Podcast Transcript.  To listen to the audio version click HERE

Have you ever sat in the quietness of your own spirit and examined your thoughts about God?

Not the textbook answers you might write down on a quiz, but your true heart feelings and beliefs about who God is?

If so, when you picture Him, what do you imagine He is like?

I think it is an important question because our view of God says a lot about who we are as individuals?

Is God someone who is inviting or is he distant?

What expression do you imagine is on his face when he looks at you?

I suppose the most important question is who is God to you?  A force, a concept, a genie in a bottle?

Is God just a means to an end, a means to get what you really want in your life here and the hereafter, or could God actually be an end in himself?

I have to admit that I have really had to wrestle with my picture of God. It is difficult accepting that he cares deeply about my well-being, the quality of my life,  and that he is genuinely interested in guiding my steps each day and my future.

A distant God is much more comfortable for me.

One that I can call on the weekends to catch up with but isn’t around much during the week.  That would be much easier for me to relate to because that was my experience with my dad growing up

When God is distant then he can be more of a mental construct rather than a real person I actually have to interact emotionally with.  

When God is distant then I can maintain a polite, transactional relationship without too much commitment.

Transactional relationships are predictable, formulaic, and are less risky.  

I know when I am in a transactional relationship I am more concerned about the outcome, what the person will do for me if I hold up my end or the agreement rather than quality of the relationship itself.

Thus, when I view God as distant it natural for me to view our relationship as transactional. I follow the formula and voila, out comes whatever I want including my eternal salvation.

I don’t know about you but when I first became a Christian I was taught to understand salvation as a formula.  In fact I was taught it was as easy as ABC – Accept – Believe – Confess.

Then I had to just finish it off with the sinners prayer and I was in.  Heaven here I come.

But afterward, my reality turned out to be much different then I had expected.

On the one hand I had been told I now have eternal life.  On the other hand my life hadn’t really changed that much at all.  I said one thing and did another.  Clearly something wasn’t adding up

But what was it? 

So there is this classic fable that maybe you have heard of called the emperors new clothes.

The story goes something like this: there once was an Emperor who was very vain and everywhere he went he enjoyed nothing more than showing off his fine new clothes.  

One day two swindlers came to the emperor’s city. They said that they were weavers, claiming that they knew how to make the finest cloth imaginable. Not only were the colors and the patterns extraordinarily beautiful, but in addition, this material had the amazing property that it was to be invisible to anyone who was incompetent or stupid.

The emperor thought It would be wonderful to have clothes made from that cloth so that he would know which of his men were unfit for their positions.  So he immediately gave the two swindlers a great sum of money to weave their cloth for him.

As time went by the emperor became curious about about the progress of his new clothes – but fearful that he himself might not be able to see the clothe – he sent his most honest, trusted advisor to check in on the work for him, of course when the advisor arrived he saw nothing.  The swindlers were pretending to do all kinds of things that looked like work – Embarrassed and not wanting to be exposed as incompetent he pretended right along with the swindlers and reported back to the emperor what he had pretended to see.  

The emperor sent other officials as well to observe the weavers’ progress. They too were startled when they saw nothing, and they too reported back to him how wonderful the material was, advising him to have it made into clothes that he could wear in a grand procession.

Eventually the whole kingdom was pretending for fear of being exposed as incompetent and stupid. 

The emperor had been told his clothes were real and although his own experience told him he clearly was wearing no clothes.  In the end his pride forced him to parade before his entire kingdom completely naked and the swindlers walked off with a fortune.

Can you relate to the story?

Strange as it may sound it wasn’t long after I accepted the ABC salvation formula that I started to wonder if I was like the emperor in the story and the swindlers were the church leaders.

I had been sold a formula that was supposed to guarantee me salvation and eternal life.  I had made the transaction and for a while I had believed I was clothed?  But experientially I felt the cold draft all around me and eventually I became sure I was naked!

I had my ticket to heaven, but where was the love, joy, peace, and patience that were supposed to come with it?  Where was the new life?

Then I began to think, was it just I that was naked?  Or were all the other Christians walking around pretending like they were clothed as well- fearful of being exposed as a phonies.

Was this whole religion one big giant scam?

It can definitely feel that way when we are viewing salvation merely as a “get out of hell free card” 

But thankfully I didn’t give up.

Instead I began to reexamine my picture of God and to question whether what I had been taught was correct.

Was eternal life the result of transition with God?  Thankfully I eventually came across this passage in the gospel of John.

“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3 ESV)

This was a complete paradigm shift for me

According to Jesus, Eternal life does not come from knowing a formula about God.  It is actually knowing him personally 

not a transaction but a relationship

Not a prize but a person.

Salvation is oneness with God the Father through Jesus Christ

This is hard for us to get our minds wrapped around because most of our earthly relationships are based on the expectation of return on investment – we invest our lives into people who in some way shape or form give us something we value in return.

Thus we assume God is the same way and approach him as such.

the gospel of Mark records one such encounter between a rich young ruler and Jesus.  We read about it in chapter 10:

“Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”

So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: “Do not commit adultery,’ “Do not murder,’ “Do not steal,’ “Do not bear false witness,’ “Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ ”

And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.””

(Mark 10:17–20 NKJV)

The question of the rich young ruler couldn’t have been more relevant for himself and for us today:  What must I do to be saved?

The assumption behind the question of course is that salvation – like the other things in his life – is transactional by nature.

The only thing the rich young ruler is concerned about is what HE must do to get what he wants – eternal life.

Interestingly enough, presented with a transactional question Jesus provides him with a transactional answer.

Keep the Commandments.

It is the breaking of the Law that defines sin and of course the wages of sin is death – so it only makes logical sense that if the Rich Young Ruler is looking for transactional solution to his inquiry that Jesus would provide him with the logical answer.

The condition of eternal life has always been obedience to the law,

The surprising response to Jesus is the claim that he has kept these commandments since his youth.  In other words he already sees himself as a pretty good person – 

Maybe what he was really asking was whether or not he had done enough to earn eternal life already?  Maybe his good life and good deeds have already earned his position in heaven and secured that which he not only desired but deserved…

However, It is at this point that Jesus reveals to the Rich Young Ruler his own incomplete understanding of Salvation.

“Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”” (Mark 10:21 NKJV)

Jesus loved him. He wasn’t just trying to give him the right answer to his question now.  He was trying to win his heart.

It is as if Jesus is saying to him, “you can continue living with a distorted understanding of who God is. You can continue walking around in your fine invisible clothes deceiving yourself concerning your own nakedness and fooling no one around you… although they may be too afraid to say anything to you for fear of exposing themselves

Or you can accept the robes of a humble servant and follow me.  

There is no vain glory on this pathway, but their is in fact a real relationship with me

And if you come through me you will have eternal life, not because of what you have done, but because of who I am – 

I am the one and only son of the Father and I have perfectly kept his commandments

The Father and I are one and when you follow me you become one with the Father through me and are adopted into his family as one of his children!

This was not what the Rich Young Ruler had expected.  He did not realize what he had been asking for when he had asked what he must do to inherit eternal life.

He was interested in a relationship with God – he was only interested in what God could do for him.  And so,

“Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Mark 10:22 ESV)

What about you?

Can you see eternal life as the product of relationship with God.

And not just any relationship with God – but from the relationship Jesus shared with his Father?

What if God were more than a force, a concept, or a genie in a bottle.  What if God truly was,”Father.”

Not just a father; not just our Father, but Father; your Father who loves you with an everlasting love.

And what if his love for you wasn’t divided proportionate to the number of his children, but was lavished upon you as if you were his one and only son or daughter.

What if God loved you so much that he was willing to risk everything just to reestablish a relationship with you.

What if he wanted nothing more from you than yourself, not your obedience, your money or your worship.  What if he simply wanted you? To be with you and you with Him?

How would you relate to a God like that?

A God who doesn’t look at you in your flaws but instead looks at you through his Son.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)

In other words, because of Jesus, when God looks at you He doesn’t see the shame of your nakedness or any of the pretend clothing you have been sold you wear to try to cover yourself up.  

Instead he sees the richest, most beautiful set of clothes ever purchased – washed in the blood of Jesus.

And therefore he is able to say:

You are My beloved Son (You are my beloved daughter), in whom I am well pleased,” 

Am amazing and unbelievable as this sounds this is the gospel!

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1 NKJV) 

Thus it is as our Father that God says to us…

” Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” 

“I was the One who molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together”

“You are my masterpiece, a one of a kind priceless gem in whom I find favor.”

“I have carved you on the palms of my hand and have covered you with the shadow of my wings.”

“You are the one whom I rejoice in.”

“I am your Father and I have plans to give you a future and a hope.”

The swindlers will come along and tell you have to do something, or pay something to get this gift; to have this experience of adoption into God’s family.  But the truth is, you just need to accept it.

Will you believe it?

Will you accept it?

Then follow Jesus…