later prays that we “may be one” as He and His Father are one. That doesn’t sound future tense either. I believe he is inviting us to live this way now and experience this now.

The transactional gospel functions best when I am future thinking. Just like a bank account, I’m continually investing and saving for my future so I can enjoy it later. It’s not financially wise to spend everything now. I need to save up for the coming day. Yet, Jesus taught us to “take no thought for the morrow.” I believe what he is inviting us to do is to live in the present. Don’t let your actions be solely for a future transaction. Live now. Have joy now. The kingdom of heaven is within you, now.

Unfortunately, when I treat God and the Gospel like a transactional bank account, I’m living for the future. Too often, the future I’m living for is after I’m dead.

The parable of the talents gives great insight into the spirit of this transactional gospel. The master gathers his servants and gives one 5 talents, another 2, and another 1. Talents are a form of currency. The servant who received the single talent went and buried it in the ground. He put it away for a future day. Perhaps he was storing it up to make sure he would have his reward later and not lose it. In contrast, the servants who received the 5 and 2 talents went and spent them! Yes! They stimulated the economy! They didn’t put them away for a future day. They spent them through trade and earned more. In effect, they lived in the present and experienced the joy their master had given them in the here and now. When the master returned they had not only grown their money but grown their souls.

How often have I practiced religion like the single talent servant and buried it away for a future day? Why am I doing such and such a thing? Because the transactional gospel means I’ll get a blessing for doing it. I do it because I am supposed to or I should do it. I may not see the blessing right now, but I believe it is accumulating in some heavenly bank account. Ultimately, I put it away for my salvation in the next life. In contrast, I also fear if I don’t do it that this heavenly account will depreciate. I fear the depreciation and want the appreciation so I act accordingly.

Unfortunately, too many times my DOING has been motivated by earning something or avoiding something. Now, I’m not a one dimensional person, my life is also full of moments with better intentions, but as I have questioned my beliefs on this faith journey, I see the heavy influence of this transactional gospel mindset and I no longer want this ruling over me.

Now, to be fair, our lives are full of transactions. If I eat healthy and move my body I want to earn the reward of physical health. If I practice the piano every day for years I want to earn the skill of being a great pianist. We absolutely live in a cause and effect world world.


When I treat relationships as transactional, love becomes conditional. I’m acting in my ego and miss the depth and breadth of love I could experience otherwise. It becomes all about me. What reward do I get in return, or what punishment do I avoid in return? I also miss the breadth of having a fullness of agency. How much choice do I really have if I am choosing from a place of fear of punishment? Not that much.

A few months ago on the podcast I talked about the Law of Moses–which by the way, easily becomes a transactional gospel—It’s an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

This particular phrase is focusing on punishments, but the same applies for rewards. It’s a gospel where God’s justice is based on what is deserved. Good is rewarded and bad is punished. This means I do good to deserve good or perhaps I do good to avoid punishment. Both can be quite motivating.

What I’m personally trying to come to terms with right now is the condition of my own heart. And the condition of my heart has everything to do with who I believe God is. Is God transactional? Is God in the business of rewards and punishments? Or is God in the business of unconditional love and allowing us to learn by experience ?

Scripture will support either version of God. There’s plenty of scriptures available to cause me to believe God is transactional. Even the concept of heaven and hell is tied to punishment and reward. This is why it was so life changing for me to read Adam Millers book, Original Grace, in which he redefines justice. I did a few episodes on this, which I’ll link in the shownotes, but in summary, he shows how the belief in original sin creates a God who defines justice by asking the question, “What is deserved?” However, shifting to a belief in original grace reveals a God who defines justice by asking the question, “What is needed”?

Jesus clarified God’s justice in his own ministry when he taught us the most important command of all is love. To love God with all our heart might mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourself. And–this next part is important–He said all other laws hangs upon this command to love. In other words, all other laws are subservient to the law of love. This changes everything.

With love as the governing law of the universe, what matters most to God is the condition of my heart. It’s no longer about a checklist of do’s and dont’s. It’s about whether or not I am currently in a state of love. If I’m not, then God’s justice requires them to ask “What is needed?” Specifically, what is needed for me to be restored to love again and feel love and be love once again? Justice becomes all about restoring love.

This is a very different view of God than the God who gives out punishment or reward based on our actions.
It’s a very different view of God than the God who withdraws love, connection, and acceptance based on our actions.
It’s a very different view of God than the God who teaches that personal worthiness is something that could ever be in question.

But here is my biggest reason for letting this transactional belief go…

If I believe God is transactional then I will be transactional.
If however, I believe that God is unconditional love then I will have more unconditional love for myself and others.

Can I say that again?

If I believe God is transactional then I will be transactional.
If however, I believe that God is unconditional love then I will have more unconditional love for myself and others.

The word unconditional becomes uncomfortable in the transactional gospel mindset because the transactional gospel is all about conditions. It is built on what you earn or deserve. And … it fosters constant judgement. Because of all the conditions in place I will be in constant judgment of myself. Am I good enough for a reward or not good enough? I will be in constant judgment of others–are their actions deserving of salvation? Of love? Of acceptance? or are they NOT? The transactional conditions put the focus not on the heart but on whatever evidence I can find for judging what I think is deserved.

Many people would say the reason we should follow any of the individual commandments is to become like God. But when I do it from a transactional motivation, I’m not that different from Lucifer, who in the book of Abraham, volunteered to come to earth as a Savior if he could be rewarded in the end with all God’s glory. He was going to earn and deserve that reward. Am I not doing the same thing when I check all the boxes and do my duties just so I can make it to the Celestial Kingdom of Heaven and receive my degree of glory too?

In that same account, Jesus Christ has a different motivation to volunteer as Savior. He wasn’t concerned about earning or deserving. He was motivated by love. The love of God and the love of humanity. Lucifer wanted what he believed he deserved. Jesus asked what was needed.

In a recent podcast interview with Robert Edward Grant, he said, “What if the reason we came here is not to get better at judgement, but to learn how to transcend it? We’re here to learn love and how to be loved. It’s just those two things. I don’t think it’s more complex than that. It’s beautiful in and of itself.”

The transactional gospel paradigm creates countless conditions to our salvation and worth, which fosters constant judgement of self and others. Again, What if the reason we came here is not to get better at judgement, but to learn how to transcend it?
Can I choose to love myself even when I’m not my best self?
Can I choose to love someone else even when they are not their best self?
Essentially, can I choose to love even when someone does not “deserve” it?

What happens to me when I do this? In my own experience, I’m learning that what happens is my heart and my mind expand and I get a taste of what true grace is. I learn what true Christ like love really is. This love is beyond the level of transaction. It does indeed invite me to transcend judgement and conditional love into something far better and more holy.

Contrary to how all this may sound, my intent is not to say that the transaction gospel is bad or wrong. Instead, I believe it to be developmental. Even if my obedience begins from a place of fear or reward, eventually, I need to move beyond earning and deserving. My heart needs to change from transaction to unconditional love. I also need to progress from seeing God as transactional to seeing God as unconditionally lovingly abundant.

Elder Dieter Uchtdorf beautifully sheds light on this abundant view of God saying,

Part of our challenge is we imagine God has all of His blessings locked in a huge cloud up in heaven, refusing to give them to us unless we comply with some strict, paternalistic requirements He has set up. In reality, [God] is constantly raining blessings upon us. It is our fear, doubt, and sin that, like an umbrella, block these blessings from reaching us.”

In other words, God is not a transactional God. God is no respecter of persons and is raining blessings on us all. The just and the unjust. The righteous and the unrighteous. The sun shines on us all. The rain falls on us all. We can block ourselves from receiving those blessings, but they are always there nonetheless. It is up to is to close the umbrella.

My current solution to help me move out of the transactional view of God and into an unconditional love and grace view of God has everything to do with who I personally believe God to be. Getting to this point has required me to let go of any beliefs or practices that don’t support this view and choose for myself what I want to believe.

So… who do I personally believe the real God is? As it implies, if I believe there is a real God, I also believe there is a false God. I’ve known both.

It’s hard for me to love a God who is punishing.
It’s hard to love a God who is constantly evaluating what I deserve.
It’s hard to love a God who doesn’t want to be with me now or in the next life because I’m not worthy enough, good enough, or obedient enough.
It’s hard for me to love a God who doesn’t want me to ask questions or think outside the box or use my agency in ways that feel correct for me.
It’s hard to love a God who favors some individuals or types of people over others.
It’s hard to love a God who is secret or hidden.
It’s hard to love a God who is exclusive in who owns truth or who gets saved or who gets revelation…
Honestly, I’m afraid of that God and don’t want to connect with this God. I will never feel fully loved and accepted by this God and will always question my worth and if I’m good enough. This is a false God to me. In fact, this is also the very definition of a toxic parent!

So who do I believe is the real God?

To me…

The real God is both a Divine Father and Divine Mother.

They are omni-present. I believe our connection to God is constant and unconditional. They are always there. I don’t believe they withdraw the moment we sin. To me, omni-presence means they are always with us no matter what. Their presence is unconditional. I can close my mind and heart so I don’t feel Their presence, but it doesn’t mean I was abandoned and deserted because of my unrighteousness. They are always present in us and around us.

I believe The real God is just. I believe God’s beautiful justice is not about asking what is deserved, rather it is asking what is needed. And what is needed is always whatever brings us back into love with Them.

I believe The real God is no respecter of persons. This means all are equal in Their site. Black and white, bond and free, male and female. Rich and poor. Every age, race, gender, or orientation. God loves all equally. All are entitled to unique personal revelation and blessings.

I believe The real God is a God of truth. They don’t lie. They don’t act in secret or hide. They are trustworthy and open and unchanging.

I believe The real God is a God of mercy. They expect our weakness and mistakes and freely forgive because they value agency and want us to learn through our experiences, both good and bad.

I believe The real God is love. This is the essence of who They are. Beautiful constant and unconditional love and support for all people as we choose right AND as we choose wrong.

When I start to see God’s nature as this type of being, wow! This God is someone I can’t help but Love with all my heart, might, mind and strength. This is a God I want to worship and be with.

In the transaction paradigm I nearly always judge myself as undeserving of love and acceptance because I am not yet perfect. And yet in the Unconditional love paradigm, I always deserve love simply because I exist and because Love is the governing law of the universe.

When I feel Their unconditional love and acceptance of me–warts and all– it changes me. It is such a contrast from the transactional experience that it feels like the greatest gift I could ever receive. It’s mind-blowing. I can’t help but want to offer that same unconditional love and acceptance to others. This is who God really is to me, because the fruit of it is so much better than the fruits of constant judgement that transaction brings.

What would our worship be like if we got a steady dose of hearing about who God really is? What if we were constantly told how much God loves us? And not just how much God loves us, but that they ALWAYS love us? No matter what. Unconditionally.

We probably wouldn’t have to be commanded in all things but would be anxiously engaged in a good cause.
We’d probably stop judging each other because we ourselves wouldn’t feel constantly judged by God.
We’d probably start loving each other because we would feel so loved by God.

As John said, “We love Him because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

When I start to believe in this God, and believe Jesus when He says the kingdom of Heaven is within you, when I start to believe that Heaven can be here on earth now, when I believe that my love and acceptance from God can be now–even before I’m perfect, and even in my struggles and weakness–this is a God I want to worship and be with.

The amazing fruit of this paradigm shift, is that as soon I stop seeing God and the Gospel as a transactional relationship, I also stop treating other relationships in my life as transactions as well. I stop keeping score in my marriage and parenting. I stop viewing the government and my community through the lens of what is deserved? I start to see everything in present tense. I live for love now, and build Zion now. I ask what is needed because the transaction no longer matters.

The only status that matters is whether or not I am currently in a state of love.
The only status that matters is whether or not I am currently in a state of love.

If not, I ask what is needed to feel and BE restored to love. No wonder Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount was so revolutionary. He took the transactional Gospel belief of earning blessings and taught a higher way which was entirely focused on your state of being.

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.

7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus radically changes the paradigm for blessings. These blessings are 100% based on your state of being. Your alignment. It’s your heart. And every one of those blessed states are a form of love. Not once does he pair these blessings as transactions. And did you catch those blessings?

They include heaven, and seeing God, and receiving mercy and comfort and inheriting the earth! Those are the grandest blessings there are! And he’s teaching us these blessings come from your beingness. Not your doing. But goodness do we flip this around! It’s easier for the logical mind to put a formula to everything, so we quickly revert right back to transactional thinking. If I Do this then I can Get that.

At some point, we have to move beyond the mind and work on the heart. We must work on our ability to BE love and put the umbrella down. When we are BEING love the doing takes care of itself. It naturally flows into our actions.

If being in love was the only thing we worked on it would be enough. The gospel is far more simple than we make it out to be.

When I am being love I want stay in love. It’s such a glorious place that when I depart my soul longs to return. I’m trying to become faster at those returns so that I’m spending more time in love than I am elsewhere.

I used to say my ultimate goal was to make it to heaven in the next life. I’ve swapped my goal. The very nature of that statement now feels transactional to me. To “make it” means I’ve earned it or deserved it. It’s also saving my joy for the next life after I’m dead. Let me spend my talents now instead of burying them away. Let me experience heaven now. Let me believe in a God that is worth loving.

My new ultimate goal is to feel the divine love of God.

In Lehi’s dream found in the Book of Mormon, this goal would be symbolized as tasting of the fruit of the tree of life. To taste of God’s love. This can happen today. It can happen everyday. It’s not striving for a future reward or earning some future glory. It’s simply being present and aligning with love.

This shift has been the most fundamental shift of my spiritual life. I’m still in the transition and I still relapse sometimes into transactional thinking but I am noticing it. I’m also getting glimpses of the higher way, and even just having a taste of the higher way is enough to motivate me to do whatever it takes to have more. I’m hungry for it. No wonder the moment Lehi tasted of the fruit, he wanted others to experience it too. He didn’t save it for the future. He immediately wanted to share it.

This is the ultimate goal of my life right now. To move out of transaction and into unconditional love. All I want is to live at the tree.

I believe…
God and the Gospel are not transactional.

I believe…
God and the Gospel—the Good News— are unconditional love and grace.

For so long I believed differently. I couldn’t fully experience the gospel as “good news” because I lived with an underlying anxiety of questioning whether or not I was good enough or doing enough to EARN and DESERVE my reward.

I still vividly remember the moment that I let go of putting my faith in transaction. The words “Just be love, Brooke. This is enough.” In that moment, I understood for the first time what “good news” felt like to me. It was as if all the pressure lifted. I was okay. I was enough just as I was. Right now. With all my weakness and shadow and mistakes and flaws and parts that need healing. This is what salvation feels like.

My heart wanted to burst with love to God because this version of the Gospel felt so full of grace. It was so loving. Mind blowing loving. Paradigm shifting loving. And all of the sudden I also had room in my heart to love all the rest of the people in the world as well. Just as they are. No conditions. If I could be loved by God without earning it, I could love others without them having to earn it as well.

“What if the reason we came here is not to get better at judgement, but to learn how to transcend it?”

I believe we’re here to learn how to be love, simply because that is who God is and by design who we are as well. We’re here to learn how to be ourselves…which is love.

Just be love. This is enough.

God is love.
God is love.
God is love.
Unconditional love.

See it.
Say it.
Feel it.
Do it.
Become it.

You are a creator. Now go create something great.

2 Responses

  1. This is really lovely and inspiring. Have you heard of Square Two?
    You may want to consider publishing this on there. You have valuable thoughts and perspective to add to the mainstream theological views in the church.

  2. Thank you so much for this insight! This has given me a deeper and clearer understanding of the meditation “I Love and Accept You”

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