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How Christian Life Works

How we think about the forces at work in life it is supposed to change once we become Christians. This is because God begins to work with us in a different way than he did before we came to him. Learn more about these changes in How Christian Life Works.

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In our last presentation, which was called, Are You a Superstitious Christian? we explained that most of us view life from a human perspective rather than God’s. And, if you think about it, that’s a perfectly natural thing to do – so natural that we do it without even thinking about it. But part of being a Christian is to think about our Christian life  in a new way, since things have changed. And some people have become quite superstitious about God. There are some things we can do, however, to judge more accurately what’s happening to us and why – that can be based on the revealed reality of God out of the Bible, instead of superstition. So we will address those things in this presentation, which is called, How Christian Life Works. So that’s where we are today.

Now I’m going to give you some examples of superstitious thinking that doesn’t square with Christianity. “If I’m good” – whatever good means – “life should be easy. “ Or, “I will be punished for my sins.” Or, “I will be forgiven and gain salvation if I do good.” Or, “It’s not fair when bad things happen to good people.” We think things like this and we hear people talk this way all the time. We think that we can earn credit with God by the things that we do quite often. And we think that a lot of things really aren’t fair that happen, and not only that, they shouldn’t happen, because it’s just not fair.

So, I’m going to tell you a story today that might take you away from what I’m going to talk about at first, but I’ll come back to it.

When I was six or seven, and we lived in Denver, we had red ants that would bite us. And that fascinated me – not the biting, but the ants. I was so fascinated with them my mother suggested I make an ant farm. So I got a book from the library that showed how – today I would have Googled it, but that was then, this is now – and I got a glass gallon jug. They said the walls, as they went up toward the small neck, were too steep for the ants to crawl out. So that was important, because we didn’t like them biting our toes in the night. And then I put dirt in it from the ant hill – carefully, because I didn’t want to get bitten – and I put in the amount of water that the book recommended. And, if I recall right, we used sugar water to feed them. I sometimes wonder now how they could survive on that, since people can’t, but that’s what they got. I made sure there were lots of ants in with the dirt. I covered it with a grocery bag so it would be dark inside, and that would cause them, or allow them, to build some of their tunnels against the glass, so they you could see what was going on in there. Within a week, it was a thriving little ant concern.

But I was soon frustrated with my effort. I decided I would rather watch them in real life, where you could see better and interact with them. You know, you could see them in long lines, bringing back food they’d scavenged to their hill, or just scurrying around the ant hill for no apparent reason – you know, busy, busy. And I remember thinking – even at that age – that they were always working – you know, furiously – always moving and busy. And my mother told me that the Bible talked a lot about ants. So we read that and I learned that they work and store up for the winter, and then when it gets cold, they can go down deep and keep warm and have lots of food to eat, and their industriousness is what the Bible mentioned.

I also had fun, too, playing ant god. I would build barriers across their paths and see what they would do. Of course, I was none too careful with my efforts, so many of them died while I was working my plan.

And I remember that a neighbor a few houses down from us had a gigantic ant hill on his front yard. And it might have been a couple feet in diameter. It was big and high! Of course, I was about six, so it probably looked bigger that it would today, but it was gigantic. One day I came out of my house – I think it was springtime – and I saw a fire in his front yard. Of course, that was fascinating, so I ran down there. He was out – it was on the weekend – there with a shovel and a container of what was probably kerosene. I think he was probably tired of being bitten, and I know that they had just had twins, so that may have been an influence. You may wonder, “Why didn’t he just get some ant poison and be done with it?” But back then – people today don’t remember this – but back then, they had just had the DDT scare, and so people were, rightfully, afraid of those sorts of things – everybody except big farming, it seems. Of course, I didn’t know anything about big farming then. Anyway, he’d pour this fuel on the fire and then turn it with the shovel to mix it all in – sort of an ant apocalypse. And I noticed a year later that the ants were back in business as if nothing had happened.

So what’s the point? So I noticed that the ants that I interfered with acted like they didn’t know I was there, or like this guy was there. And they scurried around – busy, busy, busy – oblivious to my grand designs for them.

Many Christians live their lives just this way. They live their lives as though they don’t know that God is involved. If an obstacle appears, they often don’t know where it came from, or why it appeared in their path, or what to do about it. They just work, work, work to get around, over, under or through, which is good, and probably necessary, and it’s predictable, but it’s effort without the big picture.

Turn with me to Romans 10, the first verse. Paul says:

Romans 10:1 – Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them…. Who’s he talking about – them? Well, he’s talking about his own people – the Jews. He was a Benjamite, which is a tribe that was associated with Judah. …my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they might be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 

He’s telling them that they missed the part about Christ when it came their way. God moved on with His plan – made a change in the way things are done – and they stayed right where they were. They didn’t have the big picture of what God was doing. I’m not saying that that happens today in quite that same way. I’m just using that as an example – that people are prone to not know about what God is doing, because we’re like ants. He’s too far above us. The only way we can know anything about what God is doing is that He tells us. And we still have to read it and to learn it, even if He does tell us in His book.

You might say, today…it’s kind of like building a bridge for the ants over a rough area, but ants continue to try to go the way they’ve always gone. That’s what God did with Jesus Christ, but some people wouldn’t have any of it. Then you might say, “Yeah, but we know about Christ. We know about free will. We know about God’s overarching scope and how He is going to gain us salvation and all that.” Well, yes, we do – most of us – maybe all, however, are like Job. We just don’t know. Job, after 40 chapters of wrangling with his friends and with God, said, “Oh, I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. I just thought I knew You before, but now I get it!” And he said, “Therefore – or as a result of understanding how great God is – I repent in dust and ashes.” Why did he say that? What was it about knowing God better that made him want to repent? Well, it doesn’t say specifically, but I don’t think it’s rocket science to realize that he saw that God was much, much greater, much more amazing, much more wonderful than he had ever imagined, and he now felt small in comparison and humiliated for not seeing it sooner. He talked a lot about God in his life, obeyed God, was a good servant of God, but was talking about some things that he didn’t even understand – sort of like an ant. Right?

So, are we like ants or do we get the big picture? Well, if you go back to the example we saw in the beginning, that might shed some light on your ant-likeness or your God-likeness. “If I’m good, life should be easy.” Do you think that way a lot? “I’m going to be punished for the sins I commit.” “I will be forgiven if I do good.” “It’s not fair when bad things happen to good people.” “You know, if God loves everyone, why does God allow good people to suffer?” “Why is life so hard?” “Why is it so unfair?” “Why do people get sick and die?” We think those things

Because we don’t get what God is doing. There’s a really good reason why all those things happen, and, if we don’t understand them, then we don’t know God well enough.

Let’s first talk about God’s composition. I’m going to try to explain this in my own feeble way. God is eternal. We are not. He knows everything that has ever happened, because He was around for it. He never gets sick. He never get tired. He never gets cranky. He’s never confused. He never gets anxious. He never feels hopeless. He always knows what to do. And He has the ability to make His plans work.

I remember my days as the ant god. I could see the ant hill, and I could see where they were marching. And I could pick the spots along the route, or I could make it easy, or I could make it hard for them. I had power over ants, in a way. And they had no idea why these things were happening or who was doing it. Every intervention was confusion to them. My interventions threw them into confusion. And since we are, as far as perspective is concerned, like ants in God’s world, we don’t see the big picture quite often. He does. He knows what to do. He tells us what it is, but we don’t pay enough attention or think about it enough to understand it to integrate it into our lives.

Okay, so that’s a little bit about what God is like as far as His composition. Now let’s think about that plan we just mentioned – the nature of it. Notice this scripture in 1 Corinthian 2:9:

1 Corinthians 2:9 – But as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him.” These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. 

Paul tells us that the plan God is working is so great that it’s never been conceived by a human being. It’s too grand for us. The only way we know this is by the fact that God has revealed it to us through His Spirit. God is doing something that would be so hard for us that no human would have ever even conceived how to accomplish it, let alone invent the end goal.

So, when it comes to what and how God is going to do what He says He will do, once again, we’re just like ants. You know, even the angels hear what He says, and they look at us, and they wonder, “Well, how can He possibly do that?” So don’t feel bad about being an ant. It’s just that we are. We could never figure it out, except for one thing, and that is, that He tells us.

So here’s the point with this: we once were ignorant of God’s plan and now we don’t have to be. And this new knowledge about what’s going on in our lives should change our view what’s happening down here with us and with everyone else. And what is it that He’s trying to do? Well, He’s creating a God family. Ephesians 3:14.

Ephesians 3:14 – For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named…. 

Let’s unfold that a bit – the phrase every family“from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” That phrase, in the Greek, could be translated – instead of every family – all fatherhood. If we read it that way, the verse reads, For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named.” But what does that mean? What is the implication? Well, Paul says that he’s bowing to God the Father, because every kind of father on earth and in heaven – and I think there’s only One there – derives its meaning from the model of our Father in heaven. So the whole thing that God is driving at is toward a family with a Father and children in it – parents and children. And in it, there are going to be many people in father roles and in the roles of children all at the same time.

So the whole thing is pointing toward one big eternal God family. As I say that, there are probably some people listening who say, “Well, what does that have to do with me? I don’t want to do the God thing. I just want to do what I want to do – whatever that might be.” And that exactly proves my point. Ants. Ants just want to do what they want to do. And they don’t know when God is intervening with them.

Notice what else Paul says in the next verse – in verse 16.

V-16 – …that according to the riches of His glory, He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth – of what? Well, of His plan – of what He’s doing – and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled all the fullness of God. 

Look at that part in verse 18 – that you may have the strength to comprehend. Being told, or reading it, is one think, but comprehending it is something else. And it’s really hard for us to get that, because it’s so far outside the bounds of our ability to comprehend. So Paul’s saying that he’s praying that we’ll have the strength to comprehend what is the length, and the breadth, and the height, and the depth of God and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that we can be filled with all the fullness of God. When do you suppose that’s going to happen? Now? I don’t think so. I think he’s talking about “we have to do this in order to get there.” So it’s so hard to understand. Just hearing the words doesn’t get it. We have to see God, like Job did – 40 chapters of personal experience with God. What chapter are you on?

Here’s what Paul says happens, if we can get it – verse 19:

V-19 – …and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. That’s what happens. We begin to realize how much God loves us. So, he here includes a reference to Christ’s loving sacrifice – an act that surpasses human comprehension and that is loving. We’re going to talk more about that later.

So, do you get the idea here that he’s talking about something that is hard to understand? You know, we hear the words, and we say, “Oh yeah, I get it – family.” And while we think we do, we don’t, because God’s plan is so complex. It’s unlike anything human in its nature – the way He’s reasoned it out. So let’s say we understand it’s a family. Okay, why is that important? What does it mean? Okay, so get ready. Here’s one big reason why we have trouble understanding the plan of God. We think it’s about just us. “It’s my relationship with God, my salvation, my forgiveness, my blessings.” We become so self-focused on our relationship with God, we forget “it’s a family, stupid!” (You’ve heard that joke, right? I’m not calling you stupid, but I’m calling all of us stupid.) There are other children, not just us! God loves all His children and it’s a family. He loves the Christians. He loves the Muslims. He loves the Buddhists. Now, He doesn’t love us because we’re Christians, or Muslims, or Buddhists. He loves us because we’re His children. He loves Adolf Hitler. He loves Communists. You know, Adolf Hitler was an amateur at murder compared to his Communist peers – Joseph Stalin, who murdered 40 million of his own people, and Chairman Mao, who murdered 70 million of his own people. He also loves our liberals, our conservatives, our Democrats, our Republicans, even the ones – who we now see more clearly than ever – only posing as Republicans and are really liberals. You know, the deception of it – He loves even those deceivers. God loves everyone. He loves all His children.

There’s a scripture that says, “…not one righteous, no, not one.” He loves all of us anyway – in spite of the fact that we have problems!

Notice this with me, in 2 Peter 3:9:

2 Peter 3:9 – The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, and that all should reach repentance. 

Do we know what that word all means? Well, it means the same thing today that it meant in Peter’s day. All means all. God is not willing that any should perish. Well, how could He possibly rehab Mao Tse Tung? Well, see, there we go. God knows how to do all of these things. Now, I know that some people aren’t going to make it. And, if Mao Tse Tung doesn’t make it, it’s because Mao won’t want to. And that is outside of God’s prevue, because He gives us all free will, doesn’t He? So that would even include your neighbor, who his dog does his business in your front yard, because your neighbor doesn’t put him on a leash when he takes him for his morning walk. All means all.

What is God doing with 8 billion children as we speak? Well, the same thing He’s doing with you. He’s working at getting all of us into His family. And He’s doing it all at once. He’s not just working on you.

Have you ever tried to juggle? I can’t even juggle one ball without dropping it after a short while. God has 8 billion balls in the air right now. You know, all parents, the instant they have their second child know that having one makes it more complicated. There’s two or more now to keep an eye on. We have to think about being fair when we didn’t have to before when we have two. We have to be fair to give them both equal attention – in doling how food and clothes and toys, etcetera. We have to figure out what each child needs and provide that – provide for their unique needs. Right? God does all that for 8 billion of us all at the same time. No problem – doesn’t tire Him out, doesn’t frustrate Him – well, maybe a little bit, but…. I’m just kidding. I don’t think it does at all. I think that He knows what He’s doing. For us, it would be impossible. To say, “It’s a hard job,” would be way understating it. We would be exhausted. Nah, it’s easy for Him. He could do it while taking a nap, except He doesn’t need naps. He always knows where each one of us is, what we’re doing, what we need, what will help us and what won’t. And, He’s doing that, not just for us individually, but for everybody – every Communist, every tribesman in the South Pacific. He’s doing it for O J Simpson. O J’s getting exactly what he needs to make it into God’s Kingdom. Yes, he is – bless his heart.

Now, there’s something else, that we haven’t added to the mix yet, that makes this vastly more complicated. Since God wants a loving family that works together for the benefit, not just for Himself, but all, He knows the only way that He can do that is to give us all free will – even His beloved son, Mao Tse Tung. He doesn’t want droids He wants independent agents that are loving. And we can’t choose to love Him if we don’t have the freedom to choose.

If you look down through history, you’ll see soon – if don’t…and a lot of young people today have never had a chance to view history, because it’s been kept from them – but our free will causes so much trouble, and always has. And, of course, most of that, we blame on God. But, fortunately for all of us, God has thick skin. He knows we will all understand in the end, and thank Him for it, and worship Him for it. So He continues to give us all enough rope to determine how high our own personal gibbet is going to be. And He will also rescue all of us, not because of any great things that we have done, but because of His love for us because we’re His children.

Most Christians today believe that, in this present life, it’s for each of us to accept Christ or not. They know we have free will. But they believe we make it with God or we don’t, and then we either go to heaven or go to hell. In the independent Church of God, we have a vastly different view of that. We believe that God is calling some now in this life, and, if they respond to the invitation, then this life becomes their opportunity for salvation. But we also believe that there will be a resurrection for all those who’ve never accepted Christ in this life, who’ve never – some of them – even heard His name before they died. So why do we believe that? Well, because it’s in the Bible plain as day. There’s no such thing as a hell fire that’s going to burn people forever. Burning a human being forever is impossible. And, if you burn a spirit, that fire doesn’t hurt them. So what’s the problem there? I mean, clearly, a false idea. And the second reason is, this is the only way that God could possibly fair to everybody. Think about the billions, down through history, who’ve never learned of God. It’s the vast majority of all the people that have ever lived on the face of the earth, even if you count Christianity as how the Christian world counts itself. So there’s a God that says that He is not willing that any should perish, and yet most of them are going to go to hell forever because they didn’t get to know him? Ridiculous! God is not going to torture people forever for something that wasn’t their fault. You know, let’s get real. Of course, He’s not going to do that.

The Bible shows, in Revelation 20, that there will a resurrection from the dead for all those who do not know Christ in their first lifetime. That sounds funny – their first lifetime – because we don’t realize that it says there’s going to be a resurrection. Well, if you’re dead, then you’ve lived a lifetime. And if you’re resurrected, you’re on your number two, right? Get used to that idea. But don’t get upset with me. I’m just the messenger. I’m just telling you what it says. Read it for yourself. Or, you can search it out on our Website – liferesource.org. Go to the “Presentations by Series” tab. Once you find the series called Jesus Christ and the Holy Days, look up in the that section, and you’ll find one called Jesus and the Feast of Tabernacles. It’ll explain it there.

So, when you think about it this way, you begin to realize that this life is a training ground. It’s an obstacle course. It’s not supposed to be easy. It’s not supposed to be fair, because we are all learning how to use free will God’s way, instead of our own. And we really mess up on that one. We’re the ones causing the problems, not God. And He has set Himself not to intervene in our free will, except in very few circumstances, because He wants us to learn that our way doesn’t work and His way does. Some of us who have been called – I guess I could say – in our “first lifetime” (chuckle) are to learn to love each other and God through all circumstances – to trust God, to have faith in God, and to love each other, and to love all God’s children through all circumstances, no matter how difficult. We are supposed to love all people. And those folks who are not yet called are to learn that their way – the way they learned in their lifetime – doesn’t work. And they’re going to learn that when they come up and see what life can be like with God. And that will set them up to receive God’s way when they finally learn about it.

Okay, let’s take this home. Why do things happen the way they do? Well, Paul wraps this up for us. Romans 8:27:

Romans 8:27 – And He, who searches hearts, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for saints according to the will of God. “Intercedes for saints according to the will of God…” And what is the will of God? Well, the will of God is, that you’re going to become one of His children by choice – that you’re going to be a part of His eternal God-family,

V-28 – And we know – verse 28 – that those who love God, all things work together for good – even the bad stuff – for those who are called according to His purpose. Now that isn’t necessarily true for those who are not called now. But the lesson that they’re going to learn from all that bad stuff happening to them for no good reason is, that their way – the human way – doesn’t work. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the Firstborn among many brothers. See the same thing that happened to Jesus is going to happen to us. We’re going to be changed. We’re going to be like him. We’re going to be God’s son. He’s going to be our brother. …in order that He might be the Firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined, He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified – he’s kind of jumping out ahead here a bit – He also glorified. 

So, if you think about this, that there is a God out there who loves us all, and that He’s working out an individual plan for each one of us – just what we need. No matter what troubles we may have to face, not matter what blessings we receive, we trust God – that is, if we have faith in Him, then He promises to usher us into His family.

Now this is too big for any of us to hold in our mind, so it becomes a matter of faith. Right? We don’t know how He’s going to do it, but we know He tells us He is. We don’t get juggling 8 billion balls at once. But we know He can do it. There’s also one other factor here. It’s in 1 John 4:19 that we can look at it expressed. John made this simple statement.

1 John 4:19 – We love God because He first loved us. 

God, by leading us to His family and into relationship with Him, He does this because He loves us. But that’s what elicits the love we have for Him. But, if we don’t love Him enough to want to be in relationship with Him, it’s because we don’t get what he’s doing. But here’s the kicker. You know, people give up on each other, but God doesn’t. We can be as obtuse, as stubborn, as ignorant as we want to be and He is still not going to give up on His plan. He’s not frustrated. He’s not confounded. He’s not confused. He always knows exactly what we need to draw us closer to Him. And for some, it’s more time, more patience, more TLC, and for others, well, like I said, He’ll do whatever it takes.

So, that’s it for today. Until next time, this is Bill Jacobs with LifeResource Ministries, serving children, families and the Church of God.

For Further Consideration

This presentation, How Christian Life Works, is a sequel to Are you a Superstitious Christian. If you didn’t hear that one you can access it here.

Also, in How Christian Life Works, we referenced another presentation titled, Jesus and the Feast of Tabernacles, because it explains the Church of God belief about a second resurrection for those who never learned of God in this life.