For her Tuesday Tossup yesterday, GiBee asked the question "Many Christians worship a friendly, gift-giving God, one who never challenges or requires anything of them. Is this the God we find in the Bible? Do you think the images we have and share of God are too nice? Have we "niced God up" so that others will be more willing to accept Him?" The responses I've read so far have been in pretty unanimous agreement that the "god who never challenges us and requires nothing of us" is NOT the God of the Bible. Here are my thoughts.
I do believe that God is friendly toward his friends (those who obey His commands, Jn. 15:14) and He is a gift-giver above and beyond anything we can ask or imagine. But, as has been stated here already, He is also, unequivocally, a God who challenges us and requires everything of us. (Remember that whole thing about "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me"? Yeah, methinks we have often forgotten about that, and the "loving not our lives, even unto death" part.)
GiBee asks "Have we 'niced up' God so that others will be more willing to accept Him?"
I believe the western church is greatly lacking a biblical understanding of God's judgment, and we (we=including me) need a revelation of the true complexity of God's character so that we walk in the fear of the Lord. Often, we treat God like He's an embarassing uncle. One that you know loves you deeply, but you don't really want to introduce your friends to him because he's not so good with "people skills". You know -the one who says things that we think are inappropriate because his opinion is so strong. We try to shove Him off in a corner so that He doesn't have a chance to say or do anything that might embarrass us, or offend our friends. If we do invite our friends over while he's visiting, we try to stick really close to the conversation so that we can quickly try to justify what he's saying when he starts offending people.
We think that we are kinder and gentler than God - as though we think that people are responsive to warm, fuzzy, easy Christianity - so we try to cover up the parts of His Word that seem too mean, too demanding, or just simply unreasonable. This is not only unbiblical, but it is also ineffective for truly making disciples of Christ. If this is what we are doing, it is counterproductive. People do not want to follow a God who is unjust. If God has no wrath against sin, if he is not grieved by the rampant wickedness in the world, then how can we trust Him? Although God's hatred of sin is offensive to those who desire to remain in their sin, it is life and freedom to those who put their trust in Him and walk in the grace He gives so that we are no longer enslaved to sin. People who do not walk with God are just as offended by the idea of a God who does not care about pain and suffering as they are by the accusation that they are wicked and unable to atone for their own sin.
Even knowing this, there are parts of God's character with which we simply don't know what to do. God's justice requires judgment on wickedness, and sometimes this judgment makes us uncomfortable. When was the last time you read an Old Testament passage like the story of Sodom & Gomorrah, or the sons of Korah, and thought to yourself (at least subconsciously) "I'm so glad that's not the God we serve anymore. I'm glad God doesn't deal with us so harshly." Well, guess what? The God of the Old Testament is the same God who we serve today!
By his mercy and longsuffering, we stand by grace through faith before His throne, because of the shed blood of Christ. But this very same God who loves us and accepts us as blameless because of the cross still has a controversy with the wickedness that rages in the earth. When the world is shaken prior to Jesus' second coming, we will see His judgment manifest on the earth in a way like it never has before. Are we ready? NO.
He will return as a righteous Bridegroom, King, and Judge, to set His King (Jesus) on the throne, decimating the wicked kings of the earth who have declared that they have no need of God. He will gather His beloved ones to Himself (those who have walked according to His ways and who loved His appearing) and He will give them the crown of righteousness and reward them according to their works. But to those who denied Him, those who lived lives of self-absorbed, sinful living, given over to the lusts of the flesh and idolatrous spirituality, to those He will give eternal fire and torment.
None of this negates the amazing, bountiful mercy of God. God desires to give mercy, even in the midst of judgment. We often think that we are comfortable with the mercy of God. But if we preach a "gospel" that does not contain a biblical understanding of God's judgment, then we are not truly preaching the Good News of God's mercy, either. Understanding the depth of God's mercy requires that we understand the depth of our sin, the height of God's holiness, and the lengths to which He went to bring us near to Himself. This mercy is available to all who would come to Him to receive it, and it does not run out, nor is it His "plan B" for when we blow it. I want to write more on that, so maybe my next post will focus on the mercy of God. Stay tuned...