I grew up in a church where every Sunday I was told what not to do and then, on the next Sunday, we’d get together and praise God we hadn’t done anything. For me, Christianity was all about NOT doing anything wrong. And there was a long list of things God was against. He was against dancing, drinking, gossiping, smoking, card playing, and a lot of other things you found out were wrong after you had done them. Christianity, at least as far as I could tell, was more about not doing anything wrong rather than doing something right. God was a cosmic Santa Claus keeping His list of who’s being naughty and nice. I left every church service knowing God was very mad at me. He might have loved me, but He was really disappointed in me.
How was I to know differently? Doesn’t God hate sin? And wasn’t I a sinner? In fact, isn’t that the way most of us see God? Walk down any street and ask random people what they think about God and Christians and I think you’ll get some version of this: “Christians are against everything!”
But this is not true. God isn’t against everything. In fact, God is actually against very few things. Take the Ten Commandments. Once God had liberated the children of Israel out of Egypt and brought them to the edge of the Promised Land, He gave them a list of ten things He expected of them. Of these ten, two are positive: 1) Keep the Sabbath; and 2) Honor your parents. What about the other eight? They prohibit murder, lying, stealing, and adultery, just to name a few. Is anyone FOR these things?
When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment, He responded by saying that everything the Law and prophets had said hinged on two commandments: 1) Love God with everything you have; and 2) love each other the way you love yourselves.
Ten commandments . . . two great commandments . . . does this sound like a God who is against everything? Hardly.
In fact, why would the crowds have followed Jesus the way they did if He only made them feel bad? The gospel of Jesus is a lot more than a list of sins to avoid. The gospel of Jesus is about what to live FOR. The good news is about whom to live FOR.
In fact, as you read the Bible, you begin to see a pattern. God is FOR. God as creator is FOR His creation. God as Father is FOR His children. The prophets told the story over and over of God as the brokenhearted lover who simply wouldn’t give up on His beloved. The Bible begins with the story of human beings being created in the image of God. Being image bearers gives humanity inherent worth. In the story of the crucifixion, we see the unspeakable price God was willing to pay for our salvation. These extraordinary acts would only be done by one desperate to redeem a lost humanity.
And these two grace events—creation and the crucifixion—reveal some key insights into what God thinks of humanity and what He desires for us. First, the imago Dei reminds us we are to live secure and confident in our relationship with God in Christ. Our value as human beings is established, not by the fickle whims of public opinion or the validations of another person, but because we are created in the image of God and loved by the Father. That’s it. That’s all we need.
And nowhere is God’s unspeakable love spoken more poignantly than on the cross. The crucifixion means God will not let anything separate us from His love. The Resurrection shows us that not even death itself, the great destroyer, can separate us from God. Such love calls us to a life of holy obedience to Him—responding to His Yes by saying yes to His commands and living to please Him.
Jesus also invites us to join Him on His redemptive mission in the world. Paul wrote, “We have been given this ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). Not only are we redeemed to be in relationship with Jesus, we are called to be on mission with Him just as the first disciples joined Jesus on the shores of Galilee.
Paul wrote that every promise of God finds its “Yes” in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20). When we hear the “Yes” of God spoken to us in Christ, we respond by opening our lives to those promises. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the prime example of this as she responded to the angel Gabriel’s announcement of Jesus’ birth.
In Christ, God is shouting His “Yes” to us and we respond by saying “Yes” back to Him. God speaks, we respond, and His word to us in Christ is “YES!”
How different would our lives be if we were able to live out of God’s “Yes” to us in Christ rather than being afraid of breaking some rule? Think about it . . .
What if we could live our lives confident of God’s love for us in Christ?
What if we were free to enjoy our friends without having to manipulate them to get what we think we “need” out of the relationship?
What if husbands were free to love their wives, and what if wives were free to love their husbands, without having to manipulate each other to fulfill the “needs” of the other?
What if we came to our times of worship to celebrate how we have witnessed the presence of Christ and how Christ has worked in, through, and around us?
What if we understood God is always at work in His world, reclaiming the broken places of our lives, our cities?
What if we understood we were created not only to be in relationship with Jesus but gifted in such ways to be used of God to pull His creation back to Him?
What if we understood we were created ON purpose FOR a purpose?
How different would our lives look if we understood God is in every moment and redemption is at work in every moment?
I’m guessing this perspective would change everything.
We always assume problems are to be avoided. Jesus didn’t. In fact, many of the stories we have about Jesus begin with Him directly confronting a difficult situation. As He reminded us, well people have no need of a doctor. So we shouldn’t be surprised to see He spent His ministry with those who most needed the Father’s attention. Nor should we be surprised to find His call to us takes us to the broken and ravaged parts of our world. Jesus came to reconcile the world and we are invited to join Him on this mission of reconciliation. No part of creation—whether commerce, education, politics, or relationships—is beyond the redemptive reach of His lordship.
In finding our YES, we’ll discover Christ has gifted us as His followers to make kingdom differences in every area of our social structure. This is how we discern our purpose. We evaluate and confirm our gifts through the affirmation of the church body. Then, we look for the nearest place of need. As we access the area of need around us, we look for opportunities to use our gifts to bring healing and hope in the name of Jesus. We use our talents, resources, and opportunities to spread the good news of Christ in concrete acts of love and mercy. When people see us working in our ministry of reconciliation, they will begin to ask questions. When they do, evangelism can happen in a natural, but extremely effective manner.
We live in a cynical time. Now, people will look for validation in what is said before it will be believed. Ministry must precede the message. Jesus seemed to have anticipated this moment and prepared His church for such a time.
How glorious and humbling it is to know Christ is still patiently in His world and allowing us, His children, to work with Him in ways that not only matter today, but also for eternity. This is the life we’re looking for. This is the life everyone is looking for. It’s the only life worth living.
Mike Glenn is senior pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, Tennessee. He is a gifted communicator who helps people find identity and meaning in God’s “yes,” and blogs at truthfulconversations.com. Mike is a graduate of Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He and his wife, Jeannie, have two married sons. His Twitter handle is @mikeglenn and his web site is MikeGlennOnline.com.