If God is the creator of the universe, of everything seen and unseen, as the Bible says, if God was intentional in His creation and made us in His image as the centerpiece of His creation, what was His intention for us? What does He want from us?
This question gets at the whole point of Scripture, but I think we miss the point among all the words sometimes.
Even people who believe that God exists and acknowledge God made us get lost in the words sometimes. We see in Scripture lists of “do’s and don’ts” and rules and warnings, and we fail to see the big picture, the purpose of God. We fail to see God’s character and heart.
The Law was intended by God to show us what is right and, more importantly, to reveal to us that we are incapable of doing what is right in and of ourselves. (Rom. 7:7-25) We all fall short (Rom. 3:23), and we fail to do what we know we ought to do. (Rom. 7:18-19)
Anyone who depends on doing right to make themselves right with God are cursed (Gal. 3:10). If they fail at one point, they fail at everything. If a person refrains from killing anyone his entire life except for one time, he is still a murderer – not because of all the people he didn’t kill, but because of the one person he did kill. If a person lies only once, he is a liar.
If you sin once, you are sinner. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)
The point of the law is to help us understand that we can’t achieve righteousness by our own efforts. It’s impossible for us. We must depend on God for it. The Law was given alongside the promise of God to show people their sins to that we would receive the grace that God offers us through Jesus. (Gal. 3:19)
Salvation (from sin and death) is a gift God gives us by His grace; God gives us salvation by grace so that none of us can boast about having earned it. (Eph. 2:8-9)
But is this all God expects from us? Is this all God wants from us – to be saved from sin and death? If salvation from sin and death was all God wanted for us, He could have made us without the capability of sinning, and He could have made us eternal from the beginning.
God obviously had more in mind for us. He made us in His very image. He made us like Him, including the agency with which we could choose to go the way God desires for us or to go our own ways. This agency allows us to experience something we could not experience any other way – that something is love.
God is love. (1 John 4:7) Thus, love is at the very center of God’s purpose, because love is the very nature of God. Love chooses the good for other people.
God loves us, but we couldn’t know God’s love or reciprocate it without having agency, which includes the ability to ignore and reject God in favor of our own selfish desires. The ability to choose the good of others must include the ability to ignore and reject what is good for others.
God showed us what true love looks like by shedding the power and privilege He had as creator of the universe and becoming one of us; and, having become one of us, He was obedient to His purpose for which He came by giving his life up for us. (Phil. 2: 6-8)
As Jesus said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15;13). Self-sacrifice is the ultimate expression of love, and giving up one’s life for others is the ultimate self-sacrifice.
By laying His own life down for us after taking on human form, God was showing us, also, the purpose He has for us. That purpose is for us to know and experience God’s love and to participate in His love by learning to love as God loves us.
“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
“[S]ince God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has eve seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:11-12)
God saved us for love. More accurately, He created us for love. He saved us from ourselves.
But, more specifically, what does He want from us?
We tend to get it wrong. We think He wants our dutiful behavior, our ritual observances and to be “good” (which we might define as “not hurting anyone” or “being a good person” – whatever that means?). But that isn’t it.
The prophets understood what God seeks from us. Micah posed the same question millennia ago, in the form of rhetorical questions about the types of things religious people think God wants from them. In Micah 6:6-7, it reads:
“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
Of course, the answer is that these are not the things God really wants from us. Not at all. Micah 6:8 continues:
“He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness [steadfast love],
and to walk humbly with your God?”
The prophet, Isaiah urged people: “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil….” (Isaiah 1:16) What do you suppose God was suggesting? Being good? What do you suppose “being good” looks like? The answer is this:
“…. learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:17)
This isn’t just Old Testament stuff. James, the brother of Jesus, picks up the same theme (James 1:22-25, 27):
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing…. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
The perfect law is the law of love.
“For the whole law is fulfilled in a single decree: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Gal 5:14)
“[T]he one who loves has fulfilled the law…. [L]ove is the fulfilling of the law.” Rom. 13:8, 10)
Love is “the law that gives freedom.” (James 2:13 Love is the triumph of mercy over judgment. (James 2:13)
Most importantly, love is more than talk. Love is active and requires doing.
“[L]et us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18:)
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)
It’s not enough just to care; love compels us to do something. We show our love by our actions.
So…. What does God want from us? He wants love.