To Be Known and to Fully Know God is the Great Purpose of Our Lives

To whom does God say, “Depart from me. I never knew you?”

Have you ever wondered who are the people to whom God may say, “I never knew you; depart from me”?[1] If you are like me, those words ring ominously. We might be tempted to gloss over them, because they are uncomfortable to consider, but there they are.

These words contrast with the verse that inspires this article, which informs the title to this blog piece. But first, I want to focus briefly on people whom God never knew. Jesus described them for us.

They are people who prayed to God, “Lord, Lord.” They are people who prophesied in God’s name. They are people who cast out demons and even did “mighty works” in God’s name. They are highly religious people, but they didn’t “do the will of the Father who is in heaven”. (Matt. 7:23)

What does that mean?

For starters, it means that religiosity is not a ticket to heaven. Public piety is not anything that impresses God; if anything, it may even be repulsive to Him.[2]

Power and influence and doing things that amaze people, even if done in God’s name, are not keys to heaven.  An eloquent speaker who can bring people to tears and repentance is not, thereby, assured of any place in God’s kingdom. The prophet and the teacher who speak the very word of God are not, by virtue of the gift of prophecy or knowledge, assured of eternity with God.

In the “Love Chapter” of the Bible (1 Corinthians 13), Paul says,

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

These realities are at once sobering and liberating. Nothing we can “practice” or do will propel us into God’s heaven. We are saved by grace, though faith, of course (Eph. 2:8-9), but even faith that can move mountains is of no gain to us by itself.

And here is the kicker – not even sacrifice, not even the sacrifice of our own bodies, by itself gains us anything.

David knew this when he said, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.” (Ps. 51:16)

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Laying one’s life down might be considered a sacrifice, yes; but it done out of love it is more than merely a sacrifice. It isn’t the act itself that is important, but the motivation, the inspiration, the desire behind the act that matters.

Jesus is the ultimate example of love. When he sacrificed himself for our sakes, he didn’t do it to earn some heavenly brownie points. He gave himself for us out of love for us. He gave himself to us for our benefit. This is love, which focuses not one the benefit of the sacrifice to himself, but on the benefit for other another.

“For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor. 3:6) Legalism and fundamentalism and dogmatism and doctrine and theology can never save a person. It doesn’t matter how much we do, or how much we know, or how accurate our understanding is when we have not love.

God, who we are to worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24), is love.[3] All the Law and the Prophets are summarized in this one statement: Love God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself. (Matt. 22:40) Thus, Paul says,

But if anyone loves[4] God, he is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8:3 ESV

This is the verse that got me thinking about these things today. If you love God, you are known by God. The people of whom God will say, “Depart from Me; I never knew you”, are people who don’t really love God. Their motivation was wrong.

Continue reading “To Be Known and to Fully Know God is the Great Purpose of Our Lives”

Keeping God’s Commands By Loving Him


“If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.” (Deuteronomy 30:16)

This is the way the English Standard Version translates Deuteronomy 30:16, the verse of the day today in a Bible I use. I highlight the phrase that jumped out at me today, the one I have been contemplating since I read it this morning.

When I went looking for some deeper meaning, I found the other translations take it in a slightly different direction:

“For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws….” (NIV)
“I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments….” (NASB)
“I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments….” (NKJV)

Only one the English Standard Version instructs us to obey the commandments of God “by loving the Lord….”.  Most of the time I believe we think about loving God by obeying His commands – not obeying God’s commands by loving Him. It’s a subtle difference, but it piqued my curiosity further.

I also discovered that the Hebrew word for love in this verse is “aheb”, which means (not surprisingly) “to love”. But it dawned me as I looked at the other verses in which that word is used that it seems to mean to love with affection. Abraham loved Isaac (Gen. 22:2); Isaac loved Rebekah (Gen. 24:67); Isaac loved Esau (Gen. 25:28)(more than Jacob); Rebekah loved Jacob(Gen. 25:28) (more than Esau); Isaac loved the “savory meat” that Esau provided (Gen. 27:4); and Jacob loved Rachel (more than Rachel’s sisters that his father-in-law insist he marry first) (Gen. 28:18).

Clearly, all of these uses of the word for love used in the commandment in Deuteronomy to love God imply a kind of personal affection, even to the exclusion of affection for other things (or people). Thus, we are commanded to have affection for God and to walk in His ways and keep His commandments: or, as the ESV translates, to obey God’s commands by loving Him (with affection).

The real light bulb moment today, though, wasn’t in the breaking down of this verse, but in its juxtaposition with my daily Bible reading, which is taking me currently through Numbers (after having left the detailed instructions about the Tent of Meeting in Leviticus). So many rules for the priestly duties of the Levites in connection with the Tent of Meeting and Ark of the Testimony and the altar where endless sacrifices were to be offered up have me wanting to get through these passages quickly!

And they have me asking, why? I know… they foreshadow the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Lev. 9:22; Heb. 9:22) The writer of Hebrews tells us Christ has appeared, now, as the ultimate high priest, entering once for all into the holy places, securing for us eternal redemption. (Heb. 9:11-13) All the sacrifices commanded by God in Leviticus, Numbers and so on were just copies of heavenly things: “For Christ has entered, not into the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God in our behalf.” (Heb. 9:24)

All the many sacrifices offered by the Levites at God’s commands as God’s chosen people wandered in the wilderness, carrying with them the Tent of Meeting and all of its accouterments, were just copies of the one sacrifice, “once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Heb. 9:26)

As I read through these passages in the Old Testament, I find myself asking, “Why?” as if I were one of them, not knowing anything about the plans of God that were devised before the foundation of the world. What were they thinking as they did these things?

Continue reading “Keeping God’s Commands By Loving Him”

CS Lewis on the “True Myth”

All myth is an attempt to shine light on truth. True Myth is the ultimate Light shining on the ultimate Truth. 

The Areopagus in Athens

“Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths: i.e. the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things’. Therefore it is true, not in the sense of being a ‘description’ of God (that no finite mind could take in) but in the sense of being the way in which God chooses to (or can) appear to our faculties. The ‘doctrines’ we get out of the true myth are of course less true: they are the translations into our concepts and ideas of that which God has already expressed in a language more adequate, namely the actual incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. Does this amount to a belief in Christianity? At any rate I am now certain (a) That this Christian story is to be approached, in a sense, as I approach other myths. (b) That it is the most important and full of meaning. I am also nearly certain that it really happened…”

This quotation is from CS Lewis in a letter to Arthur Greeves: from The Kilns (on his conversion to Christianity), 18 October 1931. If you have read much of what I write, you would readily notice that I quote and reference CS Lewis often. He resonated with me in college, and he continues to resonate with me.

He is cited by more diverse groups of people, perhaps, than any person I can think of. He had a unique way of approaching things from fresh points of view, often pulling those fresh ideas from the dusty tomes of ancient literature. His concept of myth and True Myth is one such point.

Some might consider his frequent allusions to ancient, pagan myth heretical, and some might even confuse his love of pagan myth as New Age. I find him to be extremely orthodox in unorthodox ways, and I find his creative approaches to orthodoxy to be refreshing and thought-provoking.

We don’t have to look any further than the ultra-orthodox, Apostle Paul, to find some common ground with CS Lewis. When Paul was in Athens, some Epicureans and Stoics he met in the marketplace, brought him to the Areopagus to address an erudite Greek crowd. In that address, Paul referenced an altar inscribed “To An Unknown God” and quoted Aratus, a Greek poet: “in him we move and live and have our being”. (Acts 17:22-28 quoting from Phenomena 5)

Paul used a quotation from a pantheistic poet to convey a theistic principle about God. (See Acts 17:22-28 – Quoting the Philosophers?) Paul connected with the people “where they were”, using language and references they understood to convey something about God. In one sense, this is how CS Lewis relates the ideas of myth and True Myth.

It’s interesting to me, as well, that Paul knew enough about pagan poetry to quote Aratus. In Titus 1 (v. 12), Paul quotes a Cretan philosopher, Epimenides. Again, it’s striking that Paul knew enough about pagan philosophy (presumably) that he could quote Epimenides.

CS Lewis observes that myth contains some elements of truth, which shouldn’t be surprising at all, as truth is universal and should, therefore, be something that is universally recognized. The difference between myth and True Myth is that all myth ultimately is a shadow of the True Myth.

All myth is an attempt to shine light on truth. True Myth is the ultimate Light shining on the ultimate Truth. All myth conveys truth through storytelling. True Myth isn’t just another story, though; it is The Story. It isn’t “just” myth, but reality – “it really happened” as CS Lewis says.

Continue reading “CS Lewis on the “True Myth””

Can Hell be Reconciled with a Loving God? Part 1

Tim Keller says that the idea of hell is crucial in helping us to understand our own hearts.

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Tim Keller gave a series of talks on the biggest objections to Christianity about eight years ago. In one talk, he addresses how can we reconcile a God who is loving with a God with the idea of hell. I’m going to summarize what Keller says partly in his words and partly in my own words. I will also go off script down some side roads. I will cover the subject in several blog posts.

Before we start, I want to observe that truth and reality are not always how we would like them to be. The nature of truth is that “it is what it is”. We don’t advance in our knowledge and understanding by denying it. If we are going to take the Bible seriously, and particularly the things that Jesus said, we have to contend with the idea of hell. Jesus mentions hell more than any other person in the scripture.

Tim Keller claims that hell is crucial for understanding our own hearts, for living at peace in the world, and for knowing the love of God. The text he uses to set up the subject is Luke 16:19-31. This text is known as the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. I encourage you to read it before continuing on. I am only addressing the first point in this blog post – that hell is crucial for understanding our own hearts (because it is something we choose).

The idea of hell, of course, is a basic Christian principal. Jesus did not shy away from the subject, and neither should we. Hell is a principal that doesn’t sit well with the sentiments of modern people, but that is no reason to dismiss it anymore than we should dismiss the idea of disease just because we don’t like it. We dismiss it only to our detriment.

One interesting quirk about this parable is that two of the characters are named (Abraham and Lazarus), and one character is not named (the rich man). Keller says this parable is the only one in which Jesus named any of the characters. (I didn’t double check him on that.)

In Hebrew culture, even more than in our day, names were intimately connected to the identify of a person. In this parable, Lazarus is identified by name, but the rich man remains anonymous. He has lost his identity. Why is that? And how does that relate to understanding our own hearts?

The fact that Jesus named characters, but he didn’t name all the characters, is a window into understanding the parable and understanding our own hearts.

Continue reading “Can Hell be Reconciled with a Loving God? Part 1”

Suffering Eternal Decisions

Sometimes the rational answer doesn’t satisfy the emotional problem, but there is an answer to the emotional problem of suffering.

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I often listen to podcasts in the morning as I shave, shower, brush my teeth and get ready for work. Today I was listening to Dr. William Lane Craig respond to some questions about free will and suffering, and his comments prompt this blog piece.

He made the following statement

“Natural suffering forms the arena in which the drama is played out of people being freely called to come into the kingdom of God and find an eternal relationship with God. It is not at all improbable that only in a world infused with natural suffering would an optimal number of people freely respond to God’s gracious and initiatives and come to enjoy a relationship with God and eternal salvation.”

Dr. Craig represents the Molinist view of the tension between God’s sovereignty, knowledge and power and man’s free will. On the Molinist view, God knows the future, but he does not determine it. Knowing the future, God chose to set the universe in motion, but he does not determine every aspect of it, including the choices that people make. Knowing the future, God chose to set the universe in motion, and to that extent, He determines the outcome, because He knows the outcome. He does not determine it, however, to the extent of interfering with the free will He gave humans who are created in His image. The fact that he knows the outcome, does not mean that He determine the choices each person makes. Each person is free to choose as they will, but God knows how they will choose from the beginning, and so He wills it.

This is (my simple version of) the Molinist view. It respects God’s sovereignty, while acknowledging the clear implication of free will and moral responsibility to which God holds us that is reflected from beginning to end in the Bible.

I tend to like the Molinist view, but I am always somewhat cautioned in my own thinking not to be overly concerned with doctrinal nuances. I don’t want to die on a Molinist hill other than the Gospel. The Calvinist resurgence in the church today stands in contrast to a more Armenian view of inviolate free will. Many have been the discussions and debates between these two views, and I fear we spend too much time and energy on debating when we should spend more time living out the Gospel. I think Paul might lump these debates in the category of vain discussions.

Still, I think it is good to chew on these things as they may be beneficial to our knowledge and understanding of God. As I thought about Dr. Craig’s comment above, I could not help think that this is a kind of divine utilitarianism – what is optimal for generating the most free will responses of love for, relationship with God and eternal life with God.

Dr. Craig’s thesis is an attempt to explain why suffering exists in the world when God is supposed to be good, all-powerful and sovereign. Why doesn’t God stop suffering if He is all those things? Why does he allow suffering at all?

Continue reading “Suffering Eternal Decisions”