In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was WITH God, and the Word was God. He was WITH God in the beginning. John 1:1-2
Our God is relational and personal. Jesus calls us to be with him in an intimate relationship and, when wholeheartedly received, fills our souls with life and light. However, I have not always fully embraced this simple and beautiful invitation – mainly because it was too good to be true. I thought I had to earn Jesus’s love every day.
How I view my father in heaven has shaped how I relate to him. My perspective of God came from listening to preachers speak about the Bible from a specific doctrinal perspective. For decades I heard forceful and confident preaching that said disciples, not mere Christians, held the ticket to heaven. I heard phrases such as “deny self” or “be seriously committed” so often that I stayed on the performance treadmill for many decades.
Last year the Holy Spirit, through a series of events, woke me up and led me out of a works-based religion and into a relationship WITH Christ. I now have the rest of my life to enjoy my relationship with Jesus as God intended. I can’t think of a better way to describe my journey by sharing the message in the book called With, written by Skye Jethani.
Jethani describes the mindset and behavior of positioning ourselves before God in four ways that do not draw us near to Jesus – living under, over, from, or for God. His book has helped me recognize that the core message of a church can create a culture of people living in fear or control when these four postures before God are the focus. The author develops the case that living WITH God is the only sustainable way to relate to God and the reason Jesus died for our sins.
I doubt any of us who have related to God in the four ways listed below consciously do it. Our doctrine or beliefs drives our behavior, and unexamined assumptions lead to unexamined behavior.
LIFE UNDER GOD – through our obedience, we put God into our debt and expect him to bless us in exchange for our worship and righteous behavior. But when God does not answer our prayers and life is disappointing, we become discouraged and do not think God has our best interest in mind.
LIFE OVER GOD – Rather than God’s Word to lead us to KNOW God, we search the scriptures for applicable principles that we may employ to control our world, others, and our life. When we do this, we are replacing a relationship with God with a relationship with the Bible.
LIFE FROM GOD – his usefulness determines God’s value. “What have you done for me lately?” Following Jesus is a means to an end. One dimensional view of God: God gives, and we receive. We are more focused on God’s gifts than God himself.
LIFE FOR GOD – You view yourself on what you accomplish on behalf of God. The church’s mission is # 1, and everything revolves around this endeavor. Jethani states, “An individual is either on the mission, the object of the mission, an obstacle to the mission, an aide to the mission, or should be on the mission.” This posture puts God’s mission ahead of God himself.
Life FOR God resonates most with me because I was in a mission-focused church for decades. The church leaders made their goal of numerical growth the #1 way of relating to God and others. Concentrating on the church’s agenda was so time-consuming that my walk with God suffered. Walking with Christ should not produce stress and anxiety because you must do your part in bringing people into the church. I would describe my time in my former church, especially during the first 25 years, as fast, furious, and exhilarating at times but mostly draining and controlling.
I lived UNDER God when I thought Jesus should reward me for my obedience by giving me the perfect soul mate, insurance against divorce, no infertility, and financial security. This mindset had me comparing myself to Christians who were much less obedient but, in my perspective, more blessed, so I resented both them and God.
I lived OVER God by viewing the Bible as a rulebook for correct doctrine. The obsession with being right and following the “law” kept me from having love and respect for Christians outside our fellowship of churches who think differently about the same verses in the Bible. Most of all, a rule-based, legalistic position pays only lip service to sanctification by the Holy Spirit. Life over God is a life of self-reliance while trying to obey the Bible. How ironic that we can be so focused on following the Bible but miss the entire point of it all.
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. John 5:39-40
All four positions before God seek to use God to achieve our goals. God is a means to an end though we may not believe that is what we are doing. However, the goal of a life WITH God is simply to be with Him. The goal is God himself. I now understand why this was not the goal in my former church because a “movement of God” does not have time to develop this position before God in its members. Movements move people, not nurture them.
Serious damage can be done to a person’s soul and faith when trained to live under, over, from, or for God. I know this because the many years I lived FOR God kept me immature in Christ, disappointed in myself, depleted, and trapped. I believe my lack of understanding of justification by faith kept me from enjoying life with God. Once I did a deep dive into this Biblical doctrine, I was set free from living a life FOR God.
Here is a link to an explanation of Justification By Faith: https://www.gotquestions.org/justification-by-faith.html
There is so much to share about living life WITH God that I will dedicate my next blog to living in this posture before God.
Meanwhile, have you considered how you relate to God? Does the book’s content help you frame how you view God? I highly suggest getting a copy of this book.