One of the best-selling books of all time, The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, famously opens with these four words: “It’s not about you.”
On the surface, I think most of us know this. Deep down, however, it’s a hard truth to take, even for most Christians. After all, we live in the land of individualism and personal exceptionalism. Night and day, we’re affirmed that truth is what we say it is and everything really is about us. My goal with this article is to point out how this has influenced our theology in a really dangerous way.
A common belief among culture-swayed Christians is that God sent us a way for salvation because He is so utterly in love with each of us and He just couldn’t stand to see our fantastic faces anywhere except the golden halls of heaven. We picture Jesus inviting all of humanity through the pearly gates, saying, “C’mon in! Compared to how awesome y’all are, none of that stuff I said means anything!”
I’m paraphrasing with a Texan accent, but this is ultimately the message many Christians subliminally hear and believe. It’s what has led many people to be completely appalled at the idea that God could have the capacity to send any good-meaning and mostly-nice person to anywhere other than the most perfect place that’s ever existed.
But what does the Bible say about our salvation? What motives does God’s Word reveal for why He offers us this amazing news of eternal life with Him?
(Put your seat belts on, folks.)
Let me first say this: It’s absolutely true that God loves us.
See how I made that its own paragraph for added emphasis?
I just did it again to emphasize my emphasis. God’s love for us is stronger and more reliable than any love we are capable of. Add all of our individual love together and you still won’t come close to God’s love. But we need to be very careful with this Christian one-liner and not allow it to be taken out of context from everything else God says about us and about Himself. Everything in the Bible works together to tell one story. If we only focus on how God loves us, it’s very easy to arrive at the impression (and many have) that God spends all His time wishing well for us, giving us what we want, and keeping us out of harm’s way.
What we’re ultimately saying with this understanding is, “God, Your purpose is found in me.”
Once we begin looking at life through this self-focused lens, we quickly realize we have a problem, because life just isn’t that fantastic all the time. To reconcile this, we’ve made it an issue of our own lack of faith that keeps these perks of God’s love (prosperity) locked up and unseen. God wants to give us every single thing that we want, we just have to really believe that He will.
By sending Jesus as our Savior, God was not submitting to us as the creatures He just has an insatiable soft spot for. If that were true, our experience on Earth would look much different and many fewer skeptics would be asking why a “loving” God would allow so much suffering.
So then what’s going on here? What was God’s real motive for His plan of salvation for us unworthy sinners?
Let’s use the most basic approach: the Greatest Commandment of loving God before and above all things. This command is meant to impact every decision we make socially, logically and emotionally. And honestly, it’s something we fail at every single day. As the first item on the command list, it’s also the one that immediately puts our unworthiness and sinfulness into an uncomfortable perspective.
Meanwhile, God is perfect. That means when it comes to His standard of holiness, He keeps it. God’s standard, His law, is based on who He already is. So it should be no surprise that the priorities God gives us for our own lives are the same priorities He has for Himself, especially with this one. Could God hold anything else in higher esteem than Himself? If He could, He is no longer God. And if He submits to us, that would make us gods. As much as some may want to believe it, that’s just absurd. So from this, we can confidently gather that God loves Himself with all of His heart, mind, soul, and strength, just like He tells us to, and with perfect success.
“Hold on, Kyle… You just said earlier that God loves us. You even made it its own paragraph.”
God does love us. But He doesn’t love us for our greatness. He loves us as His creation that bears His image. He loves us because He created us, and He created us to love Him. So by creating us to love Him, He is loving Himself. Put another way, we weren’t created to be awesome but rather to show how awesome our Creator is.
The problem is actually pretty simple: we say that God is love, but then we apply a worldly definition of “love,” which requires selflessness. But God is not selfless. Anyone who says He is only needs to read a page or two from the Bible before that view is shattered.
Culturally, to say we are loved by God puts ourselves as the ultimate object of His affection. We’ve let our culture inform our understanding of God rather than letting our understanding of God inform our culture. We’ve made His purpose about us, which leaves us scrambling to explain why reality doesn’t affirm us in our theology.
Look at the motivation for literally anything God commands us to do and anything He does for us—old or New Testament. Here are just a few of them:
Isaiah 43:21, Isaiah 49:3, Ezekiel 20: 39-44, Ezekiel 36:11, Habakkuk 2:14, 1 Samuel 12:22, 2 Samuel 7:21, Psalm 106: 7-8, Matthew 5:16, John 12: 23-28, John 14: 29-31, John 16:14, John 17: 1-5, Ephesians 1: 5-6, 1 Corinthians 10:31, Romans 3: 25-26, Romans 11:36, 2 Thessalonians 1:10, 1 Peter 2:12, 1 Peter 4:11, and Revelation 21:23.
(Spoiler: you’ll be reading about God’s glory as the reason for pretty much everything He’s ever done.)
Everything God does for us is motivated by His desire to glorify His name, and that must be okay with us whom He’s called to follow suit and love Him above all else. When we remember that we exist for God to be glorified through us, our experiences will match with what we’re promised in scripture.
If you want to go a step even deeper with me on this topic, follow this link to read a few more paragraphs on my personal blog site. You’ll see how our view of heaven is a huge indicator of how well we understand who God is and what we were created for.