by Berry Kercheville
Can you remember why you became a Christian? Let’s think of some typical reasons:
- I didn’t want to go to hell.
- I knew getting baptized was something God asked me to do.
- I was feeling uneasy because I was getting to an age where baptism was expected.
Consider another question: what do you remember being taught that caused you to become a Christian? Again, here are some typical answers:
- I was taught about the consequences of not obeying God.
- I was taught the importance of being obedient.
- I read the stories in the book of Acts on how people became Christians.
Now a third question: why do you continue to obey the Lord? What motivates you to keep serving him? Typical answers:
- I know this is the right church that follows God’s commands.
- Living a life of sin isn’t appealing to me any more. I see the benefit of living morally and going to church.
- I want to go to heaven. Heaven seems to be the only real choice. I certainly do not want an eternity in hell.
Most Christians would probably recognize that some of the above answers fall short of a good reason to become a Christian or remain a Christian. Some of the answers are fine as far as they go, but none are answers God is desiring from us.
We have a tradition of giving an “invitation” at the end of a period of worship. Our invitations focus on being called to salvation. God also gave invitations to his people calling on them to make a choice about serving him. Joshua 24:14-15 is typical: “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him…and if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve…” When we read all of Joshua’s speech we realize that God’s invitations have a repetitive pattern. God’s begins with what he has done for his people. Once God has explained his graciousness toward them, only then does he ask for a response. Prior to Joshua’s invitation he gave a speech in which he listed all the good things God had done for the people and then concluded with, “Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God” (23:11). Therefore, please consider the primary reason God wants us to follow him and become his disciple.
No One Comes to Me Unless the Father Draws Him (John 6:44)
Here is the reason Jesus said that one would become his disciple: the Father draws him. The word draw carries the implication of a lover wooing a woman to be his wife. Do you know how I drew my wife to me and caused her to love me? When we first met, I gave her a long list of commands and said, “This is what I expect from the woman I will marry.” Her response was to fall hopelessly in love with me. Even more amazing is that her love just keeps growing because I give her a new list of commandments every morning. Are any of you believing this story? As the saying goes, “Don’t try this at home!”
In the same way, that has never been God’s approach. God has never led with a list of commands. Instead, God acts in love toward us in order to draw us into a covenant with him. Only then does he give us the terms of the covenant. First John 4:19, “We love him because he first love us.”
Recently a new Christian reminded me of our beginning Bible studies when he asked what the “essential commands” were? I frustrated him by answering, “All of God’s commands are essential.” I never said, “Here, look at this verse; you need to be baptized.” I knew if I had done that, he would have been baptized, but he would not have done it because he knew God or loved God and I would not have fulfilled the Great Commission by “making a disciple.” This problem has often been repeated: a person, in some cases a child, is convinced of baptism, but has not really been drawn to Jesus by God. Even if he never “falls away” in the classic sense of the phrase, his life as a disciple does not result in the life God intended.
Simon and the Sinful Woman (Luke 7:36-51)
The differences between Simon and the sinful woman illustrate the differences in how a person comes to God. Before we rashly condemn Simon, we need to consider how much we are like him. Simon keeps the rules. He is moral. He is a temple goer. He most likely has a fine wife and family. Simon even threw a little dinner party for Jesus. Simon is not a bad guy. I dare say, there are plenty “Simons” throughout churches today.
There is something else notable about Simon. Simon “grew up in the church.” Yes, just like I did and just like many of you did. While growing up like Simon should be a wonderful blessing, Simon turned the blessing into a curse. You see, when we grow up like Simon, too often our primary teaching has been to follow the rules that are visible and obvious (just the essentials, as my new Christian friend said), but with little emphasis on knowing God, and how wonderful he is (Isa. 9:6).
So what is the problem of knowing the rules? Well, that’s not the problem! The problem is, when we do not know God, we are unable to truly compare our life with his glory and cannot be transformed into his image. When we do not know God we do not make accurate comparisons, and therefore are not impressed with the severity of our sins. Knowing the rules without knowing God causes us to think of God in human terms and therefore justify our less visible sins, the sins of our heart, and the sins defined by what we ought to be instead of what rule we have broken. To make this point, Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6 twice to show what God desired: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Do you see what God desires? Faithful love and the knowledge of God. Keeping the “rules” of obeying a burnt offering is meaningless unless the burnt offering is generated from faithful love toward God and knowing him in such a way that the offering is made out of deep appreciation for who he is.
When we compare Simon to the sinful woman there is a major difference. The woman loathes herself for her sins and transgressions. As a result, when Jesus forgives her, she loves much; she cannot do enough to show Jesus how much she adores him. Simon, on the other hand, has obeyed the rules, but he does not love God deeply because he is not impressed with what God has done for him. His response to Jesus is unimpressive.
Now why does Jesus want us to come to him? God is looking for people who love him deeply. It is the kind of love that the Lord described when he spoke of Christ and the church: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Eph. 5:31). Please do not satisfy yourself by thinking, “I love God because I keep his commandments.” Jesus did not say it that way. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). A relationship with God begins with love.