Recently I have rediscovered Ephesians chapter 1, specifically verses 5 – 6. If we think about the implications of what Paul is saying, it is gripping. He tells us that we were created to be a trophy in God’s trophy case. But what kind of trophy? According to these verses, we were not created to be trophies of perfection, or even of God’s power; creation around us does that. We were chosen by God to be a demonstration of the glory of His grace to all of His creation. Your brokenness, failure and unworthiness are opportunities for God to put His grace on display; as He lavishes His love and acceptance on an desperate sinner. You were created to bring God glory by being an unworthy object of His love.
So how should we respond to that? Paul tells us how not to respond in the opening verses of Romans 6, when he answers his own question. He asks whether we should continue in sin that grace would increase, and the answer to his own rhetorical question is, “God forbid.” Christians are children of a holy God and certainly are to avoid sin. However, that is not our purpose in life. Becoming “the best Christian me” I can be, is not what we were created for. Unfortunately, our narcissistic tendencies tend to make everything about us. We just want to know what we need to do, so that we can go out and do it; and do it well. Who really gets the glory then? Not God.
Remember, God created us for His glory, specifically for the glory of His grace. However, we think that once we come to faith that it’s now our job to bring Him glory by our holiness. Not true. We offer ourselves as living sacrifices and pursue holiness and His will as a love offering to the one who gave us His holiness as a gift. But today, God is still glorified as He lavishes His grace upon us, because we still need it. To think we are bringing God glory by our good behavior is to rob God of “the praise of His glorious grace,” as Ephesian 1:6 says; not to mention it drains all of our attention away from Him and places it on ourselves and our performance.
Let me give you an example of how this affects everything. Many of us have heard the statement of Jesus in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”[i] It is a heart-searching statement made by Jesus. It is also one that many a frustrated pastor has used in an attempt to persuade hard-hearted church members, who seem uninterested in walking with Jesus, back in line. However, what is it that Jesus is after in this passage? I am convinced that our view of this statement is skewed; because we are self-centered and performance oriented. We immediately conclude that what Jesus is after is our obedience to His commandments. But is that what He said?
This verse is in the midst of Jesus telling His disciples about how He’s going to miraculously answer their prayers, “anything” they ask for will be theirs because of His commitment to them; not theirs to Him. In context, Jesus is explaining to them why He can trust them with that kind of power; to ask for anything. It’s because they love Him and He trusts that they will keep His commandments. The goal of Jesus’ statement is not their obedience, it’s their love. And our love for Him is always stirred by remembering what He has done for us, especially at the cross.
That in no way means that obedience is unimportant. It is important[ii]. It’s just not the driver; it’s the result. It is not the goal; it is the outcome of the goal. The goal is love for Christ, which comes because He first loved us. Jesus is saying, “If I have your heart, I will have your hands, feet and tongues too.” My fellow grace trophies, if you love Him, and if you set your heart and mind on His overwhelming love for you and grace toward you, you will love Him; and you will keep His commandments. It’s a promise.
[i] KJV and Textus Receptus omit “you will,” which seems to contradict the contexts of John 14: 12 -18. However, the conclusions drawn above are not dependent on either translation. He’s either calling on their love for Him as a reminder not to misuse the power He’s just promised, or expressing his confidence that they will not because of their love for Him.
[ii] Jesus repeats the connection between love and obedience in vs. 21, 23, and 24.