On Sunday mornings this summer, Heritage is exploring different myths commonly believed within Christianity during a “Mythbusters” teaching series. The week after each topic is taught from a biblical perspective, this blog will further dive into the issue at hand. We pray that this teaching series and the blog article that accompanies it will serve to be a resource as you reach your world for Christ.
There he sat. He was the prisoner in cell block IV. The first few weeks of his time there were filled with hopefulness. “After all,” he thought, “I was separated by God from birth for this task. Though I am surely not perfect, I have done everything I possibly can to honor God with my life. I never drank wine. I lived in the desert on nothing but the locust that happened to pass my way and the random discovery of honey. I have given myself to study of God’s word. I have lived the life of a prophet. I have given up every earthly possession, owning nothing but the camel hair clothes on my back and this old belt. I have told the truth, no matter the cost. I am the one who recognized the Messiah while I was still in my mother’s womb. I saw the Spirit of God fall on Him like a dove. I baptized the Son of God even though I wasn’t worthy to unlatch His sandal. Surely, God will deliver me from this prison. Surely, my stand for righteousness will garner the good favor of God and cause Him to send our Messianic King to rescue me from this rat, Herod!”
As the days passed, though, and reports from his disciples came back that Jesus continued to minister throughout Israel, John began to wonder. “Did I misjudge? Was I wrong? Is He the one? Should I be looking for God’s deliverance from somewhere else?”
Though the situation of John the Baptist is more extreme than most of ours, his reasoning is familiar. It’s the same logic of the homeschooling mom who watches her teenager rebel after she has lived in selfless devotion to raise and nurture her. It’s the reasoning of the servant at church who has faithfully devoted themselves to serving God and gets the news about their cancer. It’s the faithful, loving husband who discovers that his wife has violated their marriage and destroyed their family. This reasoning comes in all forms, from all places, but its baseline logic is the same. “If I do good for God, surely I will get good from God.”
This extreme version of karma or in Christian terminology, “sowing and reaping,” is the underlying assumption that has led to the despair of many saints throughout the ages. It assumes that the reason we do the right things is to get good things from God. Without realizing it, as Christians, we can adopt a pagan perspective on God. It is a view of God that views Him like the idols of other cultures, a deity that we must appease by the sacrifices. At some level, it seems like this is true, because obedience to God does bring benefit ”in the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim 4:8). However, what is also true is that God does not exist for our pleasure or happiness. The truth is actually the converse of that. We exist because of God and for God (Col 1:16).
Jesus gave an example to his disciples (Luke 17:7-10) about what our attitude about obedience to God should look like.
“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”
In other words, obedience is simply obedience. It doesn’t earn anything from God. The reason for our obedience is not found in the result but in knowledge that we please God and are united with Him in His purposes. Sometimes we have the glorious experience of obeying God and having things go really well for our temporary enjoyment. At other times we obey God and have the experience of John the Baptist. In fact, our obedience to God may be the very thing that eventually leads to our heartache and suffering.
Since God has built us for survival, we are averse to pain and pursue pleasure by nature. Sometimes this is a great benefit to us when it comes to avoiding lions, fires, and car accidents. At other times this instinct betrays us because we believe that following God should bring about more pleasure and less pain in this life.
John eventually sent word to Jesus through two of his disciples to give voice to his concerns. “Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Luke 7:19)
Jesus responded by saying to John’s disciples, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead raised up, the poor have the good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.” (Luke 7:22-23)
There are a few things John could take away from this response of Jesus:
1- Jesus is the Messiah God has foretold through the prophets. He is doing exactly what God promised He would do. The formerly blind, deaf, leprous, and dead can all testify that the promises are true.
2- People who are unable to change their suffering, now have seen that their circumstances do not separate them from God and His love for them.
3- Even if John’s circumstances don’t change for the better, or even get worse; Jesus doesn’t want John to give up trusting or be offended by Him. John is going to have to trust God’s promise of redemption regardless of his situation.
It is interesting to realize that sometime after John the Baptist was beheaded, Jesus would be brought as a prisoner before the same ruler, Herod Antipas. The Son of God, who had honored His Father in every way, was brought before the same ruler that took John’s life. The good that John did, didn’t mean that he would get good results from a human perspective. The good that the Jesus did, didn’t mean that He would get good in return from a human perspective either. But in that moment, Jesus entered into John’s suffering, experiencing the injustice of it all, and redeeming it for His glory. And Jesus does the same for you and me. We are not promised escape, we are promised eternal hope. We are not promised relief, we are promised redemption. In putting our faith in Jesus and obeying Him, we are setting our hope in eternity, counting the sufferings of this present world not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed to us. (Rom 8:18)
If all that Jesus did was save us from hell, and nothing good ever happened in this life, He would still be worthy of our worship and obedience.
We do good because He has been good to us.