What did Jesus (not) say about God’s desire for us?

by Dan Phillips at Pyromaniacs

“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.

2 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”?

Hardly.

Dan Phillips's signature

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