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The Prize - Relationship with God : Now, Tell Me the Cost

 
The Prize - Relationship with God…“Now, Tell Me the Cost”.
Author: William S. Doolittle


“…anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple”
- Jesus of Nazareth

Anyone considering casting off the shackles of bondage to religion, and then stepping into the fresh air of freedom of simple relationship with God, needs to first consider the price tag of such freedom. “What?” you ask; “You mean freedom comes at a price? I thought freedom is free!” The answer to that question is both yes and no. Freedom is free in the sense that Christ paid for our freedom on the cross. It is not free in the sense that since we were bought with a price [1] (through His death on the cross) we are thus obligated to serve and follow Him who paid that price. It is in the following that the costs of becoming a true disciple of Christ begin to reveal themselves. In this article we will examine the particular costs that seem to attend following Christ out of religion and into relationship with Himself, and seek to provide some of the answers as to why those costs must be born. All this in the hope of a.) Preparing people to count the cost before they commit, lest they find out, too late, that they can’t afford it, and b.) Be a support and source of encouragement to those who do decide to “take up (their) cross” [2].

If you have found that pursuit of Christ through religion has left you unfulfilled, than you may be one of many Christians who are abandoning, or thinking of abandoning, religion in favor of the simplicity of direct relationship with God. For many, this means deciding to no longer attend regular religious services, or at least no longer engaging in any of the “oughts” imposed by religion. This is a place of tremendous freedom, and usually results in the growth in your knowledge, understanding and relationship with God, but is that all that believers who take this step experience? The consensus among those who step free from religion, is that such a step is almost invariably followed up by a wilderness experience, and quite frequently, personal difficulties sometimes culminating in catastrophe. The reader may remark the absence of any sugarcoating in the last statement, but may also wonder why anybody would then want to step free of religion. The reason is simple - such a person believes that the prize, namely, intimacy with God, is worth it. This begs the question of - Why? Why does drawing closer to God almost invariably lead to a wilderness experience, and why does it often lead to personal catastrophe? We seek to answer these questions here.

Wilderness is a place where God can strip us of everything we have learned prior to intimacy with Him. There are many biblical metaphors that illustrate this truth. It was only after 40 years in the wilderness that God finally revealed Himself to Moses, and even then Moses was bid to remove his sandals, for he found himself standing in the presence of a holy God; again, even 40 years of being cleansed in the wilderness did not bring Moses to the point where he could presume unconditional intimacy with God.

Now, Christians enjoy this high privilege over and against Moses, since through Christ we are dead to our old selves and have new life in Him [4]. Once we have accepted Christ as savior, we do not need to die to our selves, as though it were some kind of work or process; instead we share in His death on the cross and become (are made) a new creation – instantly. Why then the wilderness experience for Christians who seek relationship with God over religion? It is helpful to keep in mind that Paul was a Christian in every sense of the New Testament word, and yet God led him, literally, into the Arabian wilderness for a period of time [5]. I think one important reason that God leads us to wilderness before, and while, He is drawing us to intimacy with Himself is because we need to be stripped of the false teaching, and errant socializing influences of a culture that belongs to the evil one. Some of us may sense this need going into a wilderness experience, but I think few of us are prepared for the depth and breadth of cleansing, or “detoxing”, that needs to take place in our lives. God’s standard is not our standard. We are of the flesh, and our origin is dust; our body’s finite. God is spirit; without origin; His being eternal. He is holy, which essentially means “other”, or “apart”. Again we have this advantage over Moses that, unlike him, we as Christian can approach God boldly, but again, for our own sake God needs to cleanse and detox us from the culture to prepare us to better relate to Him and serve Him. God is utterly selfless; He doesn’t cleanse believers anymore owing to our sinfulness; no that was taken care of on the cross; he cleanses those who seek true intimacy with Him so we can better accomplish what we are seeking – that very intimacy. We need to have the static of Satan’s culture cleansed from our minds, the filth of impure sights and sounds cleansed from our senses, so we can better see and hear Him. He is with us all the time in the wilderness; we are clean in His sight owing to the work of Christ. The wilderness is an act of mercy for believers who have been damaged by culture and religion.

Another important reason for the wilderness is that as we are cleansed of the bad effects of culture, God is right there teaching us new ways of being and acting. He helps us to change our patterns of thought, perhaps choose new associations, and likely discourage us from unfruitful conduct. As the scripture says, everything is lawful for us, once we are in Christ, but not everything is beneficial. As he cleanses us from the non-beneficial, He guides us into new thoughts and ways that are beneficial. This latter may sound easy, but it is not; instead it may be the hardest part of the wilderness experience. The flesh rebels against law – and that’s OK, Paul says we are not under the Law – but when God tries to gently guide us into what He knows is best for us, it can feel like law, and Satan fans that feeling into flames. As Paul point out, the spirit within us and the flesh our bodies wage war against one another so that we do what we don’t want to do, and leave undone the thing we wanted to do. As God tries to gently help us to make good choices of what to think about [6], and what to do with our time, we “kick against the pricks [7]”. It’s no use thinking that this won’t happen to you; it will. God doesn’t lead us out to the wilderness for a picnic; He leads us out for hard work.

We have covered some of the reasons for the wilderness experience. There are more, many of which are unknown to us. We must keep in mind always “…the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” [8], also that “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter” [9]. We must not to pry too hard to into the ways of God. Sometimes it is best to just “Be still, and know that (He) is God” [10]

This finally bring us to catastrophe…why do so many who come out of religion, so as to experience God face to face, wind up in catastrophe? Again, the life of Moses and Paul shed some light on the mystery.

Moses was not only led out into a wilderness, but at that same time he lost the status of being a member of Pharaoh’s household to become a keeper of flocks (to an ancient Egyptian, a detestable thing). This is roughly comparable in our culture to losing status as a cabinet secretary to the President of the United States to become a garbage collector. Some would describe this as catastrophe. Also, after instructing Moses to lead the Israelites out of the Egypt, God put Moses on a deathbed, up to the very brink, for failing to circumcise his son. Some would describe this as a catastrophe. Later on, after speaking to Pharaoh exactly as he had been commanded by God to do, Pharaoh responded by ordering the Israelites to make bricks without straw, and without lessening productivity. This also appeared to be catastrophe.

Paul, whom many consider to be the greatest apostle, describes his experience in that exalted office as follows: “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” [11] I think many of us would consider receiving forty lashes, meted out by out worst enemies, as a catastrophe; especially if we received them for being perfectly obedient to God. Bob Humphrey of Family Room Media, a ministry that assist persons who leave religion and seek true relationship with Father, has suggested that God brings us to catastrophe once we leave the many false supports provided by religion, “so as to bring us to an end of ourselves”. In true relationship, God wants us to understand that the sufficiency is all on His part. We bring nothing but our filthy rags, He bring everything else. Isn’t that we are all seeking for, after all? Do we really want to bring anything to Father, or do we instead want to find security, comfort, love, meaning, forgiveness, intimacy, fullness and more all within the embrace of His strong arms?

God is all-in-all. We can offer Him nothing. He is our complete sufficiency. We resist resting in that reality or accepting that blessing. It makes no sense, but we do. Time we start letting go, and letting God.

[1] 1 Corinthians 6:20
[2] Matthew 16:24
[3] Luke 14:28-33
[4] Colossians 2:13
[5] Galatians 1:17
[6] Philippians 4:8
[7] Acts 26:14
[8] Romans 11:33
[9] Proverbs 25:2
[10] Psalm 46:10
[11] 2 Corinthians 11:23-27

 

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