Those who belong to God are those who first seek the
For the last several weeks, I have been talking about different ways that the Bible describes the people of God. Although, the Bible certainly describes the people of God as those who accept and believe the Gospel, the Bible also speaks about God’s people in different terms. We talked about those who fear God and those who love God as being categories that the Bible uses to describe those who belong to God. Consequently, what I have been trying to get across is that these categories, these ways of describing the people of God are not optional. They are at the heart of what it means to be a person who believes in Jesus.
I want to emphasize that I am not saying that all of these qualities characterize the people of God from the moment that they become believers. They do not immediately become super human figures with a huge love of God, and the appropriate fear of God, and the things we are going to talk about today. As I understand what the Bible describes and as I observe the Christian life, I recognize that these qualities ultimately emerge over time through what the Bible describes as the testing of our faith.
The fundamental questions:
Learning to see beyond this world's alternatives:
Instead, what I will show is that the Biblical picture of the Christian life is something very different. It is ultimately about taking something very good from God’s outstretched hands, but the picture is a little more complicated than the one we sometimes hear. Because in this life what we must learn is to recognize what is the good that is in God’s outstretched hands. We must also learn to seek after that and to reach out for that in opposition to the competition’s alternative. Essentially our life as believers is learning to see beyond this world’s alternatives to what is actually good and actually worth pursuing.
The ultimate good:
In fact, the Bible pictures our God, as a God who loves us with a love that is so great we cannot really comprehend it. So we search for an ultimate answer to the quandary, how is it that the God, who loves us with a love so great that we can hardly comprehend it, lets us suffer in so many ways? We find the answer as we learn where the real good is. What will a good God, who loves us with a love beyond understanding, do for us? What will love do as it reaches out for us? The Biblical answer, I think, is that his love is going to call us, ultimately, to that which is actually good, to that which can really satisfy, to that which alone can provide life, and make life worth living.
The fundamental problem of being human:
First, we are sinners, and what that means is that we are slowly dying and killing each other off in the process. Corruption is eating away at us. Our relationships are not what they should be. That is, we get a taste of what human relationships can be. Then somehow, the thing we are seeking for always seems to elude us, because of the way we treat people as well as the way people treat us. We are going to die. Nothing in life completely satisfies us. It is not that everything is worthless. It is good. It has something nice and good about it and we can rightly respond to it. However, in the end it just is not quite enough.
If that wasn’t enough, the fact is that we are under the wrath of God. The creator of the universe is good, holy and righteous. He looks at us and rightly sees us as being worthy of condemnation.
And if that weren’t enough, we’re so invested in our own self-centered view of the universe that the very truths that could save us from this terrible situation are hateful to us. We are not particularly interested in them.
That’s the human situation. Corruption is eating away at us. We are guilty before God and we don’t even care.
The Gospel is an answer to our problem:
For this reason, the Gospel is “good news” because it is a story that identifies our real problems and promises us total deliverance for eternity, from them. Furthermore, by its very nature, that Gospel confronts us with a choice. God is saying, look, these are your real needs. I alone have the answer to them. In contrast, the world in which I live day by day and minute by minute is implying to me, if not out right shouting in my ear, that no, these other things, these are your problems. You have these needs. Just look around here for the means to fulfill them.
When we talk about worldliness, we are talking about a perspective that fundamentally believes the story that the world tells. Worldliness is not just doing evil things that the world does like taking drugs or robbing people so that you can be rich. Worldliness means buying that story, saying yes, I can see that this world alone is the place where I ought to make my stand and find the solution to my ultimate problem as a human being.
Conversely, the Gospel is calling me to something different. To believe in Jesus means that I have to believe the picture of reality that he is giving. The Gospel will not make any sense; it will not be meaningful to me if I do not recognize that my real problems are something different from what the world is telling me that they are.
To seek the kingdom is to seek what God offers:
We can talk about it in different ways. We can talk about it as trusting God. We can talk about it as hating the world. I mean, the Bible uses all kinds of language, but it comes down to a recognition that God is different than the world around me, and he is offering something different than what the world around me is offering. What he is offering is good, and what the world is offering is not good enough.
Many passages talk about this kind of idea. Let me take you to John Chapter 5. I don’t know why but this passage has always been really intriguing to me. Partly, I think, because I have been thinking a lot about the debate over this question. What is it that marks the person of God? Some would like to argue that faith merely believes this story about Jesus and there isn’t really anything else that need be true of you except that you believe this story about Jesus. If you believe this story, then you will be saved.
Consequently, much of the debate centers on the Gospel of John because John constantly emphasizes that God saves those who believe that Jesus is the Christ. Therefore, people refer to the book of John, pronouncing, “See, just believing this story about Jesus is all that is necessary.” Sometimes they will say things like, “Repentance, that’s not necessary to be saved. Go and look at the gospel of John, which keeps talking over and over again about what it is that you need to do to be saved. Never uses the word repentance once. It keeps talking about believing that Jesus is the Christ.”
What kind of Messiah do you want?
For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.
And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form. You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent.
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. I do not receive glory from men; but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves. I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?
Seeking this worlds glory:
However, there is an alternative. There is another kind of glory, the glory from God. The glory God gives us ought to make the glory that the world gives us pale in comparison. The Glory God gives me is that “well done good and faithful servant.” Our ultimate glory will come from God transforming us into the very likeness of Jesus himself. I am talking about my most fundamental concern. Is my fundamental concern what man thinks of me, what glory I can find in this world? Or am I concerned with what God thinks of me?
The Pharisees that he is talking to are interested in this worldly glory. I mean they have a lot of experience with it. They know how it works. They know about the benefits of worldly glory when you have it. The benefits are almost immediate. If you can get glory in this world from other people, then you might get other things like money or protection. It may also get you the good opinion of other people so that they treat you in a way that you want to be treated. And so on.
How can you believe?
You Pharisees are marked as not belonging to God by the fact that you rejected me when I came along. But that rejection in turn is tied to something about your fundamental commitments, to who you are, and to what you are looking for. It does not surprise me that you did not believe in me because you were looking for something other than what I can bring. Ultimately, I as the Messiah have come to bring a kingdom populated by those who have humbled themselves before God, who have confessed their sins, and who have recognized that only God can satisfy their real need. In the end, God will glorify them. He will raise them up, accept them, and put them forward as “these are my people”. Ultimately, a glory awaits those sorts of people.
That’s why they respond to the gospel when they hear it. The gospel is a story that requires them to confess that they are sinners. It is a story that requires them to see where to find true good and to embrace it. In particular, it calls them to recognize that in the end, the only glory worth having is the glory that God has to give. If I can have only one or the other, I want the glory that he has to offer.
Jesus lays out the choice:
This world verses the eternal kingdom of God. The glory you can get here verses the glory you can get there. If you are not interested in the glory that God has to offer then, then the Messiah he sent is not really the right messiah for you. Because that is all he has to offer.
What kind of "bread" do you want?
The point here, in this very famous section, is that the miracle of the loaves and fishes was intended to be a sign—God has put his stamp of approval on Jesus, saying, “This is the guy. Listen to him.” Still, they found another way of interpreting the miracle of the loaves and fishes. That is, I always knew that God was as interested in getting my belly filled as I am. Now that his messiah (maybe) has come along and I see him passing bread around, this is always what I thought this ought to be about. So now all I have to do is go follow him and just make sure that I am close to him so that when he hands the bread out I am there to get it. I will not ever have to work again. You know, the sweat of your brow and all that kind of stuff? That’s done.
The stuff that really solves your problem:
Again, as we look through this story in John 6, we see the crowd going away, in the end, because they were not interested in the food that brings eternal life. They were interested in the bread he had been passing out and it was clear that they were not going to get any more. Then, in a very striking verse, and one of my favorites at the end of chapter six Verse 66, “As a result of this, many of his disciples withdrew and were not walking with him any more. Jesus said therefore to the twelve, “you do not want to go away also do you?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. And we have believed and have come to know that you are the holy one of God.”
Where would we go?
Well, I have whole lists of passages here that talk about this kind of thing. It is the choice that you and I face all the time. It is what our lives fundamentally are about, I think. It is coming to see, not that this world is no good, because it is not true. Many things about the world are a reflection of our creator and show his creativity and his kindness. We can experience a number of good things in this life. I do not want to be misunderstood. Those good things are there.
It is true that I am not the most optimistic or up beat person who has ever lived. Let me put it this way, the fictional character that most people refer to when they are talking about me is Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. A few people may be a little more upbeat than I am. (Jokingly) However, the things that I am saying now are not due to my dim view of life. It is not that. I recognize that there are many things out there to enjoy that I even do not enjoy and probably ought to. Like the camping trip that is coming up. Everybody jokes about how I am not going but the fact is I’m not big on camping; I admit it. And I’m sure that there are all sorts of pleasures of people’s company and being out in the open and all of that stuff that would probably be great for me. I would have a wonderful time. But I don’t like it. So that doesn’t say anything good about me.
However, that is not what I mean. I am not saying, (jokingly) you guys are out there camping and you think you are having a good time when really, you know, it’s all straight from the pit. I don’t mean that. That’s not what I am saying. What I’m saying though is that ultimately you could camp every weekend from now until the day you die and it’s not really ultimately going to do you much good. I mean, you have a bigger problem than finding a pleasant way to spend the weekend.
For people who are on their way to solving that problem through their faith in Christ, to spend the weekend pleasantly together, that’s a great thing. However, suppose you get sick and you have to miss it, and in the process you learn a little bit more about being patient, trusting God, and remembering what your life is all about. In the end, we are saying that we are winners in that process because more important things involved here.
I know the stories of a lot of people here (and a lot of people not here.) Many of us have come to the place, for one reason or another, where we are facing difficult things. So that, if you were to ask us is life a pleasant and sweet thing? At this point, it does not really seem like a pleasant and sweet thing. Nevertheless, I hope that we recognize that we have heard the word of the one who is promising us eternal life, not just living forever but solving the problem of sin, and death and guilt. He opens our eyes so that we can see the truth. I mean, the most tremendous thing that could happen to anyone is to stop being blind and to see what is indeed true and important, to be saved by the truth, to be rescued by it, to be snatched out of the jaws of death and brought into life. That’s our story. That’s what’s happening.
What God offers is good:
We come to recognize the choice:
I, myself, just went through a couple of weeks of probably the most
difficult time that I have ever faced, just because of my own idiosyncrasies
and strangeness. I don’t think anybody else would have found it as difficult
as I did. During that time, I got about as low as I know how to get. I
mean, I was just one step up from death, I mean just lying down and dying
because I was in bad shape. But in the midst of that I really feel like
God was there with those same questions about what do you want, where are
you headed, and what is life really about? Even in the midst of that, for
me, there was a place to confront that, and learn a little bit more about
what’s really going on. So, ultimately I feel that we can look on these
things and say, there is the love of God at work. But that’s never going
to make any sense to us until we can see that there is sort of a “pseudo
good” that is calling us, and there is the real thing. And the love of
God is grounded in the real thing.
Ron Julian has been a teacher at McKenzie Study Center since 1982. With a degree in
linguistics, Ron's focus is biblical exegesis and communicating the gospel. Other interests
include biblical languages, film, music, literature, and computer technology.
This article was given as a sermon at Reformation Fellowship, Eugene Oregon, and transcribed and edited by me. I have edited it for readability only. This article is Copyright 2000 By Ron Julian and is used by permission. Other articles can be viewed on-line by visiting McKenzie Study Center.