What is the Original Good News?
What is Chapter One All About?
What is the Difference Between Pleasing and Trusting God?
What Does it Mean to Live Well in the Kingdom?
Chapter One: Two Roads
- Galatians 3:5-6, 11-12.
- Contrast this sort of mindset with what Paul says in 1Corinthians 6:9-11 (NASB). He speaks of those among the Corinthian believers who were “fornicators,” “idolaters,” “adulterers,” “effeminate,” “homosexuals,” and so on, and how they were “washed,” “sanctified,” and “justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and in the Spirit of our God.” Do you think, even for one second, that the readers of that Epistle in Corinth were slyly looking around wondering, “Who are the idolaters? Who are the homosexuals? Who are the swindlers?” No. They all knew these things about themselves—each and every one of them knew the background of each and every other one! And because they knew these about these “closet skeletons,” they were well equipped to protect each other’s weaknesses. That is to say, they knew each other well enough to know where to watch out for each other. They were definitely not living in the Land of “Doing Just Fine.”
- Although this sounds so good, there is an important fallacy underlying this statement: the failure to differentiate between our relationship with God and the means to our current fellowship with God. The believer’s relationship with God is always that of son to Father. The fact of one’s birth creates a permanent relationship with one’s parents. Even if a parent wishes to “disown” a child or a child wishes to sever his relationship with a parent, the actual fact of that relationship is inalterable. And, of course, our Heavenly Father has promised that he will never leave us nor forsake us. Carrying the human familial analogy further, one might be currently “out of fellowship” with one’s children—obviously a painful situation—but they are and always will be his children. In order not to be, they would have to be “unborn.” Compare John 1:9-13 and John 10:27-29. The point is that the relationship is, by its very nature, an intimate one. When individuals assume that they can enhance their relationship with God—or their fellowship with God—by working on their sin issues, they are missing the basis for the relationship they have with God, namely the cross. Furthermore, they are missing that it is God who is working with them on their sin issues, because of the cross. It is not them (alone) working on their sin issues in order to “make themselves presentable to God” and, therefore, close to him.
- This is akin to living in Romans, chapter 7, and never getting to chapter 8. In the midst of attempting to deal with my sin by trying not to sin, I am living in the reality of Romans 7:15-18: “I do not understand my own actions, for I do not do what I want but I do the very thing I hate. … For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh.” I never get to “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 25). I never arrive at 8:3: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.” Therefore, our preoccupation with our sin and dealing with our sin keeps us anxious about sin, instead of being preoccupied with who God says we are as the basis for dealing with our sin. The good intention of “working on our sin” does not create a redemptive solution, which is the only basis upon which sin can be dealt with. The cross was, is, and always will be God’s only way of dealing with sin.
- 1 Peter 5:6.
- 2 Corinthians 5:17.
- Colossians 1:27.
- Romans 8:9.
- Romans 7:7-12.
- Hebrews 11:6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (NIV). The word “faith” is the noun form of the word “believe” or “trust.” Thus, the issue of pleasing God is inextricably bound to trusting him. What the author is saying is that pleasing God is the result of trusting him. There is nothing that we can “conjure up” to please him that is not based upon who he is and what he has already done in and for us. What we mean here by “primary motive” has to do with that which is the driving force of our very hearts. If my desire is primarily to please God, I will be the initiator. I will end up manufacturing all sorts of ways to do this, without reference to trust in the God I’m trying to please. This despite the clear teaching here that nothing I do apart from trust pleases him. Indeed, James observes that “whatever is not of faith [trust] is sin.”
- Reading something like this often brings specific verses to mind about pleasing God, such as Colossians 1:10: “So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” When we understand this verse to mean that to walk in a manner worthy is an obligation which God intends us to honor by our effort and thereby through strenuous effort we become pleasing to God, we become the judge of how much effort pleases God, and we are quick to judge others for not having enough effort. But if we understand this verse to mean that we are able to walk worthy because we trust who God says we are—saints—then we are pleasing to him and we are able to bear fruit in every good work. Note, our effort cannot produce the good fruit. The good fruit comes out of the reality of who we are.
- Revelation 3:15-22 shows God’s response to self-sufficient reliance upon one’s own resources. It causes him to “vomit”! Most translations have made this more polite, using words like “spit,” when, in reality, the word means to vomit. Such politeness can mask God’s revulsion with such lukewarm self-sufficiency.
. Hebrews 13:5: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Many Christians, reading this, would be inclined to say, “Maybe he never leaves but just turns away from us.” And they will use a Scripture like 1 John 1:7 to mean that if we are not in the light, he, if not separated from us in disgust, must, in fact, turn from us. And they make the tragic mistake of believing that they now have to do something about their sin to regain his favor instead of believing that he is present with them and is the only resource they have to deal with the sin!
Living Into The Cure
John still remembers sitting down with Bill more than eighteen years ago when Bill was his boss. John was a young, gifted preacher, complete with four years of seminary, a snappy briefcase, and a bookshelf full of impressive-looking, scholarly books. He told Bill, “I think there are about two or three issues that I haven’t yet overcome. They’re not too complex or difficult. Once they get solved I really think I can be used by God in a big way.”
John expected Bill to respond, “Well, let’s get to work on those. What are they? Let’s look at them one at a time and solve them so you can really take off.” Instead Bill looked at John for a long time and then slowly said the words to John that God has used to change the entire focus of how he lives the Christian life. “John, then I hope that you never, ever completely solve those issues. You will become self-dependent. You will become self-sufficient. The goal is not for you to get all of your ‘stuff’ solved. You never will. There is an endless list of stuff. God is gracious to reveal only a snippet at a time. The goal is to learn to depend on—to trust—what God says is true about you, so that together you can begin dealing with that stuff.”
John was headed straight for The Room of Good Intentions where The Great Disconnect spreads like a viral bug. You know enough about John by now to realize that the “two or three issues” remark was probably an understatement. Worse, the Pleasing God path John intended to travel would have produced two or three hundred more unresolved sin issues. But John learned about a road less traveled by. And that has made all the difference.
The Great Disconnect
Many people talk as if they have taken the Trusting God road, but in reality they live in The Room of Good Intentions. Why do so many people say the right thing, but then live the wrong life? We call this sweeping reality in the church today The Great Disconnect.
The three stories that follow come from among hundreds that we have been told. We’ve intentionally selected stories from people employed in Christian work, because if we can see the disconnect between talking and living at this level, we may conclude that this chasm exists everywhere in the body of Christ.
Story one. At a training forum a woman walked up to us in tears and said, “I am very frightened and I don’t know what to do, but I have to tell somebody. I am so embarrassed. We are missionaries, with three children, and for over two years, my husband, who is a teacher and executive in our mission, has engaged in major deceit and fraud. He said he wouldn’t tell you, but I have to. I cannot live like this any longer.”
Question: How can people who move their family to a foreign country to serve God and who rise to leadership positions in their missions and teach truth in scores of situations live in such duplicity? How can what this man believes and teaches others have so little to do with what he actually believes about himself?
Story two. Matthew is a professional counselor. He feels unloved, underappreciated, and lonely. He has been fighting depression for more than five years. He is getting very tired and is losing the strength to keep performing as if everything is okay. But his mask has not worn out to the point where lying is beneath him. Recently he told his organization that he was going on vacation, but the truth was that he was checking himself into a rehab clinic in order to get treatment.
Question: How can a competent Christian counselor deceive others about his severe need for professional care, while attempting to offer others similar care?
Story three. Doug and Wanda presented a very impressive image of their relationship. They were marriage and family retreat speakers, and he taught future pastors marriage and family courses in a seminary. Yet Doug told us, “I am deeply angry with my wife. I have been for a long time. But my anger is no match for her longstanding disappointment in who I am and have become. She withdraws from me. Our physical relationship is almost nonexistent. We continually speak to scores of couples and families, but we are bluffing about our own marriage.”
Question: How can a man and woman with such key responsibilities for transferring truth to others know next to nothing about applying that truth to their own marriage and family? What is likely to happen to those who are being influenced by these kinds of leaders?
Jesus warned us about this very thing when he said: “Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. . . . Don’t be impressed with charisma; look for character. Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say.” Erwin McManus catches this fundamental issue when he says, “What I said on Sunday wasn’t nearly as important as what I did.”
A missionary executive couple, a seasoned counselor, professional teachers and retreat speakers. Each projected a marriage, a life, and a ministry that was “together,” healthy. Each can quote Scripture on demand, teach excellent Bible lessons, and instruct others about what it means to be “in Christ.” Together they influence thousands who look to them for spiritual direction. Yet, their masked reality tells a very different story about what they really believe about themselves and their circumstances.