One of the great tensions we feel as the people of God is the tension between how we are supposed to live and why we are supposed to live that way. Yesterday, we saw Jesus make the powerful point that we are still a people bearing the image of God. The question is:
How then do we live?
It's not as easy a question as it seems on the surface. On the surface, we point to all of the commands and laws and examples of Scripture and say, clearly, this is how we live. We live in accordance with the laws in the Old Testament, with the Ten Commandments front and center. We live in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount, refusing even to think lustful or angry thoughts. We live in accordance with the example of Jesus, the preaching of Paul, the foundation of the early church.
We live in these ways because this is how God has told us to live. Thus saith the Lord.
Yes and...not quite.
For a great number of persons who call themselves Christians, this is enough. It's enough to say that we must do (or not do) a certain thing simply because God told us to do (or not do) said thing. It's enough to say that we live a certain way because the Bible tells us to live a certain way. Case closed.
But there's a danger in this thinking, a very real and present danger. Ready? This line of thought does not require an intimate relationship with a personal God. It doesn't require a personal God at all.
It's the same principle as following the laws in the Constitution. We do so because we are Americans, because we place fundamental value on the ideas that shape us as a nation. Because we love America. But it doesn't require America to love us back. And it doesn't really tell us, or the world, what America is. America, by her Constitution, is a place where people speak freely, own guns, are protected from unreasonable government intrusion, vote, pay taxes, and die. Absolutely none of this reveals the heart of America or the heart of her people. It's vastly impersonal, very bureaucratic, and missing the essential human element.
That's what happens when we live the Bible just because God said to. Without a personal God behind the commands to live our life in a certain way, we're saying much the same thing. The people of God are a people who don't take the Lord's name in vain, who don't murder or lie or cheat or steal, who share resources with one another, who go to church, pray, and die. Absolutely none of this reveals the heart of God or of His people. It just...is.
And that's a shame. For our God is an amazingly personal, awesomely intimate, absolutely relational God. And we, as His image-bearers, ought to be putting this truth front and center in our world. But it requires going beyond a simple "because God says so."
We have to ask why God says so. What is it about God that leads Him to say one thing over another? What is it about the nature of God that requires a person created in His image not to lie, cheat, steal, or murder? What does it reveal about the image of God when we live in the way that God tells us to live?
Because that's the heart of it. Every rule, every law, every commandment, every example is God shaping us to be more and more His image-bearers. Every little thing God tells us to do or not do, every way God tells us to live or not live, is intended to make manifest His image in the world.
We do not murder not because God told us not to, but because God places an incredible value on life. As His image-bearers in the world, we must do the same. We do not lie because God is truth. As His image-bearers, we must bear truth. We do not steal because God is sufficient. As His image-bearers, we must show sufficiency, contentment. We do not cheat because God is omnipotent; He can do anything. As His image-bearers, we must live in a way that we can do anything. We don't need the world's shortcuts.
We love because Jesus loved. We laugh because Jesus laughed. We cry because Jesus cried. We heal because Jesus healed. We pray because Jesus prayed. So often we read the story of Jesus and think how much He is like us, how He must have cried because we cry, laughed because we laugh, prayed because we pray. That's not it at all. Jesus was before we ever were, and it is we who are created in His image, not He in ours. As much as all the little things He did reveal our image in Him, so much more do all the little things we do reveal His image in us.
So we have to stop saying that we do what we do just because God tells us to do it. That's not enough. Thus saith the Lord is not sufficient to capture the essence of the Lord Himself. We must ask what the heart of God is that is revealed in His thus saith. We must ask not just what God demands of us, but why He demands it - what it reflects of His image when we, who are made in His image, get this one thing right. When we go beyond thus saith and hit the heart of "I Am."
When who we are and what we do both requires and reveals the amazingly personal, awesomely intimate, absolutely relational God who has called us to be His people, His image, in the world.