The Christian's Primary Response To God
© 04.06.18 D. Eric Williams
It seems everyone wants Christianity's "silver bullet" these days. They want an answer to the questions, "What does God want me to do? What is the primary way God wants me to respond and relate to him?" The truth is, the answer isn't far away; it's right there in your Bible.
On one occasion, a Jewish scribe asked Jesus to identify the most important commandment in the law. "This is the most important," Jesus answered: "Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these" (Mark 12:29-31 HCSB).
So there you have it; the proper Christian response to God in the Christian life is to think rightly about God,1 believing he is the one true God and to love him. Oh, and while you're at it, love your neighbor too.
Yet, it's easy to weasel out of doing the right thing if you don't unpack what Jesus said. We should be able to take his words at face value and live it, but, as the Bible says, there is nothing new under the sun. There was another time Jesus was asked what it means to love your neighbor; His answer was to tell the parable of the "good Samaritan." The message he delivered that day was difficult for his audience to swallow. Things are no different today. People still want to be justified. They still want to think they are loving God and neighbor in the way Jesus affirmed - even when they aren't doing much of anything. After all, isn't love just warm fuzzy feelings?
It's true our emotions participate in our primary response to God. Jesus included loving with the heart and soul when he recited this commandment. That means to love with your innermost being, what you might call the life force.2 So there's nothing wrong with having affectionate feelings for God. It's only natural to feel that way after everything God has done for you.
But it can't stop there. Jesus also said we are to love God with all of our mind. In other words, the activity of our intellect must be brought under the authority of the Lord so we might use it to express love to him.
Now, you may think there isn't enough evidence in Jesus's words to make that claim. After all, can't we love God with our mind just by thinking happy thoughts about him? As a matter fact no. The apostle Paul touched on this when he said, "don't be like the people of this world, but let God change the way you think. Then you will know how to do everything that is good and pleasing to him" (Romans 12:2 CEV). So, our thoughts must be pleasing to God. The things we think about, the ideas we come up with, the plans we make, our approach to cross word puzzles even, must be done in a way good and pleasing to God. This is what it means to love God with your mind. To bring the machine of the mind into line with God's way of doing things.
Jesus also said to love God with all your strength. Thus, if you want to respond to God properly, you will love him in action as well. As James, the half brother of Jesus, said, "pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world" (James 1:27 HCSB). That's practical. Looking after orphans and widows in their distress doesn't happen by whipping up your emotions or thinking happy thoughts. Instead, it requires elbow grease and concrete acts of service. By the way, this puts us on track to fulfill the second part of our primary response to God. Remember, when asked about the most important commandment in the law Jesus gave a three-part answer. Think rightly about God, love Him with all you've got and love your neighbor too.
We need to understand this wasn't a new teaching. Jesus was simply quoting the Bible of his day (what we call the Old Testament). In fact, there's another place in the Bible that will help us in our quest to find the proper response to God.
Around the eighth century BC, the prophet Micah said, "He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8 NKJV). Even then Micah wasn't saying something new.3 Learning to imitate God was what the law was all about (Leviticus 19:2). Furthermore, the call to justice - evenhanded dealings with everyone regardless of their station in life - was also an obvious part of God's word. But that doesn't mean it was observed.
You see, that evenhanded behavior was supposed to be salted with mercy and humility. Mercy because it is sometimes difficult to do right for those who are powerless. It's a temptation as old as mankind to show preference to those who have wealth and power. But mercy calls us to show justice to people who can't do anything to repay us. That brings us right back to what James said about looking after orphans and widows in their distress. That's practical mercy.
In addition, it's humbling. After all, showing justice and mercy to those beneath us requires us to stoop down to raise them up - sometimes literally. But this is what God has done: "You stoop down to make me great" says David (Psalms 18:35b NIV84). This shouldn't shock us. God's fullness dwells in Jesus (Colossians 1:19) and one of his chief characteristics is humility. After all, he didn't wash his disciples feet because he was bored. As Andrew Murray said, "what is the incarnation but his heavenly humility, his emptying himself in becoming man? What is his life on earth but humility; his taking the form of a servant? And what was his atonement but humility? 'He humbled himself and became obedient unto death'"4 This coincides with Paul's admonition to, "Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death - even to death on a cross" (Philippians 2:5-8 HCSB).
So, we properly respond to God as Christians by loving him with our entire person. That love is best displayed through practical acts of humble service to those "less fortunate than ourselves." After all, we are supposed to imitate Jesus Christ and this is what he did. And he knew exactly how to respond to God.