By Will Dole
In physics, the focal point of a lens is the point which brings divergent light together. In spiritual matters, a similar focal point can be helpful when considering two seemingly divergent aspects of our relationship with God, like how our works relate to our salvation by faith.
John says, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:3-6).
In other words, if we don’t keep God’s commandments, and yet say we know Him, we are liars. That’s a difficult concept to grasp, because we know we aren’t perfect. However, if you feel you do a pretty good job at keeping His commands, consider the following illustration.
A pastor who is married with children preaches regularly against sexual immorality. Makes sense. But while faithfully explaining scripture to his church members, this same guy is sleeping with his secretary. What a hypocrite, right? But before we take the moral high road, we need to realize that we are just as guilty. How can that be if we aren’t a pastor or even married?
James explains this for us, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). So, we may not have committed adultery, but if we have sinned in any way—lied, cheated, lusted, stolen or placed more value on any thing than God—then we are just as guilty as the pastor in our illustration. We’re actually in the same boat as the worst of them, such as Adolph Hitler, Osama Bin Laden or Joseph Stalin. Paul reminds us that all have sinned, none naturally seek God and all deserve hell (Romans 3:23). On the other hand, God tells us to follow His commands, and yet anytime we violate one command, we become guilty of all of them. Seems like a hopeless plight, does it not?
It’s true we are dead and without hope in our sinful nature, but in Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul reminds us that our salvation is by grace through faith. Solely through the work of God—it is His gift to us. It is not anything we can earn by works. God freely gives us salvation!
How does the gift of salvation mesh with the earlier statement that those who aren’t walking in God’s commandments don’t love Him? Don’t these passages contradict?
The point they come together—the focal point—is our realization that salvation is only by the grace of God. It comes when we figure out that apart from Him, we are nothing. When we realize this, we become truly thankful for what He has done. Out of this gratitude, we can discover what theologian and author D.A. Carson calls our “grace-driven effort.” Following God’s commands does not give us salvation, which is fortunate for us, because if it did, we’d all be lost. Our efforts are driven out of gratitude for the grace and mercy that our Lord has already given us.
We cannot claim to love God and continue to walk in sin, because true love for God will compel us to repent. It is as James says: Our faith is dead without works, (James 2:17). Faith without works is not faith at all, because faith in what God has done for us through Jesus will bring us to our knees in worship. This doesn’t mean that guilt alone should move us to act, but rather we should be driven by love.
Usually we miss out on what God has for us in one of two ways. We either follow our lists of “dos” and “don’ts,” or we behave as if “anything goes.” One person lives in fear of sinning and consequently fails to live as God has called him to live, perhaps being prideful and complacent to evangelize. On the flip side, believing in a cotton candy version of God, results in the hypocrisy of which John warns. God hasn’t called us to follow religious rules, nor has He called us to live carelessly. Rather, He offers Himself as a sacrifice to bring us back into a relationship with Him which should cause us to love with a passionate desire to worship and serve the One who is more worthy than we can ever express. We owe Him everything. We deserve death and eternal separation, but that’s not what we get. He loves us so much that He brings us back to Him. That is amazing!
John Piper wrote, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” What could be more satisfying than the opportunity to serve the God of all the universe? If we aren’t passionate about loving Him, following Him and proclaiming His majesty to the world, then how could we claim to know Him? Having this passion doesn’t mean we execute our good intentions perfectly—or even very well very much of the time—but it should completely and utterly transform us to our core. In His perfect timing, the Spirit of God will bring out this passionate core within us making Him the focal point of our lives to His glory.