The Wrong Way to Attempt This
Do you believe in what you cannot see? You often do. It might be a news story from your favorite news source. It might be you believe your bank statement’s declaration of your savings account balance, even though you cannot see your savings. It might be that you believe in Covid-19, having never seen it.
To reject the existence of God because “I can not see him” is really a rather pathetic response. To reject God, because “I don’t think a God would allow such evil if he were good” is the result of failing to understand the source of evil, our personal responsibility and God’s bigger plan and purposes. I have never seen God, but I have no doubt in his existence. I see what he has done and that he keeps his promises. I believe he is holy. I am not.
Most of us, if we upset someone we care about or who has power over us, will try to do something to restore the relationship. We will usually see a need to do more than just say “I’m sorry” and will use a gift to soften the offended party so that they will forgive us. We will make promises about not doing it again. The cycle is likely repeated many times.
One thing I have seen in various religions, including some forms of so-called “Christianity” is the recognition that God, or the gods or some deity is angry. “God is not pleased” is an understatement. As a result, it is legitimate that I should be afraid. It may be that we have offended the deity, and we think we have the solution. We try to do something that makes the anger subside. We want to be on good terms with someone or Someone who has power to make our lives miserable or even destroy us.
In religious circles this shows up in the form of sacrifices, gifts (money, food, gold), attending religious gatherings, prayers and doing things to show we are sorry. It may also include “confession” to see if we can gain, if not approval, at least a temporary reprieve.
The God of the Bible isn’t impressed with, nor does he accept as satisfactory any of the things we say, do or give him to please him. This truth is transparent throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament. God declares the sacrifices he commanded were not what pleased him. It was faith in him and what he had commanded and promised. It was fear and love for him which resulted in acts of obedience. In short, it wasn’t works but faith. It was confidence that God was who he said he was and that he did what he promised he would do.
This goes all the way back to Genesis where God said, “don’t eat from this tree, and if you do you will die.” Did they believe God? Did they have faith that he was being good to them by placing a restriction on their access to a specific tree? Unfortunately, Adam and Eve did not believe God. Their lack of faith was life-altering. It brought death. (Also see: 1 Samuel 15:22, Psalm 40, Psalm 51, Isaiah 1:11, Amos 5:18-24, Malachi 3:6-18)
The Only Way to Please God
The author of the book of Hebrews recounts the lives of many in the Old Testament. The list in chapter 11 includes some we might expect to see there, like Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Samuel. But it also includes some that seem out-of-place like Rahab the prostitute and Samson. What was true of all of these was their right view of God and a trust in his promises. None of them were perfect, by any standard, but they died in faith. Hebrews 11:13-16 says they, “all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
What is Faith?
It is belief God exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Notice that God is the one who does the work. If you want to draw near to God, you must believe he exists and that he rewards those who do seek to draw near. He isn’t accepting my gifts as the atonement or payment for my offenses. He accepts the gifts given in faith, but it isn’t the gift that saves, but the faith. See Ephesians 2:8-9 for a clear statement of this fact. Both Abel and Cain offered sacrifices, but only Abel had faith in God. Abel is the one who received the reward. Here is the Hebrews text that talks about what pleases God:
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Hebrews 11:1-6 (ESV)
The central promise of the Old Testament was a Messiah, Prophet, Priest and King who would be the Redeemer and Savior. I like what John Piper had to say about this. Friday’s daily devotional by John Piper said this (May 1, 2020):
“It is true that any shortcoming of God’s law offends against his perfect holiness and makes us liable to judgment, since God cannot look with favor on any sin (Habakkuk 1:13; James 2:10–11). But what brought a person to ruin in the Old Testament (and it is the same for us today) was not the failure to have the righteousness of sinless perfection. What brought them to ruin was the failure to trust in the merciful promises of God, especially the hope that he would one day provide a redeemer who would be a perfect righteousness for his people (“the Lord is our righteousness,” Jeremiah 23:6; 33:16). The saints knew that this is how they were saved, and that this faith was the key to obedience, and that obedience was the evidence of this faith.”
My approach to God isn’t based on anything I bring in my hands or any sacrifice or gift I have to offer. My approach is based on the finished work of the One God promised in the Old Testament. He exists and he keeps his promises. As a result, I strive to change my focus, priorities, goals and desires to align with those of God. This is “presenting my body as my reasonable sacrifice.” (Romans 12:1-2)
Paul declared Christ as sufficient in all his letters to the churches. To the church in Corinth he said, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:56-58
Every person who refuses to accept the existence of God will one day be proven so very wrong. Don’t make that fatal mistake. Every person who fails to see Jesus as the gift and the reward will also see that their pile of good deeds will fail them. That is a tragedy. Don’t approach God with anything less than and nothing more than faith.
It boils down to accepting or rejecting the following.
Acts 4:12 “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”