I want to address a very common misconception we see today in almost all evangelical and pentecostal churches. I cannot speak about Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches in this regard – I imagine it may apply to some of these.
This tradition has it that Church attendance, hearing messages, giving and not doing bad satisfies God.
This is an unspoken tradition. If challenged, many church leaders would deny they believe this. But let us look at it another way. How many church members do you know who do all these four things and yet are rebuked and warned by church leadership for failing to meet the mark that God has for them?
As a pastor I was always thankful for the people who attended meetings regularly, especially Sunday meetings. I liked the people who seemed to hear me gladly. If these people further gave money or even better gave time to the church they rose in my esteem. And finally, as long as they didn’t do really bad things – like fornicate, commit adultery, steal, lie, cheat and so on, we would feel like we had a “faithful person” as part of our church.
To tell you the truth we did challenge people beyond this level, but we did not always see people hit the mark we were looking for, so we were pretty happy in some ways if people at least did these four things.
But how does this match up with what God wants?
Is God interested in merely producing self sustaining congregations that can pay their bills and don’t bring shame on the church by committing gross sins? Is He happy if in addition to that we know our doctrines well and have a lot of Bible knowledge based on messages we have been hearing for a long time? Does this satisfy the heart of God? Will this take us where God is wanting us to go?
All these things are good and important but they flow FROM something that is EVEN MORE IMPORTANT. And that SOMETHING is a PERSONAL, INTIMATE COMMUNICATION AND FELLOWSHIP WITH ALMIGHTY GOD.
This kind of relationship goes hand in hand with real FAITH. It is faith which pleases God (Hebrews 11:6) and enables us to know Him.
Eternal life according to Jesus is to know God. (John 17:3). To know God as a friend and a Father to us, that is what God wants. It sounds revolutionary, but God actually wants to be our Partner in life! It doesn’t mean he wants us to become robots or just puppets in His hands. No, what He wants is us to consult with Him in the midst of all life’s important decisions, and learn to follow His promptings.
This is really necessary these days because we have a devil and billions of demons roaming the planet working destruction in the lives of all those who choose to be independent of God.
If we are not in the place where we hear God’s voice, and follow His guidance on a regular basis, we are in a bad place spiritually or at least a very incomplete place – though we sing with the best of them of Sunday, hear good messages, understand certain elements of the gospel, faithfully attend church – and YES, even if we give money – pay tithes to the church, or whatever.
Also God is not simply interested in us avoiding certain sins and their associated pleasures and eventual negative consequences. What He wants is for us, like Jesus, to be like His Son Jesus in nature and to be “about our Father’s business”. And since it is Our Father’s Business, we need the personal involvement of Our Father in the steps we take, the strategies we adopt, and the things we do. This requires us to get to the point where we know the voice of God for ourselves.
This should be possible because the Holy Spirit lives in every true believer, and because Jesus stated that “my sheep hear My voice” and that “those who are of God hear the Words of God”.
God has given us a lot of great things in the Bible. And studying the Bible will do us good, as long as we are doers of the Word and not hearers. People who are hearers only deceive themselves, thinking that hearing is enough (James 1:22).
But God has given us Himself as well to guide us into all Truth. God lives in us by the Holy Spirit. If God gave us a large book of methods and rule books that would solve all of our problems in every situation, we might be tempted to avoid talking and listening to Him personally, and just read the book of instructions to find our answer.
It is true that God can and does speak to us through the Bible, but even then it is because the Spirit of God lays a certain emphasis on the Scriptures that perhaps we did not see before or one that applies to a special situation we face.
We can’t move in the gifts of the Holy Spirit through Bible knowledge alone. The gifts of the Holy Spirit require a knowledge of God’s voice and God’s promptings. Without the gifts of the Holy Spirit there are many evil things the devil is doing that we may be very ill-equipped to deal with. Whether we are consciously moving in the gifts or not, we need those gifts to be effective in healing the sick, casting out demons, leading people to Christ and helping them to get established in Christ.
But church tradition, even pentecostal tradition, many times does not want people rising to this level. Many times leaders actually discourage people who seek to know God for themselves and take steps of faith. Some feel threatened because they themselves are no longer walking with God as they ought to be. As leaders, we can point out to failures we have seen in this area – but if the number of failures is greater than the number of successes, then I say, we have been failures in equipping people to follow the example of Jesus Christ, who did everything out of a personal and intimate relationship with the Father.
If like me, you know you could be a lot further down the path here than you are, don’t despair. The important thing is to make it our goal to know God better, to renounce every idol – religious or otherwise, that seeks to be a substitute for this kind of relationship with God, and not to give up. As we move towards the light of God, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin and we stand justified before God as if we have the perfect record of Christ to give us acceptance with God.
Just be aware though that it is not enough to be a spectator in Christianity. Living faith will results in doing the works God prepared for you to do. It is not enough to be a “fan” of some great ministry. God expects you to grow up and be a doer of the Word, to destroy the works of the devil by listening to and yielding to God’s promptings on a regular basis.
Its a wonderful life. Let’s go for it.