Honoring God, Then and Now

I started the other day trying to put into words the big question that led me, to a degree, outside of mainstream and evangelical religious traditions. What follows here sums up at least a portion of the shift in my thinking. Feel free to comment if you're afraid my thinking is shifty.

My view used to be:

God knew, understood and loved me, and so He held out to me salvation.

I accepted.

At that point I received “eternal life” (John 3:16; 17:3): “salvation” and “a testimony.” I now knew and loved God, because He had known and loved me and shown me the way to be one of His children. As one of His, I was destined to become better at living this life (this eternal life I’d been given here and now), and especially I’d become better at doing good works. Therefore, my good works (which meant things I’d do for other people and/or causes, with the ultimate aim of leading people to Christ) would so shine before men that they would see them and glorify my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

Problems I experienced:

I didn’t get better at living.

The things I did for other people seemed forced on my part, and the only thing that shined out seemed to be my sinful nature, or at least a false, flowery view to others of my inner person.

In any case, I did not appear able, with anything I did, to cause someone else to stand up and start glorifying God. Or even to start attending church. Or to stop believing in a false religion.

My view has become more like this:

To know and love God is not a built-in ability. It also doesn’t appear to be an instantaneous gift to me from God. In fact, the Bible may be saying that a big part of my life’s work (good work) is beginning to understand who he is and what he’s doing. Before, I saw knowing and loving him as a reciprocal response to his knowledge and love of me. And that is partly true, I think. It’s just that I have to be changed greatly inside to begin to want to know and understand the real God, who, incidentally, isn’t me and doesn’t work for me.

When I do begin seeing myself as separate from God (that is, a creature in need of his help), and I start to want to know what he’s really like (rather than just believing in a traditional picture of him), then I begin to see how large and exciting is the task.

There are different elements involved:

    • fearing God
    • trusting God’s promises to Israel and the rest of humanity
    • believing in the Messiah he sent
    • recognizing that eternal life happens (mainly) in the Final Age to come
    • accepting that I have no power to eradicate my sinful nature
    • relying on God’s mercy to protect me from his wrath
    • relying on God’s mercy to perfect me one day in the future

I’m beginning to see all this as a “good work,” the only one in which I can “boast” (Jeremiah 9:23 & 24; 1 Corinthians 1:31). It may be connected to, or the same thing, Jesus spoke of to Mary and Martha as being the one thing necessary (Luke 10:42), because in studying to know God, I learn the good news.