Everything comes down to God. Yep, you read that correctly. The way we view God is the way we will live our lives. For example, if we tend to see God as a stern Being whose main activity is to continually rebuke and punish people for their sin, then we will live with a constant sense of guilt and anxiety for fear of angering such a God. We will invariably live a performance-based life trying to pull ourselves up by our spiritual bootstraps in order to please or placate such a God who is always looking over our shoulder to make sure that we do not mess up.
Such a life is miserable because it is an impossible standard. This is why many people internally say “To hell with it!” and live in outright rebellion against a God who seems not to care a wit about their happiness. The cruelties of this world like cancer and natural disasters seem only to be God mocking their abysmal failure at being decent people. Indeed, it is an impossible task. It would be like telling my grandson with epilepsy to stop having seizures, as if my love for him is dependent on him being seizure-free. My guess is that most people would consider it abusive for a parent or grandparent to yell at a kid for having seizures. With that kind of view of God, I wouldn’t want to know him either.
But, on the other hand, if we understand God as a loving father who is pained by the damage sin has done to the souls of people, then we are open to seeing the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ coming to set broken spirits right again; the death of Christ is the ultimate act of love in taking care of the sin issue once for all. God in Christ did for us what we could do for ourselves; He gave His life so that we could live as we were intended to live: enjoying God and His creation forever.
With such a (correct!) view of God, the task of spiritual formation is one of constantly replacing destructive understandings of God with the kind of thoughts of God that filled the mind of Jesus himself. And the only good way of doing that is through the basic spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer, and the practices of silence and solitude that helps us connect with God and His Word. The grand redemptive story of the Bible is that the steadfast love of God found its apex and fulfillment in the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus. Therefore, all of Holy Scripture is to be viewed through these lenses of the grace of God in Christ. It is a very different picture than the one of an indifferent God.
Seeing God from the perspective of grace brings a joyous way to live because it views God as generous and hospitable. From such an angle, the logical and appropriate response is one of gratitude. All false gospels have at their core a kind of you-are-bad-try-harder approach. Preachers of such an ilk only rail against people as being scum buckets of sin and offer no real hope of transformation in Christ. It is promoting a grace-less religion, and it is nothing less than biblical malpractice.
I take heart that if we have trouble seeing God as we ought, or experience difficulty viewing life as it is meant to truly be lived, we can ask God to give us wisdom. And the promise connected to that encouragement to pray is that God will give generously to all without finding fault and it will be given to them (James 1:5). That is, a generous God will help his people to see beyond the trials of life to the development of faith, equipping persons for a committed Christianity over the long haul.
In such a view of God, prayer is not a chore but a delight; service is not drudgery but a willing response; reading Scripture is not a mandatory exercise but a wonderful practice of knowing Christ better. This is practical theology at its best: knowing our guilt before God; knowing the grace of Christ that handles the guilt; and, responding in gratitude by living grace-filled lives as Jesus did. May our churches be filled with such Christians abiding in Christ. Amen.