Knowing and Loving God: Part 5b
by Jonathan Hamilton
Friday, June 20, continued (previous post here)
We’ve finally reached the last post in the Knowing and Loving God series. It turned into a 9-part series spread out over the course of several months, which was quite a bit longer than I had hoped to take to get it posted. Barring unforeseen circumstances, my intent is to continue on and publish more series’ based directly off of my class notes from the modular courses I am taking at Central Seminary. In the future this should happen much quicker, as I type notes now during class instead of handwriting and thereby cut out the major step of transcribing.
I have already taken Systematic Theology IV (Sin and Salvation), and in January will be taking Hermeneutics and Sys. VI (Eschatology). Both would make for great series’ here. We’ll see what happens…
Remember our ending question from last time: “What sorts of things are appropriate to feel towards God?” You will find bits and pieces of answers to that question scattered throughout this final edition.
What constitutes a god? Anything that is worshipped.
So what does it mean to worship?
When we value a thing instrumentally (for what it can do, i.e. valuing a broom because it sweeps, or a pen because it writes) we are not worshipping it (in the true sense). We are valuing it for what it does. We value a pen because it writes. We value writing because it communicates, we value communication because….you get the idea. But eventually you must come to a fastening point, something that imputes value to other things rather than vice versa. When we find something that’s an end rather than a means, we’ve found something that identifies us. It becomes fundamental to who we are. When we find these types of things, we’ve found our gods (money, power, sensual pleasure, etc.). Another way of putting it: our gods are the things in which we delight, our ultimate pleasures, not because they take us to a higher pleasure, but in and of themselves.
Unconditioned Loyalty + Absolute Trust = Love
We worship what we love. There is only one Being in the universe worthy of our love. And it’s not that we are to love Him above all else. It’s that we are to love Him alone.
“But wait,” you say, “aren’t we commanded to love our neighbor? Wife? Husband? Others?”
Yes. All of those are obligations. But none of them are loves in and of themselves. If we love God rightly, we will love what God loves.
Why should I love my neighbor? God does.
Why should I love my enemies? God loves His.
Why should I love my wife? God loves the Church.
You see, my love for others is part of my love for God. If my love for them diverges from my love for God, now they have become my gods. They are my idols. To make a thing a god you don’t have to love it more than you love God, you just have to love it independently of God.
And the worse thing you can possibly do is to make God a means to one of these ends. (See: 90% of the titles at your local Xtian bookstore; they run something like this: “How Can I Make God Provide My Idols to Me?”)
Our churches are filled with idolaters.
We are idolaters.
There are two problems with idolatry
1. Our idols conflict with one another
As it turns out, all gods are jealous gods. And so idolaters are conflicted people. To pursue both wealth and sensual pleasures will create conflict. If I pursue sensual pleasures, it will cost me wealth. If I horde wealth, it will cost me some of my sensual pleasures.
This is contrary to the lie of modern American civilization. People have been told they can have it all, and that this is their right. And since they don’t have it all, they think someone is keeping it from them. This leads to resentment. And resentful people are easy to manipulate. Sooner or later reality comes crashing in. Both political parties are courting disaster by manipulating in this way.
2. No god is capable of supporting the weight of the human soul
Only the true and living God can. Money will evaporate. Sensual pleasure will end. Your spouse will die. Your job may fire you. And if nothing else, all of your gods will be stripped away in eternity. One second into eternity, no one, including you, will care about these anymore.
At the end of the day, Jehovah alone is worthy of our worship and love. He alone is the center of all things, from which all other things derive their value.
HE ALONE IS GOD!
So how do we show our love for God?
Part of the way we show our love for God is how we respond when He puts His hand on an area of our life and takes it away (for instance, good health). Lesson #1: joyful submission to God. God loves us so much that He will not let us persist in worshipping a false god. He will expose it and put His hand on it.
A) You need a God who is worthy of worship.
B) You need a right inward response to that God. (this is a part of worshipping “in truth” John 4:24)
C) You need an adequate vehicle for the expression of that response.
It’s no good becoming more emotional until we know if those emotions are right or good. It’s actually worse because you are becoming more and more disobedient.
Mind game (or thought experiment, if you prefer): How would you teach your children to be irreverent if that was the goal of your church? How about giving them a show? Some puppets perhaps? How would you teach them to be legalists and externalists? How about giving them a trophy or a crown pin with little jewels?
All of this stuff converts Christianity into “glandular religion” (credit to Rolland McCune), or gut reaction (Religion of the gut).
One of the purposes of this course is to help us discern when the affections (ordinate) are in play and when the passions (inordinate) are in play.
Side note: There is nothing less relevant than a contemporary church. A contemporary church is declaring to all, “We have nothing to say.” In a society that attempts to cover its despair by grasping for new identities (sexual identities, for instance), a contemporary church is saying, “Hey, look! We’re in despair too!” (In other words, “We’re just like you. Come hang out with us, you’ll be comfortable here. What you get with us is just like what you get out there in the world.”)
The world needs real and true answers. The world needs a message of hope, the transforming message of the Gospel. And we aren’t living it.
Legalism: the effort to gain God’s favor through external observances; legalism is thwarted by John 4: loving God is preliminary to all legitimate worship
The term “legalism” is abused by both fundamentalists and evangelicals. Fundamentalist abuse: “as long as you aren’t trying to earn salvation, it’s not legalism.” Evangelical abuse: “If you have any external standards, you’re a legalist.”
If you only have one or two of these three, you end up with:
In closing, how ought you to behave if these things are being done wrongly at your church?
1. Never do evil. If you cannot participate with a clear conscience before God, do not do it.
2. There is a difference between doing evil and living in close proximity to it. There is no church anywhere free from all evil (And if it were perfect your presence would change that).
3. There is tolerable evil and intolerable evil. You have to live with a certain amount of tolerable evil (And do it peacefully! Gracious living according to conscience; value the unity of the Body). If the evil is intolerable, you go and find another church or plant one.
This series has been enjoyable to transcribe as I’ve been forced to think back through all of these principles again. It does not offer exhaustive answers. Rather, the value of this material is in its opening up of categories of thought that many of us have never considered before. No doubt some of it makes us a bit uncomfortable. Perhaps you disagree with parts. But there is great value in a thorough and honest critique of our worship of God. If we’re getting this wrong (and all of us are at varying levels), there’s not a more important area we could scrutinize biblically and beg God to correct. May the efforts to spread these ideas result in the glory of God through true worship. “Hallowed be Thy name.”