If you would have asked me in the past if I could earn God's love and approval, I would have told you no. I would have quoted you Romans 5:8 and Titus 3:5 and declared that God's love is a free gift. But it wasn't until a few years ago that I really began to believe that on an emotional level.
I think the way I grew up affected my ability to understand the things of God. In a lot of ways I was blessed growing up because my family believed in God and I went to church. I was also blessed because my father did love me and try to be a good father. He was just limited by his own life experiences and did not know how to express that love. I can not remember a time that he ever told me that he loved me, or a time when he ever complimented me about anything. So I always felt lacking growing up. I always wanted to somehow earn my father's love and approval; I was always striving to obtain something that I never perceived myself receiving.
On some level, all of these things transferred onto God. I spent years and years when, although I was not conscious of it, I was trying to earn God's love and approval. But over time the Holy Spirit used the Bible, people He brought into my life, and books by godly men and women to make the truth of God's unconditional love and approval real for me.
Today I can rest in the fact that of course I do not deserve God's love one bit, yet He gives it to me any way. I can extend grace to other people when they mess up, because I'm ever conscious of the grace that's been extended to me.
Sometimes I think people worry that if they stress God's love too much, that Christians will just engage in lazy, sloppy, living. A friend of mine, after I'd loaned her the book The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennen Manning (one of those books that God totally used to help me see His love for me in a new way), asked me - but what about obedience? I tried to explain to her that as we grow in our grasp of His immense love for us, obedience comes. We won't have to force ourselves to "do" the "right things", because we grow in our desire to want to do whatever this wonderful, loving, God asks.
What about you, do you find it easy to accept God's love? Have you ever struggled with feeling like you had to earn God's love?