Sometimes, we try to put conditions on God. Or sometimes, we try to get God to prove Himself to us. We try to establish parameters or ground rules concerning our relationship with God. Or, we simply try to bargain with Him. We say to ourselves (or others) things like “God, give me a sign.” “God, if this happens then I know that it means that you want me to do that.” “God, if you do this for me, I will follow you.” Attempts to bribe God, manipulate God, make God our debtor or servant, even attempts to figure God out are common for many Christians. This behavior is very understandable. Often it is the result of confusion, frustration, fear or uncertainty, for instance. But in many cases, it is simply an attempt to deal with God in the same less than ideal way – i.e. manipulative, controlling, fearful – way that we deal with people, including ourselves. We are accustomed to using people. We are accustomed to being used by people. We do things this way to get what we want and to protect ourselves, and we may even tell ourselves that having interactions of this sort is a check on our own behavior, a way to keep US from exploiting others! Conducting relationships as business transactions is common to human behavior, and it is to the detriment of many husband-wife, child-parent, employer-employee, friendship and even church relationships.
Now not only are we generally not supposed to treat people that way, but we absolutely should not attempt this behavior with God. God is not human like us. Instead, God is sovereign. Attempting to either lower God or elevate ourselves to the point where we can deal with Him as if we and He are equals is sin. It ignores the fact that God is all-powerful, unique and Creator. It denies the fact that, as the Psalms say, we are the mere sheep of His pasture. It rejects the truth that God owns us, has complete and unchallenged control over our destinies, and pretends as if we are God’s business partners.
By treating God as a business partner, we give ourselves the delusion that we have a fallback option, or a safe way out. This way, we do not have to come to complete trusting faith and total reliance on God to meet our every need, or for God to be the One to determine what our needs are, the One who defines the difference between a need and a want for instance. We think that so long as we can ask for signs or set conditions, that if the sign does not come or the condition is not met, then we have the ability to walk away from the whole deal. In this way, instead of completely surrendering to God through faith and submission, we retain some control. We retain some influence. We retain some PRIDE. Or at least wo we think.
This is not to say that if we don’t like the conditions or if we think that the conditions change, we turn aside from Christianity. Oh no! Instead, if we don’t receive the sign or if the condition is not met, then we tell ourselves “it wasn’t God’s will.” If God does not respond in the way that we want Him to, we then take it upon ourselves to decide for ourselves what God’s will is. By this, we stop practicing Christianity, which is a faith of revelation (God’s gracious self disclosure of His existence, will and nature to us) and start practicing divination. Now with revelation, we get a picture of God that is accurate, the one that He wants us to have. But with divination, a false religious practice, we get a picture that is false, the picture that WE want to have or see, and not surrisingly it looks a lot like us! By setting a bunch of conditions and believing in and serving God, the result is serving ourselves.
Now a lot of us may use some Bible examples to justify the practices of setting conditions or asking for signs, such as Gideon and the fleece, Jepthath’s vow to make a sacrifice if he received victory in battle, or Jacob’s promise to serve God after he had his “Jacob’s ladder” dream. Well, just because a Bible character, even a Godly one, does something doesn’t make it OK. Witness Peter denying Jesus Christ or David’s incident with Uriah and Bathsheba. First, note that Gideon, Jacob and Jepthath acted before the giving of the law of Moses. More on that later. Next, note that all three had a tenuous, uncertain knowledge of or relationship with God at that point in their lives. Gideon and Jepthath were acting in the dark period of Israel during the time of the Judges, and Jacob was still a wheeling dealing conniver who was out only for himself. So, their actions reflected a lack of a knowledge of God’s requirements and character on their part, not the appropriate way for dealing with God, and God in His mercy and grace forgave them. However, the negative consequences of this type of behavior and of not knowing God’s nature or having a relationship with Him were still in view in the lives of these men, with the primary example being Jepthath’s offering his daughter as a human sacrifice.
The thing to remember is that when we try to set our own little rules or conditions for how we deal with God, we violate a direct commandment of scripture, which is Deuteronomy 6:16’s “Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God, as ye tempted him in Massah.” Massah was a reference to how the children of Israel made continual demands of God in the wilderness to prove His power, faithfulness and goodness to them. By continually demanding through Moses that God provide them with food, meat, water and other things when they wanted them, it was not so much that they were challenging God’s power, God’s ability to lead and deliver them, even though they certainly were doing so. Instead, they were challenging God’s sovereignty. They were putting their own collective self-will up against the will of God, and insisting that God had no right to behave towards them as they pleased. Instead of submitting to the reality that they were God’s people and that they were to serve Him, Israel insisted that God serve them instead. This is a classic mindset of the false pagan and animistic religions of the time and place that Israel was living in. God was calling Israel out of that false religious mindset, out of the world (the term “ekklesia” which implies a group that is called out or set apart from the rest and was in the New Testament translated to be “church” was also applied to Israel), and commanding them to respond to the true and living God, but Israel’s uncircumcised, unredeemed and faithless hearts refused to do so. It got to the point where the Israelites actually complained about the lack of variety in their diet, as if the wilderness was some all you can eat buffet and God was their busboy and short order cook! As a result of their refusal to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and their status before God, that entire generation save Joshua and Caleb perished, sometimes in the most horrible of manners, without ever setting foot in the Promised Land.
We probably know Deuteronomy 6:16 better from the lips of Jesus Christ, as He quoted it to rebuke Satan in response to Satan’s temptations of Christ in the wilderness. Another way of rendering this passage can be (and I am borrowing this from the movie “The Miracle Maker”) is “you shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Yet that is precisely what was done to Jesus Christ over and over again by the Pharisees, Saduccees, scribes, those who saw Jesus Christ, saw or heard of His mighty deeds but refused to acknowledge who He was. They kept trying to trick Him with questions, such as when the Sadducees’ questions about the resurrection. They tried to entrap Him with devices, such as the woman caught in adultery and whether to pay taxes to Caesar (attempts to place Him in no-win situations). And they asked Him to perform signs and miracles. It was not because they doubted His righteousness, because no one had observed or heard of His sinning. It was not because they doubted His wisdom and knowledge, for they had heard His teachings. And it was not because they doubted His ability to perform signs and miracles, because they had seen Him do so.
But the issue was that Jesus Christ did all those things on his own volition. He did it in His own Name for the Will of God the Father. In doing so, Jesus Christ was giving a revelation of Himself and of God the Father. However, these people were not interested in a revelation of Jesus Christ. They were not interested in a revelation of Jesus Christ. Instead, they wanted Jesus Christ to do THEIR bidding, NOT God’s Will. They wanted Jesus Christ to perform FOR THEM, and if He met THEIR CONDITIONS, then they would believe. If Jesus Christ met THEIR expectations, satisfied THEIR demands, fulfilled THEIR curiosities, catered to THEIR PRIDE AND EGO, THEN they would believe. Why? Because they were interested in serving themselves and their own ideas and lusts and not God. They did not want a revelation of God. They wanted Jesus Christ to reveal THEMSELVES, or a false god that believed like themselves and had their same desires, aspirations, prides, unclean thoughts and sins. In other words, they wanted an idol, an image of themselves to worship in the place of God. Why? Because the true God gives you want God wants you to have according to His sovereign will. A false god, an idol, gives you what you want.
So the people tempting Jesus Christ in this fashion were literally an example of Paul was describing in Romans 1:21-25. “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified [him] not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.”
These people literally knew God. They saw Jesus Christ, the Word of God in the Trinity, face to face. Further, to see Jesus Christ was to see God the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ (and of the Father)! So those who heard, saw and touched Jesus Christ KNEW GOD! But they did not believe. They did not trust. They did not obey. They KNEW GOD but like the children of Israel in the desert, they did not have saving faith in Him. So they rejected Him because He would not bow to them, worship them, and give them the desires of their idolatrous hearts. Please recall that Satan asked Jesus Christ to bow and worship Him in the wilderness. Realize that the tempters of Jesus Christ were asking the very same thing. Give US a sign. Show US a miracle. Get down off the cross. Do what WE want you to do, THEN we will believe you and follow you. In doing so, they reject the truth, which is that we are but the sheep of God’s pasture (Psalm 100:3), and concoct this insane delusion that to serve God is to do God a FAVOR! These people felt that they would be doing Jesus Christ A FAVOR by believing in Him and following them! The One holy sovereign God, creator, ruler, master and sustainer of the universe! They believed that it would have been a privilege FOR JESUS CHRIST for them to believe and follow HIM!
Why? Well, because they were so special. They were the sons of Abraham, the people of the kings and prophets to whom the oracles of God were given. Well, when we act the same way as they did by believing that merely because we are Christians, God is obligated to lead us, guide us, or treat us in a certain way and if He doesn’t, well then we will just take our toys and go home, or go wherever we think that some “sign” is telling us to go! But do not be deceived. God is not mocked. Whatever we sow, we will reap (Galatians 6:7). If we keep playing with God as if He is a toy or some other thing of amusement to be trifled with, we will get more than what we bargained for.
Consider Matthew 22:41-45. “While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, [The Son] of David. He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?” They were asking Jesus Christ to tell them, to prove to them who He was. Well Jesus Christ did it. “If David called the Christ Lord, then how is Christ David’s son!” That was all the information that they needed to be saved right there. But because they received this information by way of mocking, tempting and testing Jesus Christ, they weren’t ready for it! Instead of falling down and worshiping Jesus Christ and becoming His disciples, what was their response? “And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any [man] from that day forth ask him any more [questions].” Silence. God is not mocked. By provoking Jesus Christ, they received more than what they bargained for, and because they were faithless and not ready to receive the response, they only wound up reaping still more condemnation on their heads.
So please, do not build your Christian life on tests, conditions, vows, oaths, pledges, “earning points”, works or signs with God. That is treating God as if He is a merchant, a business partner that you can conduct mutually beneficial transactions with. If the transaction is mutually beneficial, then what is the role of unearned loving grace? More to the point, when Jesus Christ went to the cross to pay the debt for sins that He never committed, was that a transaction that conferrred mutual benefits on Jesus Christ and the sinner? God forbid! Instead the cross was entirely of grace done entirely and only for the sinner’s benefit. If the relationship with Jesus Christ began with grace on the cross, it cannot go to being a religious or business transaction, whether of works or of conditions. Instead, it begins with grace and remains of grace forevermore!
For we are not God’s equals. God is not lucky or fortunate to have our belief and service. Further, basing things on conditions is not faith. Instead of following God by faith, it is taking one step, testing it out AND IF YOU FIND IT AGREEABLE TO YOU taking another. That is like Peter when he attempted to walk on water. He took a few steps, got a little scared, got a little wet, and began to sink. Peter’s ability to walk on water was not based on his total belief, trust and obedience to Jesus Christ, but instead based on doing so under conditions where he felt safe and secure, that he wouldn’t be hurt. Jesus Christ said walk to me, and were Peter walking by actual faith, which is belief and trust that leads to obedience, he would have just kept walking no matter what happened. But since he was only willing to walk so long as he felt good about it, what happened? Simple: HE SANK. He was in the presence of God Himself and still sank!
Our relationship with God is to be one of trust, submission and obedience. Anything less is not truly a relationship with God, but rather an idolatrous affair with our own wicked hearts.