11 January 2011

What did Jesus (not) say about... God's desire for us? (full post)

by Dan Phillips

"God wants you to have your best life right now."
The perspective I'm reading into the phrase is that of the old Schlitz commercial: "You only go around once in life so you've got to grab for all the gusto you can." On religious lips, the intent is not to deny an afterlife nor celestial blessings — just to sideline them by focusing everything on the here and now. "Best life now" means good health, good loving, good money, good house, good goodies, good success in my endeavors. It means success and prosperity on my terms, here and now.

Does Jesus say that's God's priority for us? It has to stand as a singular perversity that this meaning is extracted from John 10:10b — "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." That someone could read this verse and immediately connect "life" with material prosperity, or success in pursuing my goals, is very revealing. And not in a good way.

Is that what God sees, when He looks down on mankind? "Ah Me; if only they had more things! If only they had their way more often! If only they were more free of all suffering and trial!" Is that what God thinks?

Now here comes The Thing about Christianity that too many don't seem to "get": we needn't and mustn't guess. God has already told us what He thinks when He looks at us.

      God looks down from heaven
      on the children of man
                  to see if there are any who understand,
      who seek after God.

            3      They have all fallen away;
      together they have become corrupt;
                  there is none who does good,
      not even one. (Psalm 53:2-3)

So God primarily sees and assesses the human condition in relationship to Himself. Are men primarily rightly related to Him? is the question He asks. No, is the answer.

This makes perfect sense with what Jesus says, in so many words, when asked to single out the most important thing in all life.  The form of the question as posed was "which is the great commandment in the Law?" (Matthew 22:36). But as we know from Jesus' well-known and well-understood worldview, the commandments of the Law were revelations of the mind and will of God. Therefore, to single out the most important of these was to single out what was foremost to God and, therefore, what is foremost in the universe.

How did Jesus reply?
 "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40)
Neither commandment had anything to do with getting my way for myself to make me happy. Neither sends me back plummeting into the trackless vortex of my passions and cravings and demands. No, the commands send me out of myself in outward-seeking love, first to God Himself, then to the image of God in my neighbor.

That, you might say, is our great, ultimate and consuming destination. Ah, but how do I get there from here? That's the problem; that's my problem. Here, I am chained to a heart that is a laboratory of sin, Jesus says (Matthew 15:19). I am flesh, born of flesh, and of myself I can never aspire to be more than flesh (John 3:6a). More, I am a natural-born citizen and denizen of a world that hates God and His truth, and I fit in just fine with it (John 7:7; 15:18-19).

What is the answer? Jesus gave it. I need Him to pay the ransom-price in my stead, to free me from the guilt and power of my sin (Matthew 20:28). I need to be born again by the Spirit of God, to change my nature from without (John 3:1-8). I need to pass from death to life through faith in Christ (John 5:24).

And then what is life to me?

Life is a life where I am on my way, on a trip, just passing through. This world is not my home — not now, anyway, and not this world. This world hated my Lord, and it will hate me (Matthew 10:24-25; John 15:18). In it, I should expect to suffer. I will be poor in spirit, will mourn, must be meek, will hunger and thirst for righteousness, will be persecuted for righteousness' sake, will be reviled and persecuted and accused of all kinds of evil against you falsely on Christ's account (Matthew 5:1-11). I will expect — not to climb into a Rolls Royce, but — to take up a cross as the means of my own execution, and learn to say "No" to my self, daily (Luke 9:23).

But in all this (and more!), I must rejoice and be glad — not expecting God to send me a diamond ring or a mansion in Bermuda, but assuredly expecting something far better.

I will expect to see God in His glory. I will expect to see His kingdom (Matthew 5:3). I will expect the rewards infinitely to outweigh the sorrows (Matthew 5:12; cf. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). And that expectation constantly spills over into the present, and gives me reason for hope and joy and rejoicing and gladness (Matthew 5:12; Luke 6:23; cf. Romans 5:2).

This world is a gymnasium, a war theater, a testing-ground.

"Best life now"?


Dan Phillips's signature


Wendy said...

If this is my best life, then I'm in trouble and it's all hopeless.

I'm rather looking forward to my best life coming *after* I die, not before.

J♥Yce Burrows said...

5*s love it! God bless you gents for looking out for us with measure after measure of truth ~

Steve Berven said...

I'm continually drawn to those verses, such as you reference in Psalms, where it says no one does good, not one.

Really? In the entire world, there's no one that does good things, helps little old ladies across the street, pays someone's grocery bill?

That's the catch, though, isn't it? What we call "good" and what God sees as good are two very different things.

Perhaps a good tranlsation of "good" in this case is "God's will?"

There are none that do God's will, not one? Sadly, I find that a lot easier to believe.

So many people today who have lots of things and money, and yet live miserable, wretched lives.

Alice said...

Gotta love that smile:)

Kay said...

I'm sensing a theme on the blog from these past couple of posts. It's a good theme.

John said...

Well said. I have so many loved ones who are miserable in life. If only they could understand this.....that there is so much more than circumstances and things.

Robert said...

I recognize that smile (I think)...and it creeps me out! Of course, I guess it is not the smile as much as the man behind it who ignores what Scripture says about the world and what it has to offer.

"Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever." (1 John 2:15-17)

"What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." (James 4:1-4)

And then there are the words of Jesus:

"'Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.'" (Matthew 6:19-21)

If our treasures are laid up in heaven, then how is our best life here and now? If we have our treasures here, then what is waiting for us when we die?

lee n. field said...

What did Jesus not say? He did not say "It's Your Time", time to "Activate Your Faith, Achieve Your Dreams, and Increase in God's Favor ". Nope, didn't say that. If it's "your time now", then later, not so much.

I do recall verbiage about being kicked out of synagoge, hauled before authorities, etc.

tobekiwi said...

"For I know that my Redeemer lives and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!"
Job 19:25-27

Stefan Ewing said...

"For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come," "the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God." (Hebrews 13:14; 11:10)

So many thoughts, but I want to keep it short.

As a counterpoint, praise God that He is a God of providence, who sustains us in our needs, even though, as wretched sinners, we don't deserve any of it. Praise God that He does work "all things...together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose," knowing that it is good defined on His terms, not ours. All things work together for good "for those who love God," and since we all fall short, thank God that "He first loved us."

Thank God that He doesn't reward us according to what we truly deserve. And thank God that in His common grace, He refrains from granting all of us what we desire in our human hearts, since this world would be an even worse place than it is.

And as for everything we treasure in this worldly life, the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, and in both shall His Name be blessed.

Stefan Ewing said...
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Steve Drake said...

"For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment...(Isaiah 64:6).

Notice that Isaiah says our 'righteous' (good) deeds are like a filthy garment (the phrase here unfortunate in polite company that actually refers to menstrual cloths).

But Scripture seems not to care about our sensibilities so much, as to express in the most vivid terms what God thinks about our 'good' deeds. In modern vernacular something to be flushed down the toilet.

Stefan Ewing said...
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Stefan Ewing said...

The last paragraph of my last comment sounds so glib.

But I've seen both halves of God's providence—the positive and negative sides—in my own life, as has everyone else here, in one way or another.

May God alone be praised when we go through seasons of health and comfort, since everything we have is a gift from God to undeserving sinners.

And may God alone be glorified when we go through seasons of difficulty, as we call upon His Name and remember that He will not abandon nor forsake His covenant children.

Wamalo said...

Thanks Dan,

I had a similar conversation with my two boys (10 and 8) after supper last night. Though not as well put.

David Sheldon said...

Here is the text from 2 Corinthians 4:11 on Paul's version of his best life now:

"For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh."

The "best life now" mindset was driven home to me recently when I saw a billboard advertising a local church. Believe it or not - a picture of Jesus with the caption: "It's all about Him and He's all about you."

Kinda makes you want to .... - and keep ministering and praying for God's remnant.

Pyro's posts keep getting sweeter by the day!

naturgesetz said...

Well said. And nicely toned.

I'm reminded of the cartoon parody of a beer commercial: guys on a beach around a fire, drinking beer , and one guy says, "It doesn't get any better than this," and another says, "That's what I was afraid of."

A number of years ago a guy at work whom I was trying to witness to asked, "If I believe in God and pray and live a good life, will he take care of me?" My answer, after verifying that the guy meant prevent him from suffering and give him success, was, "No. It's not about being happy in this life."

Rob said...

Those teeth will haunt my sleep tonight!

Rachael Starke said...

Scariest opening graphic ever.

And a great reminder as I'm stuck in a season of what feels like plodding and slogging. Thanks.

Mike Westfall said...

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not anguish, but have his Best Life Now.

Stefan Ewing said...

Even after I came to saving faith in Jesus Christ, I was labouring under the illusion (fostered by the world and popular "Christianity") that life would get easier and more pleasant as time goes by. Even that is a form of the prosperity gospel, albeit in a watered down form.

Now, I'm learning that the question isn't whether or not life gets easier or harder or more or less pleasant—such criteria are based our own selfish standards and those of the world, anyhow.

But how do we deal with the challenges of life? How do we glorify God in all that we do? How do we find joy even in the midst of great suffering (as was the case for Paul, for example, or countless persecuted Christian brothers and sisters today)?

Through the crucified and resurrected Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit, God gives us what is truly our best life, even though it may not measure up to our neighbours' conception of the same.

And not to get too flaky, but in a sense God gives us the eyes to see the true treasure and wealth and prosperity in front of our eyes (the riches of His Kingdom, the gem-strewn tapestry of His Word), rather than the fleeting, transitory, ultimately unsatisfactory prosperity the world offers.

Now, on a lighter note, why do I have a sudden hankering to go out and buy dental care products?

The Blainemonster said...

Reminds me of this piece of classic art...

Unknown said...

DJP - This world is a gymnasium, a war theater, a testing-ground.

Or as Bunyan put it: a horse stall.

from Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan:
This done and after these things had been somewhat digested by Christiana and her company, the Interpreter takes them apart again, and has them first into a Room where was a Man that could look no way but downwards, with a Muck-rake in his hand. There stood also one over his head with a Celestial Crown in his hand, and proffered him that Crown for his Muck-rake; but the man did neither look up, nor regard, but raked to himself the straws, the small sticks and dust of the floor.

Then said Christiana, I persuade myself that I know something of the meaning of this; for this is a figure of a Man of this World, is it not, good Sir?

Inter. Thou hast said the right said he, and his Muck-rake doth shew his carnal mind. And whereas thou seest him rather give heed to rake up straws and sticks and the dust of the floor, than to what he says that calls to him from above with the Celestial Crown in his hand, it is to shew that Heaven is but as a fable to some, and that things here are counted the only things substantial. Now whereas it was also shewed thee that the man could look no way but downwards, it is to let thee know that earthly things when they are with power upon men's minds, quite carry their hearts away from God.

Chris. Then said Christiana, O deliver me from this Muck-rake.

Inter. That prayer, said the Interpreter, has lain by till 'tis almost rusty. Give me not Riches, is scarcely the prayer of one of ten thousand. Straws and sticks and dust with most are the great things now looked after.

With that Mercy and Christiana wept, and said, It is alas! too true.

"Best life now"?



James S said...

Thanks Dan, I love this series you are doing. Every one of these is good.

I perceive that in life there are two cups we can drink from.
We either drink from the cup that The Lord Jesus drank, which brings suffering now but eternal rejoicing in the real world (the one that is not passing away), or we drink from the cup of the great whore of babylon, which brings pleasure now but misery eternally in the real world.

My life is a witness to that. Everything was fine up until I was 10, then I was born from above and all hell broke loose. My teen years were pretty rough, my 20's & 30's were even rougher, and now in my mid-forties I rely on miracle after miracle just to get through each day.

I always remain inches from total ruin and being ground up under the huge wheels of life in this world. It takes every ounce of strength and penny I can muster to just have enough to eat each day and keep my rented shelter, and the essentials it takes to keep a job - utilities, my beat up 20 year old car, clean clothes, etc.

But through it each day my relationship with The Lord is ever strengthened and I know Him better than I ever could any other way. He gives me my daily needs. I must speak with Him every morning or I surely would lose all desire to keep on.

I must listen to sermons on my ipod every day at lunch or I would surely lose heart and starve.(what a great gift from my brother that thing was...and he thinks I listen to music on it).

I love to meditate on God's Words constantly, and consider the sure hope of the future with Him, Real Life and True Rest.

If I was rich and didn't have to come to Him for my every need, and to solve my constant troubles, I would never have the awesome relationship I have with Him, or the enormous amount of faith in Him that I have.
He knows my heart all too well.

thomas4881 said...

Jesus Christ must be first in the heart of Christians for us to have our best life now. I think the reasons the Church seems to not be strong is because of the previous sentence. What kind of soldiers would America have if they only trained once a week for one hour? As God's soldiers we must train daily by reading scripture, praying continually, trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit and not our flesh, and putting on the full armor of God.

Michael said...

With all due respect for your inspiring posts on this blog, Dan, how does your righteous speaking on loving God and neighbor manifest itself on your other blog? And I'm not referring to "loving" equaling politically correct acceptance or being apolitical. May it never be!
So, really, is that blog meant to be a place to blow off steam away from the rest of your life where you try to represent God's Glory?

Steve Berven said...

"Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. " Matt 6:31-33.

I suspect it often comes down to "needs" vs. "wants," and the obvious confusion many of us have about the difference 'tween the two.

My suspicion is that if your really do "seek first the Kingdom of God," then your definition of "need" and even "want" will shift significantly, and you'll find you have a lot less dissatisfaction with the things in your life. And suddenly, a full and rich life takes on an entirely new meaning.

James S said...

Another thing I've learned is that if you arent suffering in this life, maybe you arent really presenting much of a problem to the kingdom

If you aren't tearing down strongholds of evil in this world with prayer (our greatest weapon), the devil certainly isn't going to be very vicious towards you but will instead lull you into a false sense of peace.

Jim Pemberton said...

"'Best life now' means good health, good loving, good money, good house, good goodies, good success in my endeavors. It means success and prosperity on my terms, here and now."

I've seen countless prayer requests asking for these things and praise reports when these things come. "On my terms" is a great catch-phrase for our visceral notions of good leadership. We likewise reward such apparent success in this life with enhanced fellowship and increased opportunities and responsibilities. Perhaps this is due in part to things like Jesus' parable about the talents.

But these things are often a distraction from our need for further sanctification. What would the Church look like if we rewarded spiritual growth instead of worldly success? ...or should we reward anyone?

DJP said...

Sorry, Michael, meant to respond earlier but last week was a doozy.

It is possible that I am being too soft and namby-pamby in how I stand up to and expose tyranny and false doctrine (in pursuit of second and first great commandments). That's always a danger, given the incessant whine of this lukewarm age. I'll take your suggestion under advisement, and see if I can ratchet it up some.