In 1st Thessalonians we read a letter written to a spiritually young community of Christians living in a society entrenched in the worship of dieties that brought both blessings and curses to their followers. Because of achaelogical findings, we know that the normal, every day Thessalonian was worshipping hundreds of idols, even trees, hills, and animals.
A sailor was nervous about his trip on the waters of Actium, so he gave the god Apollo a barley offering and some wine. One woman desired a husband so she gave an offering to Aphrodite (the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation).
Another woman claimed the goddess Artemis had given her eyesight back and opened her womb through prayers.
One man wrote that he had heard one of his trees say, “A holy tree am I; when you pass by, beware of harming me.”
The Thessalonians dedicated all kinds of prayers and offerings to their deities, always expecting things in return. They were manipulators. Their relationship with the gods was viewed as a transaction. Do this for me, I’ll do this for you.
We tend to chock this stuff up as regular old superstition. But just to let you know, when we lose sight of grace and what it truly means, we treat God in the exact same way, an impersonal force to appease for a few cheap tricks.
Rather than believing that God, in Christ, has given us every treasure, all wisdom and all knowledge, and that there is an imperishable inheritence waiting for us after we die, many of us still live in fear that God is keeping the good stuff from us. So we come to church, and rather than basking in the rays of God’s eternal love and care for us through Jesus, we try to manipulate good out of him.
The Games We Play
If I go to Sunday school, if I give money, if I somehow manage to abstain from PokemonGo, if I load my head with theology, if I become a Pastor, God will bless me, he’ll accept me, life will go a hair smoother. But as John 17 says, eternal, abundant, vibrant life is found in an intimate knowledge of Christ, a personal, submissive relationship under the premise that “He has withheld from us no good thing.”
God doesn’t sell cheap Chinese knockoffs that break after you use them a couple times. The gift He’s given us is His Son, and He delights in Him — as has and always will. Jesus is the apple of His eye.
2 Pet. 1:3-4 — “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”
God will not be manipulated. For the Christian there is nothing to gain from God that isn’t already ours through our union with His Son. It is all a gift. He’s done all the work for us, leaving nothing for us to do but appropriate His accomplishments by faith.
A Gift’s a Gift’s a Gift
Even humanly-speaking, it’s an offense to try to pay someone back who has already given you a gift from the kindness of their own heart. The illusion, this rebellious, rancid idea that we could somehow pay God back for the salvation he’s freely given us is an offense to him, and whether we realize it or not, an attempt to usurp his Authority and glory. If you have His Son, the only right and proper response is “thank-you, thank-you, thank-you!”
We go to Sunday School to see Christ. We spend time with eachother to see and savor the prize we have been given for free, without charge.
For the unsaved, there is no salvation and favor of God to be gained through staying out of jail, or being well-respected, or coming to church every week, or voting republican, or picketing a social cause. He will not be manipulated into giving you salvation.
We can’t bargain with God to lower His standard for entrance into His kingdom. You either have the righteousness of an infinitely holy God or you don’t. God the Son has come down, took on flesh, lived a perfect life and suffered the wrath of God that we deserved, and rose again so we can experience newness of life right now. He did it freely, of His own volition. He saved us completely, so He gets all the glory. He’s the only hero of the story. We didn’t compel him. The work is finished on His time and in His way.
John 10:17-18: 17 — “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.”
There’s a stark difference between grace and the tyranny of self-salvation.