Subject Predicate Object

A young friend of mine is struggling mightily to overcome a particular behavior that he considers sin. I don’t say right out that it is sin because I know that he has a little confusion about the difference between sin and temptation. Of course, if it’s temptation he is hoping to overcome, then he is doomed to disappointment. But that is a subject for another day.

My purpose in writing this piece is to explore what I believe is a common mistake on his part, common because most believers make the same mistake: he has focused his attention and his efforts on obeying Christ rather than focusing on Christ Himself.

The difference is subtle, but important.

My friend believes that by focusing on obeying Christ, he is focusing on Christ. I disagree. When you focus on obedience you are being self-centered, not Christ-centered.

And how do I justify my point of view? For some reason, I ended up thinking about language. We use language to express our beliefs about ourselves and about God. My young friend is determined to obey God, so his thoughts about the subject at hand could be expressed as:

I will obey God.

Every properly constructed English sentence has at minimum a subject, (the Actor), a predicate, (the Act), and an object, (the recipient of the action). So the sentence “I will obey God” can be parsed like this:

I: the Actor
will obey: the Action
God: the object of the Action performed by the Actor.

In this sentence, the Actor, (my friend) performs the Action and God is the passive recipient of that Action. In contrast, consider these sentences.

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

The difference between the two sentences is that “I” am the actor in the first sentence and “God” is the actor in the second. Another way to describe the contrast would be “Law” and “Grace”. Under Grace, God is the Actor and I am the passive recipients of His action. Under The Law it is just the opposite, I Act and God is passive.

While we are certainly free as Xians to attempt to obey The Law, we are doomed to be disappointed by our efforts. The Law is spiritual, but we are made of flesh and blood. The Law, though it is perfect, holy and good, kills us. That’s why God is no longer playing that game, (and we would do well to quit it, too.)

I know my friend is concerned about being holy, and I guess he believes that unless he gives it everything he’s got, God is not going to be able to do His work. This approach to God is known as “Grace plus something else”. It has the advantage of making us feel like we are contributing something to God’s work, but it has the disadvantage of being utterly ineffective.

I guess some Xians believe that God lowers His standards for behavior once they become believers. They act like they believe that even though they occasionally lust or gossip or engage in gluttony or unrighteous anger, God is cool with that as long as they say “I’m sorry” and promise to try extra-special hard the next time around.

Jesus said that the entire Law was summed up in these two commands:

  1. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
  2. Love your neighbor as yourself.

I know absolutely no one who manages to obey those two laws perfectly, yet they are very simple. Worse, we cannot WILL ourselves to obey because the command is to LOVE, and LOVE is something that cannot be coerced, it can only exist in an environment where it is freely given. My young friend tries to obey God because He fears what will happen if He does not, yet in His fearing, He is failing to obey. How in the world can we escape from this dilemma?

Through Christ.

Jesus was asked once, “what must I do to do the works of God” and His explicit answer was, “believe on the One whom God has sent.”

God is not now, and never has been, impressed with our efforts. Our righteousness is as filthy rags to him. Our job is not to work hard. Our job is to trust Christ – trust Him in spite of our sins, trust Him in spite of our successful attempts at righteousness. Trust Him in spite of our fear. Trust Him to do what He said He would do. Trust Him to act on our behalf. Trust Him.

Holiness vs Happiness-What’s It All About

Inspired by anonymous commenters…

As best as I can figure, we humans have two possible ways of relating to God:

1. A business relationship
2. A family relationship

A family relationship is based upon the the nature of the persons in the relationship. A business relationship is based upon the quality of the transactions between the parties, without regard to the nature of the persons on either side of the transaction.

As I understand it, God intends a family relationship with people, but people seem to prefer a business relationship with God. Why? I think it has to do with pride and control. In a business relationship, we can maintain both our pride and our sense of control, but in a family relationship, there is no place for pride or control.

If the nature of our relationship with Him is transactional – in other words, a business relationship – then we can maintain control of the relationship by trading value for value with Him; our inate inferiority to Him is a non-issue in the relationship as long as our transactions are evenly balanced.

But if the nature of our relationship to Him is familial, then the difference between Him and us is fundamental to our relationship; His superiority to us in every way puts Him in complete control of the relationship. He is forever Father and we are forever children.

In a business relationship, whatever inequalities may exist between “buyer” and “seller” are immaterial, as long as each party trades value for value. In a family relationship, the weaker party is dependent upon the stronger; the child is dependent upon the parent.

A business relationship evens the playing field between both parties in the transaction, a familial relationship highlights the inequalities between the parties. A business relationship is maintained by the fidelity of both parties to the standard of “value for value”. A familial relationship is sustained by love.

In a business relationship, as soon as one party ceases to offer value for value, the relationship is over. In a familial relationship, no action or lack of action can change the fundamental reality of shared blood, shared bone, shared flesh.

In general, people don’t like having their inferiority and dependence spotlighted. That’s why they prefer a business relationship with God. And that’s why every religion in the world exists – to manage and control the relationship with God

In my experience, most Christians operate a business relationship with God. Though they may protest, their language betrays their core beliefs about the relationship. For example, here’s a quote from an anonymous commenter:

You could become a great man if you would bow your knee and yield to the One who made you – because after your short years here you will face Him. Fall on the Rock before the Rock falls on you.

Implicit in this comment is the belief that God is Gonna Get You! You’re gonna PAY!

Oddly, people seem to like this message. Do good, and all will be well with you. Do bad, and He will come down on you like a ton of bricks. In fact, the reason you are not getting blessed by God is that you are not making the payments God demands in exchange for His blessings.

An appealing message – but it’s not the Gospel. Here’s another example:

From where does the idea come that God’s will is for any of us to be happy? He wants us to be holy. Happiness can be a byproduct of holiness, but holiness will not come as a result of seeking happiness.

Apparently, in this commenter’s religion, God doesn’t value Happiness, but does value Holiness. Therefore, He’ll trade us something of lesser value to Him – Happiness – if we will pay Him something of lesser value to us – Holiness. In other words, the reason you are not Happy is because you have not paid the price that God puts on Happiness. Happy people have paid the price; UnHappy people have not.

This position appeals to our sense of pride and control, and we jump up and applaud wildly: Yes! Yes! Preach it!

But it’s not the Gospel.

This is how religion operates, and it is why the early Christians were so frequently ignored, marginalized or martyred. Their message was simple…God is out of the accounting business – permanently. From now on, God is gonna think of you as His own child, not as a servant. …but it thoroughly destroyed the very premises of religion. It really pissed-off the religious people, (and make no mistake – everyone is religious), so they tried to silence and/or kill those foolish believers who were spreading it.

What’s the point of following rules and sacrificing animals and paying tithes and doing deeds of penance if God doesn’t value all my hard work? I pour an awful lot of effort into proving to God that I am good enough and holy enough and righteous enough and committed enough and serious enough, and then these yahoos come along and say that God simply isn’t interested in what I am trying to pay?

This Gospel of the Kingdom, carried by early believers to the uttermost parts of the earth, proclaimed that God had decided to throw open the Divine Party to anyone who wanted to come in and partake of it. He was giving away the riches of His table – for free. All you had to do was take Him at His word. All you had to do was show up. (See, for example, the parables of the Great Banquet, the Prodigal, the Pharisee and the Publican, the Talents.)

For some reason, the religious folks thought this was Bad News, and they’ve spent the last 2000 years trying to convince everyone that God Still Demands Payment! The only reason I can imagine for such foolishness is because most people were (and are) addicted to their own sense of worthiness and control vis-a-vis God. They want a business relationship with God, not a family relationship.

Oh, and they also realize that people who are no longer living in fear can be awfully hard to control.

Me? I’m completely convinced that I have absolutely nothing of value to offer God. Therefore, a business relationship with Him is not even a remote possibility for me. If I have any chance at all of being in a relationship with God, it’s gonna hafta be because He Loves Me.

You know – as if I were His own child or something…