The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. (Numbers 6:25)
Author James Bryan Smith, sharing his testimony, talks about how he used to view God before coming to a true knowledge of His love:
“For years I related to God as if He sat in a swivel chair. When I did something good, God would look at me and smile. When I did something bad, God would turn His back to me until I made amends, when He would swivel back and accept me again. I kept God constantly on the move.”
Smith’s testimony is something most—if not all—of us can relate to in some way or another. Without really meaning to, we so easily resort to a law-based approach to our relationship with God, seeing His love for us as being contingent upon how well we perform for Him.
This swivel-chair approach to God gets us way off track in the Christian life. Before we realize it, we’ve entered into an unspoken agreement with Him: “If I live like a good Christian—going to church and avoiding all the really big sins—You won’t turn Your back on me, right?” We slip into relating to God as if He’s just waiting to give us the cold shoulder at the drop of a hat.
The problem with all of that is, it isn’t in our power to keep God on the move. We can’t do enough bad stuff to make God turn away from us, nor can we do enough good stuff to make Him turn toward us, as the Apostle Paul reminds us:
“[Nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:39)
“He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit…” (Ti. 3:5)
God doesn’t do swivel chairs! You can’t fail so much that He stops loving you. And I know this is counterintuitive, but your works of righteousness, impressive as they may be, don’t make you any more lovable to Him than you already are. As Augustine once said, “By loving us, God makes us lovable.”
At this point, however, the inner legalist in us begins to wonder, “If there’s nothing I can do to change God’s love for me, won’t it make me lax in serving and obeying Him?” I really don’t think so. Like I’ve often told my children, “You don’t obey mom and dad to get us to love you; you obey to show that you love us.” Jesus told His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15). Christ’s love for us is never in question. Therefore our obedience is not a matter of earning, but a joyful and willing response to His unwavering goodness: “We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19).
This means that you get to come to church this Sunday willingly and joyfully. You don’t have to show up for the swivel-chair god. Instead you get to show up for the real deal—the God who is love (1 Jn. 4:16). Because He turned away from His Son on the cross (Matt. 27:47), He will never turn away from you. So you can come and freely worship in His presence, knowing that His smile is ever shining upon us (Num. 6:25), not because you and I are such great people, but because His heart is the epicenter of self-giving, unconditional love.
Set List for Sunday, August 19, 2018:
Hallelujah! What a Savior (Your Love Has Rescued Me) (P. Bliss, M. Carter, A. Ivey, H. Suh)
No Longer Slaves (J. Case, J. Helser, B. Johnson)
Who You Say I Am (B. Fielding, R. Morgan)
I Stand Amazed (How Marvelous) (C. H. Gabriel, C. Tomlin)
Build My Life (P. Barrett, K. Kaple, K. Martin, M. Redman, B. Younker)