Who is our God?
Religion is a manifestation of the God we worship. An angry and violent God will create angry and violent followers. We are told to love God with all our mind heart and soul. Is it possible to love a tyrant? Is it possible to love someone’s who threatens us with death? This is how many perceive the God of the Bible. But could this be a misconception?
It was said “to know God is to love him, for God is Love” and “For this is eternal life to know the only true God and Christ whom he has sent.” John 17:3
There is incredible power in “knowing God”. This is the secret to life eternal. By beholding God we are changed. If our God is love, then our life will naturally manifest love, mercy and righteousness.
We need to examine our own perception of God.
Are we serving a shrewd master? A hard and exacting man? One that would avenge His enemies in anger? Or is our God primarily merciful and gracious, forgiving iniquity.
The Bible says “God is light and in him is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5
To have a wrong perception of the character of God is the same as serving a false God. The Bible says that "God is Love" 1 John 4:8.
Is God’s love Unconditional?
So then if God is love, is His love conditional or unconditional? Think about it.
If His love is truly unconditional then the 10 commandments were actually not requirements to be fulfilled by the Christian, and the Sabbath was never a test of loyalty. Rather the Ten Commandments were a covenant of what God promised to do for His people. “I will write my laws on your heart”. “You will honor thy mother and thy father.” These were never requirements for salvation, they were the fruits that God promised to his people when they truly knew him. If they knew him as a God of mercy and grace.
But rather they believed he was a God, quick to judge and destroy; a God of death with a vindictive spirit; a jealous God with an angry and violent nature.
So in beholding that God they would also become like him. They were harsh critics, unforgiving, full of indignation and vengeance for one another, not capable of loving their enemies. Do these characteristics sound familiar? They are merely fruits of the common perception of God. That He is a stern judge with expectations of perfection.
This God’s love is Eros, wild, jealous, passionate, unpredictable, and love sick, but in an instant turning into a jealous rage. This is the God we see worshiped in fear by the majority of the Christian world. This God needs to be appeased by worship and sacrifice.
This is not the God of Agape.
Agape is not drawn to any attribute of the recipient such as beauty, intelligence or talent. But rather Agape or unconditional love flows out from the giver as a principle. So if we think that in any way that our own beliefs or obedience merit salvation we actually reveal that we are still enemy’s of God and need to be born again into a new understanding “I desire mercy not sacrifice, I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings.” Hosea 6:6
Christ came to show mercy
Humans tend to repay evil for evil; eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We are full of indignation for the sin of others, yet we tend to excuse our own sins. This is the condition of the carnal heart, blind to its own evil and full of vengeance for the evil of another. This is why the earth is filled with violence.
We manifest this way of thinking in our religious experience. If I ask the question, what does the sinner deserve? Christians emphatically say “they deserve death!”, but is this Gods judgement or ours?
Jesus came to reveal our own judgments of death and vengeance in contrast with his judgements of mercy and forgiveness.
Christ’s life proved to humanity that God is not full of judgement and anger, but rather he is abounding in love and mercy. He teaches us to judge in the same manner. “love your enemies and do good to those that persecute you” “so that you may be like your father in heaven.” Matt 5:44
So Gods judgement is that the sinner should receive mercy, not death. Sadly when men reject mercy, death results naturally. He lets them receive the same verdict they so emphatically pronounced on others. Their own system of Judgement will measure them. “As you judge so you shall be judged” and Judge not lest you be judged”. This will be explained In more detail later.
Performance based thinking
Our love is primarily conditional in nature. If you love me then I will love you, if you hate me I will hate you. Our acceptance of one another tends to depend on the individuals attributes. Are they funny, beautiful, rich, etc... We likewise project this attribute on God’s acceptance of us.
If we exist in a performance based spiritual experience we will swing between two errors like a pendulum. Either we will be burdened down with our own sense of guilt, with no hope at all. Or we will be blind to our true condition and full of spiritual pride, judging others harshly.
The only way for us to be set free from this pendulum of failure is to see that we are loved unconditionally whether we fail or succeed. This is the faith of the righteous. That God has accepted us in Christ.
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” Rom 8:1
We need not question our acceptance with God based on our obedience. We are accepted of God not because of who we are, but because of who God is. This is the test of our faith. If we have truly accepted unconditional love into our hearts then we will manifest this in love and mercy to others, we will even have compassion for our enemies!
The root of all sin
True religion is about receiving unconditional love from God. Love produces righteousness and sin produces worthlessness. And worthlessness produces sin. It’s a vicious cycle.
All sins spring forth from an attempt to find value outside of Gods unconditional love. Do you perceive your value as dependent on the attributes you possess? Do you measure yourself by your, talents, possessions, status, behaviors or beliefs. These are a very unstable sources of value and provide no consistency. We will constantly measure ourselves by our peers. This naturally brings feelings of inadequacy, shame or worthlessness or on the contrary pride. There is an endless effort to prove, maintain and protect this value. We must work for it.
Vanity, pride, efforts to gain power and control over others, anger, violence and abuse, all stem from a worthless and miserable person. It is the root of all evil. They are willing to do anything to gain control over others. They ruthlessly oppress the poor and their neighbors. They advance their own kingdom with ambitions for success. They buy cars and houses in order to prove to themselves their own value. They are slaves to money and appearance; they medicate their misery with drugs, alcohol and sex. They are an empty pit never to be filled. They live a self destructive life and destroy themselves. They cannot love because they don’t know Love. They are only concerned with self preservation and protecting their sources of value and pleasure. They destroy relationships and suffer much misery. They are punished by the results of their behaviors and are trapped in a cycle of worthlessness. When failure manifests in worthlessness and all pride is gone the end result is often suicide. Many choose death for themselves.
We see this also manifested in the life of the self-righteous person.
They are willingly blind to their own condition and cover their worthlessness with spiritual pride ( a garment of fig leaves). They puff themselves up with intellectual wisdom, with fine theological arguments. They may pray 5 times a day and pay extra tithe. They lift themselves up above other men in believing that their beliefs and behaviors are superior. They put heavy burdens of obligation on their brethren though do not live up to their own expectations.
But these individuals will stand before God and see their spiritual nakedness. Their pride will be removed and they will see themselves according to their own works based value system. Their guilt will overwhelm them and they will call down the rocks on their heads that their shame may be hidden. As they judged in life so they will judge themselves in death. “Them that hate me love death”. Their sins in contrast to Gods righteous presence will be to them a consuming fire. They prefer death rather than to exist in His presence. This is the fire of hell, the torment of a guilty conscience. They request death and God will honor their wish. In mercy he will sadly withdraw his life sustaining power and allow them to die.
“Who is it that will dwell in everlasting burnings, it is the righteous!” And who are the righteous? Those that believe that God has forgiven their iniquity and resolved their guilt. These are not consumed in the fires of conscience. Only those who don’t look to their own performance as proof of their acceptance with God will stand before Him and not perish. Only those who understand the height and depth of the love of God.
Like Paul they exclaim "And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord." Rom 8:31
Even hell itself will not separate us from Gods love. How is this possible? In that God still loves those that will prefer death rather then to accept forgiveness and life.
Many believe that hell is about an act of arbitrary torture to avenge wickedness. That God is angry at sinners and desires to burn them alive. But we know that this is not the case. The word wrath can also be translated as grief and is a much more fitting word for His emotion. It is descriptive of the rapid breathing of the nostrils. God doesn’t want the wicked to die but to repent, free themselves from guilt and live. He does not stand to the sinner as an executioner but it is sin itself that destroys man. He chooses death in Gods presence because of the crushing weight of his own guilt which he refuses to relinquish. Even God cannot save him from this. This is the unpardonable sin! The sin that the sinner refuses to be forgiven of. In some people conviction brings repentance and in others it brings torment and death. This is how death manifests in the judgement, not that God actively destroys sinners but that they have destroyed themselves. God says “I will come close to you in Judgement” this is God coming close to the rejecters of mercy, he tells them how much they are loved and how their sins have caused suffering to both man and God. This will cause immense distress and torment. It says when we do good to our enemies it brings down coals of fire on their heads. Not physical fire but the burning of guilt In the soul. The sinner then has the choice to harden his heart in anger rejecting mercy or to repent and accept forgiveness. The wicked are only lost because they refuse believe they can be forgiven. They choose to hang on to their guilt. This is the fire of love that either brings repentance or torment. The same thing that saves the righteous will destroy the wicked! Love will consume the wicked and torment them unto death.
Should there be any fear in Love?
What if one day I said to my beautiful wife, if you ever cheat on me I’ll burn you alive. What would that do to her perception of me? Would she be capable of truly loving me?
Likewise should we fear God and worship him because we fear hell? Is this freedom to love? Is God pleased with this obedience? Love does not use force, coercion or manipulation. We must examine our understandings of hell and other interpretations of “Gods judgment” that we might find harmony between his character and his dealings with man.
Many today preach a perverted gospel that is not in harmony with the gentle methods of Christ and the God of Love. They assert, repent or else God will burn you alive in the flames of hell. Not only to death but eternally! Christ doesn’t threaten man into obedience rather he gives a gentle invitation, “if you love me, keep my commandments.” His unconditional love brings about freedom from a fear based obedience.
We need to be born again from this understanding that Gods love is conditional. That he either accepts or rejects us depending on what we do! We cannot escape the fires of guilt and self-condemnation if we believe in a performance-based God. When we love him, then we will do those things which please him. We must be born again. Born to the understanding of the merciful character of God. This knowledge acts as a hedge or a cleft in the rock through which we can see Gods love without being destroyed. like Moses when he beheld the glory of God, in mercy he was only permitted to see a portion of Gods back that he might not be consumed with self-condemnation and fear. Knowing the true character of God is a robe of righteousness that protects us from seeing our own nakedness and perishing into a performance-based death. We do not naturally possess this robe of righteousness, it is given to us by Christ. This robe of righteousness is a correct picture of God. We see him as Agape and this love casts out all fear of rejection, converting the soul to love. This true picture of God is what seals us in judgement! If this picture of God will not waiver, even in the face of our own sin, we will pass through death into life eternal. We will not question our identity as Gods children and we will be sealed in his love for eternity.
Like Jacob wrestling with the angel, he didn’t give in to doubt but believed God was merciful and would accept him a sinner. When we freely accept his grace then we can love, for those who are forgiven much love much. We are often tempted to look at God and perceive him as angry with us, we often believe that we have gone too far for Him to forgive. It is easier for us to continue in sin if we think God is angry with us, it drives us further into rebellion and hardens our hearts toward him.
But if we see the true nature of God, we see Him with tears in his eyes pleading with the sinner to receive life, we will not continue to grieve Christ by walking away from him into sin. We will repent from our ways and returning much sooner than if we perceive an angry God waiting to visit judgment upon sinners.
In the Bible many find it hard to reconcile the idea of a loving God with the events of the Old Testament. On a closer inspection of the Bible you will see that God never intended violence to be practiced by his people. He warned “those who live by the sword will die by the sword” Matt 26:52. But they continued in their proud ways. They desired to “make a name for themselves” to be known as valiant in battle, vowing to crush their enemies in Gods name.
God needed to reveal how destructive this way of thinking was so he allowed them to do the very things they wished.
“I gave them over to worthless decrees and regulations that would not lead to life.” Ezekiel 20:25
The commands to kill where just a mirror expressing to the Israelites their own murderous thoughts toward their neighbors. Why did no one question their actions in the light of Gods law? “Thou shalt not kill.” They should have inquired of God, is this really your will? Is there not another way? Can we advance peacefully? God often acts as a mirror reflecting back at us our own thoughts and attitudes.
“With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; with the purified you show yourself pure; but to the devious you show yourself shrewd.” Psalm 18:25
If we are judgmental we will perceive God as judgmental. If we exercise mercy, we will perceive that God is merciful. The Bible is spiritual, discerning the heart. When we look into it’s pages we will either see life or death, mercy or judgment depending on the condition of our hearts.
Jesus says "If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.” John 12:47
In this we see that God doesn’t judge us, our own behavior and system of judgment will determine if we receive life or death in Gods presence.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” this is where the Israelites began their walk with God. They never reached maturity in their perception of God. “Perfect love casts out all fear” if they knew God as he really is all their fear would have been cast out. They would have served God with a willing heart showing love and mercy to their enemies.
“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1 Cor 13:12
We now see God dimly as if looking through a darkened mirror, sometimes we see God and other times we see our own sinful reflection. We must not confuse the two. The life of Christ must illuminate our reading of scripture.
We must be overcomer’s of the doubt regarding Gods character. We must believe that God has forgiven us. “Then we will have the right to sit with Him on His thrown, just as Christ overcame and sat down on his Fathers thrown” Rev 3:21. This overcoming is not necessarily speaking about obedience but rather overcoming doubt, or doubting the merciful character of God. Faith proceeds righteousness and produces it. We must overcome doubt.
How did Christ overcome death and sin? On the cross in the depths of his despair, when everything was against him and it appeared that God had forsaken him. When he was personally suffering under all the misery, guilt and feelings of worthlessness of the whole world. He was tempted to doubt Gods unconditional love.
In his human experience he felt that God had left him. He cried “my God, my God why have you forsaken me”. It was in this condition that by faith his gaze pierced through the dark clouds that obscured his picture of his Father and declared in triumph, "into thy hands I commit my spirit" and he died, trusting in the mercy of God! He overcame by faith. He did not give in to doubt about his acceptance with God because he knew the character of his Father is Agape and unconditional acceptance. Like Job he trusted in the character of his Father despite his circumstances.
When we behold the true character of God it slays the carnal heart that is at war with God. We are no longer slaves to appeasing an angry God, but are children being reconciled to our Father in heaven!
“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." Rom 8:15
This is the Good news of the Gospel. We are no longer motivated by one ounce of fear or any desire to prove ourselves. Pride is laid in the dust. We now understand mercy because we are shown mercy. We love much because we have been forgiven much. Righteousness is not a requirement but a response. God is not counting our sins, God never leaves or forsakes the sinner. The lost are lost because they forsake God. I bid you, resolve your guilt today! Cast your sins upon the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His yolk is easy and his burden is light! Christ came to set the captives free! So free yourselves from the chains of guilt that are separating you from eternal life!