“Transactionalism” is the belief that if I do this thing, then God will do that thing. It says that if I do the right things, then God will do the thing I want him to do.
That’s how a lot of people understand religion, understand the nature of God. If I do this, then God does that.
And it’s why a lot of people are eager to be told what to do to get the favor that they want, that they need. That’s what they’re looking for from the Bible, from Christianity: they want to know the rules. What are the things that I need to do to get the reward I want?
That reward might be heaven after they die. Or it might be a peaceful life in the here and now. Or “enough” money (or “just a little more”). Or the perfect relationship.
If we do the right things, if we choose this and shun that, if we hold our mouth just right, God will give us that thing.
That’s remarkable fertilizer. That’s the generous product that comes from the south end of a north-bound steer.
Jesus was clear: we’re the treasure (the coin, the sheep, the son) that he’s come looking for, to draw to himself. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Before we did all the things.
Now don’t get me wrong. There are still consequences for our actions. Just not with God.
If I make stupid choices, then stupid consequences are mine. And sometimes other people make stupid choices that also affect how my life goes. But in all that, God is still with me. And not because I did the things that satisfy his requirements.
Yeah, free will is real. I really do have the power to screw up my life. So do you. But we do not have the power to manipulate God to do what I want.