Care Before Commands

God’s love for us is not dependent upon how well we follow His commands for us.

I’ll say it again.

God’s love for us is not dependent upon how well we follow His commands for us.

This seems like the most basic principle of living in light of the good news of the gospel, and yet we as followers of Jesus can forget this time and time again.

The best way to combat forgetting or neglecting this truth is by diving into the story of Scripture. I don’t mean simply reading your Bible to check off a box (like I do way too often), but rather I mean immersing yourself into the whole cohesive story of Scripture. I believe that God’s Word is inerrant, that God’s Word is put together in a specific way by the Spirit’s leading over mankind. So when we look at the entire story of Scripture, we see gospel themes all over the place.

The unfortunate truth is that many of us (yours truly included at times) fail to really understand what the Bible story really is. We like to read devotionally, follow a Sunday School reading plan, and never really get the point of most passages because we don’t read in context. All of this leads to mishandled beliefs about the Bible, God, and the good news of the gospel. Lastly, a disjointed approach to the Bible leads to a litany of verses taken way, way, way out of context (Philippians 4:13, Jeremiah 29:11, etc.).

But let’s get back to the topic at hand. God’s care and God’s commands.

If you asked the average Joe or Jane meandering the sidewalks of our cities to describe what the Old Testament was about, there’s likely one theme that comes to the forefront of their response: God’s commands. They may talk about his anger and wrath, but they will likely have some component of the law of God as part of their answer.

Now let’s say you asked the average pew-sitting Paul or Phyllis, regular members of our churches, the same thing. They would likely answer the same way! Again, this includes rapidly rambling me.

It’s easy to think that the Old Testament is all about God’s commands for us to follow, with the New Testament being all about God’s care for us through Jesus.

This is well-meaning, but off.

If you look closely at Scripture, you’ll see that God is extending grace and showing His loving kindness long before He imposes commands on His people (which are also His loving kindness, btdubs).

For instance, if you look at the book of Genesis, you see that it is fundamentally about God’s love for His chosen people, namely the family of Abraham. While commands for right living are interlaced throughout this narrative, the main theme is clearly (in my opinion) God’s covenant relationship with Abraham’s family, in the midst of Abraham’s stupidity (as well as the stupidity of his descendants).

The book of Genesis is NOT primarily about the origin of God or the origin of the cosmos (Whether you bleed Answers in Genesis or believe God used evolution to create the world we currently live in, there’s not going to be a clear and concise answer found in Genesis). It’s not a conglomeration of classic Bible stories and their quirky VeggieTales adaptations (I’m not knocking VeggieTales, I grew up on that stuff. I certainly do like to waltz with tomatoes).

The book of Genesis is about God’s care for His people. A care for His people that not only comes before the commands of Exodus-Deuteronomy, but also a care for His people that is not dependent upon His people’s ability or willingness to follow such commands.

Still don’t believe me?

Open your Bible.

Yes, as far as timelines go, the command to not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (I am tempted to start naming the trees in my yard, such as the Tree Full of Leaves I Will Pay our Students To Rake and The Tree That Hopefully Won’t Cause Foundation Damage) comes at the same time more or less as the introduction of Adam into the perfect garden.

Yet after Adam and Eve’s disobedience, God immediately clothes them via a sacrifice, and promises to send the Messiah. I would say that’s a solid example of God’s care for them even after their disobedience.

Immediately after their displacement from the garden, the wheels fall off. Murder, deception, rage and malice, wickedness, pride. God gives the people 120 years to repent and turn to Him, but they refuse, and the flood happens. Let’s not forget that the fact God left a remnant via Noah and his family is also unbelievable grace.

After God’s grace given to Noah, there is a covenant made. But right after it comes more horrible stuff. More pride and arrogance (Tower of Babel). Clear incest (Judah and Tamar).

As generation after generation progresses in Abraham’s family, God’s care for them continues to be extended.

I would encourage you to dive in to the book of Genesis. Without the PG-tint glasses that our Sunday School backgrounds give us. It is dirty, grimy, dark, and nasty. But in the midst of humanity’s horribleness, God’s grace explodes off of every page.

If you need help reading the Bible in such a way, I can recommend two resources. Number one. The LifeChange Bible Study Series. These are great resources and they’re affordable. Number two. Anything by Jen Wilkin. She’s a phenomenal teacher of the Bible.

As we wrap up, fast forward to today. March 29, 2019.

How well are you doing at believing the truth we started with?

Do you evaluate your spiritual actions each day and hope you’ve done enough for God to be pleased with you?

Do you face incessant and unceasing guilt for your inability to follow His commands (been there, done that)?

Remember this truth. Before God imposes commands in our lives, He shows us His care for us. And when we fail to follow those commands in our lives, He continues to show His care for us.

I’ll close with the following quote.

God loves you as much as he loves Jesus! Think of that! God knows all about our weaknesses, doubts, fears, and sins. Yet, he loves us no less than he does his own child. – Bryan Chappell

He loves you.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

God Is Not A Psychopath

God needs nothing from us, but He asks for everything. abraham-and-isaac-1

In his book Paradoxology, Krish Kandiah argues that this is one of several apparent paradoxes that we see in the Christian faith. This paradox is most notably seen in the story in Genesis where Abraham is led by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. Yet this paradox shows itself not only through other stories in Scripture, but through innumerable stories of missions and martyrdom that I have heard in everyday life.

In the past year, I have wrestled with this in a major way. In prayer, journaling, Christian community, and the like I have fought this ‘paradox’ with everything in me. I’ll be honest, the wrestling matches with God over this haven’t been easy or pleasant. Now I’ll be clear right from the get go that I personally have had an extremely blessed and privileged life, but my wrestling was dark all the same.

My biggest hold up in this aspect of the Christian faith is the fact that God directs all circumstances in my life to be for His glory. I’ll be real transparent here. This made me mad. This seemed vastly unfair to me. How could God be allowed to do anything He wanted to me, and all I was allowed to do was put on a smile and say it was for His glory? When He took away my granddad, was I to just smile and say ‘for His glory’? When a member of my family went wayward, was I to just smile and say ‘for His glory’? When my health got rocky, I was separated from all the guys I had deep friendships with from OBU, and I didn’t get to be with Jamie, was I to just smile and say ‘for His glory’? If suffering, disease, or death came into my life, was I to just smile and say ‘for His glory’? I again know that I’ve been blessed, but this was the battle.

It didn’t seem fair. I had seen in Scripture that it’s super clear that God doesn’t need anything from me.

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. – Acts 17:24-25

I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the insects in the fields are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. – Psalm 50:9-12

God owns all, He made all. He gives me everything and is not served by human hands. So why would God ask so much from so many of His followers? If He needs nothing, why does He ask for everything? Why would He ask Abraham to give up the very thing that the promises of God were contingent upon, his own son? Why does he ask so many of His followers to give their lives for Him in missionary service, to endure trials of many kinds for the sake of His glory?

God needs nothing from us, but He asks for everything.

Why? Why? Why?

These aspects of the Christian faith that seem like paradoxes tend to keep us at bay, as we shove these things out of our minds because they seem too difficult to rationalize, too complicated to come to grips with. My eyes are slightly beginning to open (in part because of the work of theologians like Krish Kandiah) to the fact that as we press into these ‘paradoxes’, the beauty of the gospel shines forth and we are led to praise the God who is in the center of the tension.

So I press forward. The verse at the center of this paradox for me is John 3:16.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

Yes, God asks for everything from His followers.

However, this must be understood in light of the gospel truth that God gave everything for His followers.

God sent His one and only son to live the perfect life I could not live, to die the death I deserved, and to rise from the grave three days later to set me free from the power of sin, hell, and death.

You may have heard this gospel message for the first time in reading this blog, or you may have heard it a million times.

Either way, it is the answer to this ‘paradox’. God is trustworthy, in that we know that He is doing all for not only His glory, but our good as well.

Psychopaths and surgeons have something in common – both can inflict considerable pain with a knife, both can cause scarring, loss of limbs and terrible disfigurement. But whereas we would fight off an attack by the psychopath, we would willingly put ourselves under the surgeon’s knife because we trust their expertise and their motives. We recognize that in order to save a life, sometimes pain and loss have to be endured. – Krish Kandiah

To use this analogy, God is not a psychopath. We know that when He goes to work on our lives, it is for our good. The pain caused by His work is for our good. We may not have the privilege of seeing in the moment why the pain is happening, but we can cling to the fact that He is loving and good to us. The Scriptures tell us so.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28

We know that we don’t see the whole picture. We also know that God is worthy of trust.

When He asks us for everything, we need to remember that He has given everything for us.

I would like to conclude with another lengthy paragraph from Kandiah’s book:

If God did not withhold even the life of his own Son from us, there can be no doubting the generosity or benevolence of God. The cross of Christ is the place where God dealt with our sin and gave himself up for us. If God loves us this much, we know that anything he does to us or asks us to do for him is not to be taken in isolation, but understood in the context of love. It is through the times of loss and trauma and sacrifice that we can learn most about trust and faith, God’s heartbeat and God’s resurrection power. 

When you can’t see His hand, trust His heart.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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