Here is today’s question:
Is one’s relationship with the Father based purely on Love, Performance, or both?
This question was prompted after a sermon that my pastor gave on this topic. My comments here are not a reflection on his sermon or the content of the sermon (just for the record, he did a great job).
So here are some of my thoughts on the subject. I believe that God the Father loves us more abundantly than we could ever understand as displayed by the sacrifice of Christ the Son (John 3:16). I don’t believe His love for us is diminished in any capacity by our performance (the things that we do or don’t do) but how does He ‘respond’ to our actions and what does that reaction have to say about the state of relationship?
Some things that come to my mind on this subject are:
- Moses not being allowed to enter Canaan
- David not being allowed to build the temple
- Ananias and Sapphira being struck dead
- John falling as if dead in his Revelation before Christ in Glory (I know this is a weird but I see that as a response of fear-why?)
- Passages in Matthew about the sheep and goats
- Christ’s messages to the church from Revelation
Feel free to discuss openly. I am not looking for the one ‘right’ answer but a dialog concerning our relationship to the Father and how that is reflected in scripture.
[tweetmeme source=”tonyyork” only_single=false]
Let us begin with a little character development. You are wealthy and can afford the best things in life for yourself and your family. Your young children think you are the greatest singer who ever took the stage and there are many fans who believe the same. Your voice has made you famous and is the means by which you have been able to become famous and wealthy. Life is good, no, life is great. It couldn’t be more perfect. You lack for nothing and you are surrounded in love and your greatest desire is met in your ability to spend time with your loving spouse and beautiful children.
Now for the tale.
Your father calls one day out of the blue and invites you to meet him at a small, squat, block building in the ugliest part of town. It is not an inviting place and you wonder why it is that he wants you to meet him there but you agree to go because you trust your father. When you arrive, you notice that his car is empty and rightly assume that he has already entered the desolate warehouse that stands before you. It takes a few minutes to build up the nerve to step out of the car and trek across the littered and weed-strewn lot that stretches between the car and an open door.
After entering the building you find your father standing in the middle of an undecorated room bereft of any furniture. Before you have a chance to question him about this odd meeting location, he addresses you:
“My child, there is a choice that you must make today. It is a costly choice and it is not with an easy spirit that I present it to you. To my left stands a door to another room very similar to this one. Inside that room are 10 people well-known to you. These people despise you and count you as an enemy even though you have done nothing to warrant their hatred.”
Child, listen well. They are dieing because they have a terrible disease which has only one known cure. It is within your power to provide them a cure, in fact, only you can provide the cure. But it will come at a great cost…maybe too great.”
The start of the conversation was nothing you had expected. You can’t even imagine how it is you could help dieing people regardless of whether they are your enemies or not. And why did it have to be enemies that needed your help and what form could this help take? You are wealthy, very wealthy in fact, so maybe there is an expensive cure that you could purchase for them. You decide this has to be the case and even if it is your enemies that you would be helping, money would allow you to stay distant from them. You are still curious and a bit nervous as you address your father, “I don’t understand how I can help, dad, but tell me what it is that I can do.”
His shoulders droop and his head bows as he starts his next sentence. “You don’t know how my heart hurts over this matter because of what I must ask of you. In your flesh you carry a very special genetic combination that can only be extracted following its death. The quantity of flesh needed is very large. You would have to be willing to give up both of your arms and both of your legs in order to save the lives of all ten of the people in the other room. My child, I must ask more of you than this. The cure also requires that you sacrifice your eyes and tongue because without them we cannot fully extract the cure from the flesh of your arms and legs.”
Shock invades your thoughts as you try to understand what is being asked of you. In a whisper, you ask, “How long can I think about this?”
“Child, there is little time and I have not completed detailing the cost. I am the only one who is able to complete the task following the extraction and there is a time element that must be considered. My love, this cure requires that I take you into the room next door in the next ten minutes and perform all of the steps needed to make the cure available. Do you hear me? Do you understand what I am saying? I will have to take your legs so that you can never walk again. I will take your arms and you will never again hug your children. You will lose your sight and the last thing you will see will be your enemies standing around you. I will take your tongue and while that means you will never sing again, it will also mean that you cannot respond to the people in the other room who will continue to taunt you following your sacrifice to save their lives.”
You are stunned, “You want me to give up everything, to become nothing of who I am now, for people who will not appreciate what I have done? How, dad, can you ask that of me? How can you expect me to do that?”
“My child, I must give you the choice because only you can provide the cure for the one or two in the other room who will accept it. You have to decide if you are willing to empty yourself of all you have in order to make the chance of life available for someone else even while you silently absorb the taunting of those who will reject it.”
I don’t know if I have accomplished what it is that I set out to do with this post. In Philippians, chapter 2, Paul writes about Christ in this manner:
although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Over the last few days I have struggled with understanding what it meant for Christ to empty Himself. And, so, I have tried to create a picture here, however imperfect it may be, of what it would be like to lose all that I had in order to save my enemies.
How about you? You were the star of this tale were you not? What would it be like to choose to lose all that was good and wonderful in your life and replace it with pain, suffering, and sorrow?
Maybe as you ponder these thoughts, you will learn what it means to be filled up as you consider the love that Christ displayed in the act of emptying Himself.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
~ Jesus Christ as recorded in the book of Matthew
I am not sure how to best approach this topic except to do it head on. While it may be abrupt, it will also be forthright.
We live in a day and age that the purpose of the church appears to be about making converts. Those converts then are to invite more non-believers to the central staging area called the church where they too can be made into converts. The same scientific approach of mass production of everything from widgets to cars has been applied to the realm of spirituality. We are, in essence, a convert factory – bring in the raw materials and output a product in an efficient manner.
Something seems to be missing from our finished product.
Maybe in our rush to create quantity we have forgotten about quality. Efficiencies beg the designer to find shortcuts to producing something that used to take more effort to create at a lower cost. I would offer this example: which would you rather have – an Amish built table OR a table that you could pick up at Wal-Mart? How about a home-made apple pie OR one purchased at a Speedway gas station, which is more appealing?
We recognize the richness that is inherent in the things that take time and effort to create. Yet, we are willing to accept a substitute that is poorer because the effort or price seems more favorable.
I presented the verses of the Great Commission at the top of this post because they are well known and well used in support of evangelism. Our application of it could be boiled down to Come-Bring-Serve. Christ’s words contain a wealth of information that does not have an efficient model by which the real thing can be mass-produced.
Christ said GO, MAKE, BAPTIZE, TEACH. Let’s break these pieces down in order as Christ delivered them.
The Greek word is poreuō which has one meaning that states “to pursue the journey on which one has entered”. There is so much that could be taken from that definition of such a small two letter English word. A journey usually begins with a knowledge of where one is and where one is going and the method by which to travel between the two points. Pursuit of that journey gives an impression of focus to purpose and the qualifier of the last half of the description, “which one has entered”, presents the thought that the command was meant for people who had been prepared for that journey.
The Greek word here is mathēteuō. Its meaning is already qualified in the translated verse – make disciples. Ever tried to make something for which you had not received prior instruction? A child making pies from mud in the backyard recognizes that the creation has a form of the real thing but fails in the ultimate test – that of being edible. One day that child may be trained by a parent in the art and care of mixing the different ingredients that make a real cake. On that day they will have been schooled in the discipline of baking and through practice and effort they will learn it well enough to pass on the knowledge to a future baker. The key message here is that you can’t make what you don’t know.
This is a familiar Greek word, baptizō. The meaning is of water immersion, a dunking of a person under water. What I find interesting is that it can also mean to overwhelm. A note in the study helps that I refer to has this to say:
This word should not be confused with baptô (911). The clearest example that shows the meaning of baptizo is a text from the Greek poet and physician Nicander, who lived about 200 B.C. It is a recipe for making pickles and is helpful because it uses both words. Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be ‘dipped’ (baptô) into boiling water and then ‘baptised’ (baptizô) in the vinegar solution. Both verbs concern the immersing of vegetables in a solution. But the first is temporary. The second, the act of baptising the vegetable, produces a permanent change.
Can’t you just see the cucumber being overwhelmed by the vinegar to become permanently changed into a pickle? What a great picture of the meaning behind this word! And where does the permanent change come from in the believer? Christ qualifies that by naming the Father (pater), the Son (huios), and the Holy Spirit (hagios). How can we expect to be an agent in the actions of another person being overwhelmed by the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit when we haven’t been overwhelmed ourselves? And I am speaking of a knowledge of all three aspects of the godhead.
Finally, we have the Greek word, didaskō. I like this explanation of the word – “instill doctrine into one”. Christ more fully qualifies this directive by giving direction on what to teach. He told those listening to teach them to observe(tēreō) all that He had commanded them. That word observe means to attend to carefully. That’s a pretty heavy statement. How many of us believe ourselves prepared to instill the teachings of Christ into another person’s life with the proper level of respect for those teachings?
I am humbled by the instruction that is provided by these verses but I am also more driven to be a disciple and disciple maker for the express purpose of growing the kingdom of God. There are no shortcuts to this process. It is a way of life – it is an attitude and purpose of abiding in Christ. It is the entirety of the godhead overwhelming us.
Do you think we, as the church, have been too flippant about this command from Christ?
So I over-analyze most things. I can’t help it because I can’t turn my mind off. Its always running – even in my sleep. I am going to post a question here that I thought about this past Wednesday night while listening to the 789 youth pastor give his sermon to the 7-12 graders at Ground Zero.
The premise of the sermon was to join God where He is working. It was based on the lesson of Jonathan attacking the Philistine garrison while his father slept under a tree. You can read about it in the 14th chapter of 1 Samuel.
My experience has led me to believe that the majority of people that I come in contact with inside of a church building do not have the ability to voice their understanding of the relationship that they have with God. That is not a criticism – it is just a statement of my experience and may not reflect the true situation.
As it is my perception, this is the question that was going through my mind, “How do we invite people to action, specifically, to join a God in His kingdom work when they haven’t spent the time getting to know Him?”
Want to put my question to the test? Think of your closest friend on this earth. Can you describe them in great detail – what makes them happy, or sad, what makes them come alive or what makes them mad? Would you know how to surprise them with a special gift or action? Can you describe what they mean to you?
Probably not hard, huh…
Now do the same thing with God if you are a person who claims a relationship with Him. Is it easier or harder than doing so with your friend?
I am still mulling over my question. You can help me with any feedback that you have on the subject.