Friday, August 21, 2020

Can You Be a Good Christian and Not Know God?

Most Christians that I know sincerely want to please God. They work hard to live a life that they believe God would want them to live. But I think we have missed the mark of what really pleases God. I want to examine this scripture in Philippians where the apostle Paul sets us straight.

Although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: [5] circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; [6] as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. Philip. 3:4-6 (NASB-U)

These words of Paul are what in his time would be a description of a Godly man. These were activities of faith that to his listeners put him far above the average religious man.

Let's translate this into our culture. I often hear statements such as, "that guy is a really good Christian." Or, "I am not really a very good Christian." What do people mean when they say this? What is meant by "good Christian"? They may not be consciously aware of it but I believe they are really referring to what I call the "big five" of Christianity.

They are Prayer, Bible study, Church attendance, Giving and Witnessing. We believe that the person who does these things well is a "good Christian." You are a better or lesser Christian depending on how you measure up to this check list. Usually when we feel like we aren't "right" with God it is because we do not score well on the "big five" list. But listen to what Paul goes on to say in this letter to the Philippians.

But whatever things (he just listed those "things" as religious activities) were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. [8] More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, [9] and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, Philip. 3:7-9 (NASB-U)

Paul seems to be saying that there is a difference between religious activities, or in our case, Christian activities and really knowing Jesus. He does not mean just knowing about God but a deep intimate relationship. The "big five" will naturally come out of knowing God but they do not necessarily lead us to that knowledge. They are tools that only have value in as much as they are used for the right purpose.

Suppose I had a goal in life to build the greatest house ever built. To achieve that goal I go to school and study every aspect of building from design to construction. Then I go and work as an apprentice to a master builder and learn the "tricks of the trade" that you can't learn in school. Then I go and buy the best tools for building that money can buy. There I stand decked out with all the fancy tools and all the knowledge and skills to use them. But what good is any of that if I never build the house. There is no glory and value in the tools or knowledge in and of themselves. You see, I know many people who do the "big five" really well but do not really know God. But I don't know anyone who truly knows God that does not do the "big five."

Why do so many miss this value that the most important thing in life is to truly know God in an intimate way? Why is it easier to get caught up in activity than to "Cease striving and know that I am God?" (Psalms 46:10) Part of the answer lies in understanding how Satan operates in our lives.

We know that Satan is responsible for a lot of pain in the world but I do not think we understand why. In reality, Satan doesn't really care about you, one way or the other. He doesn't care if you go to church or live a good or bad life. You mean nothing to him. Satan is consumed by his hatred of God and his belief that he should rightfully be God. His constant desire is not to hurt you but to hurt God. Since God's greatest desire is to have intimate fellowship with you then the best way Satan can hurt God is to prevent that from happening. How does he do that?

Every time you move toward intimacy with God Satan will bring pain into your life. The natural human response to pain is to pull away. In Luke 14:25-35 Jesus tells his followers that they need to count the cost of following Him. He gives an illustration of a King who goes to war with ten thousand men against an army of twenty thousand. In the middle of the battle he has to send a delegation to ask the terms of peace. Many of you unknowingly have struck a deal with Satan for peace. Here are his terms. "I don't care if you go to church or in fact do any of the "big five" as long as you stay away from intimacy with God. If you stay clear of God then I won't bother you." And that is where many live, busy with Christian activity but never really knowing God intimately.

Let's go back to Paul again. He felt so strongly about the difference between the Christian activity and in fact every good thing in his life that he said,

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, (Philippians 3:8 NASB)

The word translated here as rubbish is actually the slang word for excrement or manure. That is how strongly he felt about it. What seemed to cost him everything actually gained him the best thing. But he also understood that this choice would involve pain.

That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; Philip. 3:10 (NASB-U)

Everyone would love to know the "power of His resurrection" the power that raised Jesus from the dead, but are we willing to pay the price of the "fellowship of His sufferings?" My friend, you will not know one without the other. But I promise you that when you experience this kind of relationship with the creator of the universe everything else in your life will pale in comparison. This is God's design for your life. This is what will please Him.

I believe that God created and designed the universe to work in a certain way. When you live life according to that design it works, if you do not then life doesn't work. Even if you do not believe in God this design is observable and verifiable. Learning that design is the best way to experience contentment in life.

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