Years ago, I visited a Latin American nation where every town had a church, almost always the nicest building in the town. I saw people crawling across rough stone pavements, up stone steps, and across splintery wooden floors to kneel at the altars where God was raised high above their heads, appearing unreachable. It was such a twisted presentation of “Christianity” that I wept! People’s knees were bloody after their vain exercise designed to get the attention of a God they thought far removed from where they were. While that kind of religious devotion may be admirable the scripture makes it clear that we cannot earn an answer to prayer with bloody knees, which is what those people believed. While you won’t find many Americans literally crawling to a church’s altar, the same deception exists. We think big offerings or moral purity or the ‘right’ words cause Him to hear and answer. The root idea is the same: God must be appeased, His favor must be earned.
We learn from life that performance is the key to reward. The teacher gives privileges to the student who applies herself to the work turning in assignments that are well-done and complete. The gives the person who shows up early and stays late, who takes an interest in the job and shows initiative, the recognition. Even in our home, the child who is obedient, who learns to do what is expected without being asked, enjoys the approval of their mother. I hasten to say, living with diligence and excellence is a good thing! But, we begin to confuse appreciation for our work with love, applause with acceptance. A subtle lie often takes over and we begin to think that if we are good enough we will find the love we desire. We become perfectionists. The lie enslaves us to an image that is divorced from reality. We work hard to keep from failing and to conceal those parts of us that we think are not acceptable.
Nowhere is this lie more deadly than in our relationship with our Heavenly Father!
Here is the Truth. “God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.” (Romans 5:8, The Message) God does not love us for what we do. Our religion cannot make Him love us more.
My earliest experience of Christianity was something like that of those with bloody knees. God, I thought, was a Being who only loved ‘good’ people. He was not interested in me, only in what I could do, and that had to be the best. As a young adult, after several experiences that made my human flaws too evident to be ignored, I began to search the Scripture and was amazed to find a whole different revelation of the Father heart of God. The Gospel of Christ, I discovered, was not a call to trying harder to be more religious. “God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so very much, that even while we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s special favor that you have been saved!)” (Ephesians 2:4-5, NLT) “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10, NLT)
I found an invitation to know Jesus’ love, to ‘go home’ to my Father’s house. The Good News about Jesus was amazing, graceful, and liberating. At first, my freedom from the old religious rules was abused, confusing God’s loving and unconditional acceptance with a pass to act in ways that did not please Him. In time, the Lord brought maturity, restored proper awe without terror and led me to discover the joy of holy living. Now the difference was that holiness was not aimed at earning a blessing or! My obedient devotion was now an expression of love, a desire to delight the One who delighted in me.
Christian, do you somehow think that bloody knees (or some kind of self-denial or suffering) will bring answers to prayer?
Do you think that God only cares about you if you are good?
The Christians in the city of Galatia heard the Gospel of grace and were set free from religion. Then, some teachers came along who told them that they had to keep a lot of rules, observe certain holy days, and eat a certain kind of diet to be real Christians. Paul, in one of the most passionate passages in all of his letters, refutes the error. “Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it? I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ. In the same way, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” (Galatians 3:1-6, NLT)
The basis of our hope in God rests on Christ – His death and resurrection. The Bible calls it an ‘imputed’ grace! We cannot buy it, earn it. It’s a gift! It can difficult to abandon our efforts to trust Him fully. Yet, that is what the Word teaches us to do. “Since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NIV)
Don’t fall for the lie of bloody knees. Do not think that you can make God love you more. Certainly, we can please and honor Him with our loving devotion, but that is something entirely different in motive and focus than mere religion. Meditate on this word from the Word. Pray to receive it – no if’s, no and’s, no but’s. Just believe it and start to live in the grace freely given us in Christ.
“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. (God’s grace assures us of eternal life!) And … His grace allows us to live with peace in this troubled world because … We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation. And this expectation will not disappoint us. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” (Romans 5:1-5, NLT)
How He Loves
He is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane
I am a tree bending beneath
The weight of His wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden I am unaware of
These afflictions eclipsed by glory,
I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.
Oh how He loves us so
Oh how He loves us
How He loves us so
We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If grace is an ocean we’re all sinking.
So Heaven meets earth,
Like an unforeseen kiss
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about the way that.
(Yeah) He loves us
Oh how He loves us
Oh how He loves us
Oh how He loves
John Mark McMillan
© 2005 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (IMI))
CCLI License # 810055
Jerry D. Scott, Pastor
FAITH DISCOVERY CHURCH