As Christians, we claim to want to know God more and more, and that we want to be led by Him. We know the Old Testament image of God molding our lives like a potter molds the clay, and we love to sing “Just as I am” (Isa. 45:9; Jer. 18:4-6).
Yet I feel that we need to ask, Are we trying to force God into our own mold? What I mean is that we have our own ideas of who God is, how He acts, and what He simply will not do…but they may not all be based upon Scripture. At least, I know I have. I have tried to limit God, rather than simply being yielded to my Lord and allowing my Infinite and All-powerful God to simply be who He is.
I don’t usually quote songs in these blog posts, but there are two short passages that ask some really probing questions for us to consider as I begin. The first is from Casting Crowns–
Fearless warriors in a picket fence, reckless abandon wrapped in common sense“Somewhere in the Middle”
Deep water faith in the shallow end, and we are caught in the middle
With eyes wide open to the differences, the God we want and the God who is
But will we trade our dreams for His, or are we caught in the middle?
What a powerful question to ask. The second comes from Todd Agnew, and it deals with how we view Jesus today–
Who Is this that you follow,“My Jesus”
This picture of the American Dream?
Pretty blue eyes and curly brown hair and a clear complexion
Is how you see Him as He dies for Your sins
But the Word says He was battered and scarred
Or did you miss that part?
Sometimes I doubt we’d recognize Him
Now of course, these songs are not Scripture, and people have varying views about the songs themselves, but we still have to admit: the questions they ask are ones we all need to consider. Are we willing to let God be God and simply be His ever-obedient servants? Have we forced Jesus into our own mold? Let me give a scriptural example. In John 5, Jesus performs His third sign that the evangelist John records, the healing of the paralyzed man at Bethesda. This man had been sick for thirty-eight years, but Jesus heals him “immediately” (John 5:5, 9). It was an incredible miracle…except for one thing: it was the Sabbath.
Now the Lord had given the Sabbath day to Israel as a day of rest to pause in their normal routines to focus upon and worship Him, but the Jews of Jesus’ day had taken it to the extreme (Ex. 20:8-11). When Jesus healed this man, He told him to pick up and carry his bed (John 5:8). Apparently, to the Jewish religious leaders, this was simply something you did not do. They confront the man, telling him that it was “not permissible” to carry his bed, which was probably a rolled up mat (John 5:10). They had not seen the miracle, so all they knew was that this man was breaking their extra-biblical laws about Sabbath observance.
The man then proceeds to explain that someone had just miraculously healed him right then and there. And this is where the really surprising part comes in. The religious leaders do not even acknowledge the miracle, but with indignation rising in their voice and their eyes darkening with anger, demand, “Who told you to carry your pallet?” (John 5:12). They eventually come to find out that it was Jesus, and instead of interrogating Him to find out why He did what He did, they seek to put Him to death (John 5:16, 18). Jesus had not broken the Law of God, but He had broken theirs, and they refused to acknowledge the difference.
Now granted, that is an extreme example, and I don’t think we do it to this level today, but it illustrates the point at hand. The Jews were doing a good thing in wanting to help people avoid any distractions or any form of work on the Sabbath, but as they did so, they missed the true heart of the Sabbath. It was to be a day of rest, a day of renewal in the Lord. Jesus demonstrated this by healing this man and making him new, even though He violated the other statutes the Jews had put in place. If the Jews had simply paused to consider what the Bible actually said and who Jesus was, they would have realized this, but they did not.
So how does that apply to us today? Sometimes, we put limitations on God or what He would ask us to do. We think, “Of course God would never ask me to do that.” Or we might say, “Surely that displeases God. Yeah, it may not be dealt with in Scripture, but I know. God is just not like that.” Yet when we say and think these type of things, they may not be based upon Biblical truth. Some are, to be sure. There are certain things God would never ask us to do (like steal) or things He would never approve of (such as adultery), but these are things that are clearly expressed in the Bible, both in explicit statements and in principles in Scripture. The problem arises when we extend these types of attitudes to things not explicitly dealt with by God.
I am not saying that we should just allow anything that is not covered in the “thou shalt not’s” of Scripture, for that would be to invite sin into our lives. What I am saying is that we need to hold firm to the Bible, but not put words into God’s mouth that He never said. This has been something I have struggled with for so long. I said many things in high school that I was sure were true about God and what pleased Him. Yet as the Lord has been working in my heart over this past year, He has been showing me that maybe I didn’t have it all figured out (go figure, right?). Anyway, He has been leading me to look at exactly what His word says, separating that from what I have heard or read. That doesn’t mean that what I heard was wrong: most of what pastors and Christians authors have written that I have heard is fully the word of God. However, I have heard some things that cannot be supported by Scripture in any way spoken of as if they were Gospel truth. There needs to be a distinction.
God leads each of us to put standards in our lives, whether it be for movies, music, dress, whatever (Rom. 14:5-8). The point is that if those specific standards are not explicitly taught in the Bible, we should not teach them as if they are. To do so is to misrepresent God. Also, we should not focus on one particular aspect of God’s character at the expense of teaching or understanding the rest of His nature, such as emphasizing His love over His justice or vice versa. We should strive to know God fully and serve Him completely, not limiting Him in any way that is not expressed in Scripture.
It is so easy to slip into this trap, because it seems so good and noble. We are trying to help guard ourselves and others from sin, and since we find standards that do that for us and reflect Biblical principles, they must be true for all people in all of time in all cultures. This is not what the Bible teaches, for our relationship with Christ is not a list of rituals and regulations—it is a dynamic, personal relationship. I was talking with a missionary friend of mine just the other day about how he was explaining to some boys that the “key to heaven” was not in reciting rote prayers, but in knowing the Savior of the World.
And that is just the point. We can know Christ because we have His mind through the Spirit, but we will not fully know Him till we reach heaven (1 Cor. 2:14-16; 13:12). He is Infinite, we are not. He is Omnipotent, and we aren’t. Therefore, let us not go beyond what He has revealed to us in scripture and never limit our awesome God. He is limitless, and He is Lord over all.
Casting crowns. “Somewhere in the Middle,” AZ Lyrics, 2000.
Todd Agnew. “My Jesus,” AZ Lyrics, 2000.