“Don’t move that Bible for me! I don’t get that many chances with God!”
We were headed to lunch when I scooped up my Bible from the passenger seat to clear a spot for the social work intern to sit. Her protests would have amused me, except she seemed in dead earnest. In the ensuing discussion she described her upbringing in a strict Catholic tradition. Her earliest faith memories had stuck, as a perspective of “As long as I don’t mess up and offend God too badly, maybe He will let me into Heaven.” Those early experiences were her only concept of God.
As I thought on this the other day, it occurred to me that all who would consider themselves believers in God seem to relate to Him in one of three ways:
Don’t make God mad.
“Jesus is watching you!”
Often our first consciousness of God is that He knows everything we do, think, or say, and whether we do evil or good. Beyond the consequences for the good choices, we are taught to expect that will have awful consequences for doing bad things. This is the “don’t mess up!” mentality, and it certainly has its place in guiding our choices. Jesus spoke of Hell in the Gospels much more than He spoke of Heaven. Is this the primary principle He wants us to settle on?
Make God happy.
“What would Jesus do?”
This popular phrase seems at first glance to hold the total perspective God wants: evaluate my choices based on what makes God smile, and always try to do the “right thing”. God certainly spends a considerable amount of His Word laying out what is right in His eyes. “Micah 6:8 – He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
But is finding and doing what we think He wants us to do in a given situation the sum of what He is looking for?
“Oh, God, just give me more of You! Whatever it takes, whatever it looks like, wherever it leads me, I must be in You and know that You are in me!”
When our heart’s cry is to be in His presence, to feel Him moving, whether as a mighty rushing wind or a gentle sweet touch of His Spirit — not just around us, but in us and through us — we have come closer to the reason why He came to this earth, indeed, the reason He made man to begin with.
Rather than my words, let’s consider some of His:
Jeremiah 29:13. – And ye shall seek me, and find me , when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
Isaiah 45:15 – Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour.
Proverbs 18:1 – Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom.
The man God called “a man after His mine own heart”, King David, said,
Psalm 27:8 – When thou saidst , Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord , will I seek.
Psalm 27:4 – One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple.
Psalm 42:1 – As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so my soul panteth after thee, O God.
I know, I know, some of you are thinking, “That’s all Old Testament language. Jesus just said “Believe”, right?
What did Jesus say?
Matthew 7:7-8 – Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
Matthew 6:33 – But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Matthew 5:6 – Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Matthew 10:38 – And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
Jesus called us to seek, to find, to give up what holds us back, and to follow.
Beyond what He said, what did he value?
Matthew 13:44-46 – Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hid in a field; the which, when a man hath found, he hideth, and for the joy thereof, goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kindgdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it
A man we know only as the “rich young ruler” came to Jesus with a sincere question of how to obtain eternal life. When he was given the prescription to sell all he had and give to the poor and go follow Jesus, rather than joyfully responding, he went away sorrowful. Jesus remarked how hard it would be for those with many possessions to be saved. (Though this writing is not an exposé on whether or not to have possessions, what I am pointing to is how Jesus clearly values is being at the head of our list of loves.) The next exchange with His disciples went this way:
Mark 10:28-30 – Then Peter said unto him, Lo, we have left all and followed thee. And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or …children, or lands, for my sake, and for the gospel’s but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and…children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come, everlasting life.
I’m not trying to build up a prosperity gospel, either; but in this life, Jesus has shown that He values being sought: no one can say they are seeking Him without first letting go of anything or anyone (at least in their heart – not always physically walking away unless the following demands it) who would come before Him. We are also talking action – not some ethereal, pie-in-the-sky “sense” of seeking God, just in our hearts. He measures love — and seeking — by obedience:
John 14:15 – If ye love me, keep my commandments.
What’s the bottom line?
The ultimate test of what God values is how He portrays each response in the last of all things: the Judgement. Let’s consider…
Don’t make God mad – In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Jesus shows in some detail how the two servants who used what they had to gain more — who risked something — were rewarded with the beautiful response: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant…” But one servant replied, “Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, … And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine” To him the response was, “Thou wicked and slothful servant…” Fear of making his master mad led to inaction, and pronouncement of an even worse outcome than he was trying to avoid by “playing it safe”: “And cast ye the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” So, operating simply in “Don’t make God mad” doesn’t get us where we need to be in the end.
Make God happy: No group of people in Jesus’ teachings could have had a better record of service to Him than those whose accomplishments are listed in Matthew 7:22, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in they name? and in they name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” Wouldn’t those things make God happy? Isn’t that what Jesus would do? His response is unexpected: “And I will profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (v. 23) Wow.
What does it really take to make it, if believing (which they had to do or they would never have done works in His name), doing what Jesus would do, and establishing a list of good deeds we’ve done can’t get us the answer we don’t want at the Judgement? (Jesus certainly isn’t against these things in and of themselves. After all, He said in Matthew 25, “…I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in…”, and those who did so inherited the kingdom. What does He want?)
Know God: Before we look at how this falls out in the Judgement, let’s look at how it works in practice. When another ruler, Nicodemus, sought Jesus by night (John 3), plainly stating that he (and the other rulers) knew that Jesus had to be of God, he was quickly given a prescription for fully knowing Jesus: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God…Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God…” (vv. 3, 5)
It wasn’t until after His death for our sins, burial, resurrection, and ascension with the direction to go and tarry for the promise of the Father that it became clear how being born of the water and of the Spirit was to actually happen in the lives of believers:
Though only His disciples, His mother, Mary, and his brethren, were listed by name in verses 13-15, Acts chapter 1 records that 120 people were in the Upper Room seeking God in prayer and supplication. What happened? What response did Jesus give to their seeking?
Acts 2 – And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting…And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
An astonished crowd of Jews from all nations, gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost, came together to see what was happening with these men who had spilled out onto the balcony speaking in tongues and praising God. They heard Peter preach that this was the fulfillment of the prophecies of old, just as Jesus’ coming had been, and realized that they had crucified the Lord of Glory. In their state of conviction and desperation, they cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
Acts 2:38 – Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christi for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
This first answer given to the first people needing to come to God after Jesus ascended encompasses His requirements of a birth of water (baptism in Jesus’ name) and the birth of the Spirit (the gift of the Holy Ghost). Thousands obeyed and were added to the church that day, and this response to Jesus’ drawing was repeated throughout the Book of Acts (chapter 8 in Samaria, chapter 10 with the Gentiles of Cornelius’ household, chapter 19 with believers at Ephesus, and others).
So where do we find the seekers — those who made up their minds to know and follow God at any cost, to obey Him in whatever way He asked — in the Judgement? Many scriptures address it, but consider these:
In the very end, when the Lamb comes back to overcome those who make war with Him, “…they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.” (Revelation 17:14) Break that down:
Called – Jesus saw something in them that caused Him to draw them to Himself (the only way we can come), to call them.
Chosen – based on their response to His calling they were chosen. “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:24
Faithful – simple avoidance of error or pursuit of service will never qualify as being faithful, which requires pursuit of God’s heart, and obeying the gospel, walking with Him, following Him, carrying our cross. “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” Matthew 25:21
“And they shall be mine, saith the Lord, in that day when I make up my jewels. And I shall spare them as a man spareth His own son that serveth him. Then shall ye return, and shall discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.” (Malachi 3:17-18)
Seek God. Obey God. Know God.