Many thousands of years ago God gave Samuel a lesson about how to choose a leader. Just as Samuel was about to anoint the wrong person God gave him this admonition.
“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1st Samuel 16:7)
Samuel was using the only criteria at his disposal as a man to pick a leader. He could only judge with his natural senses. Each of us are like Samuel are limited to what we see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. None of those or a combination of them were good enough to judge with worthiness of a man for God’s use. Neither are they good enough for me to judge you and your relationship to God.
Obviously, what we see and hear give us some great insight as we observe others. But as God told Samuel, we are limited to the external part of each other.
It’s very interesting that God gave his law, a written code, on tables of stone. “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” was one of the ten commandments. He was pretty clear about what he wanted and rejected. Some of the Jews insisted God hadn’t said enough, so they added amendments. They wanted to “see” if someone was observing the day or not so they fixed it. They added about 40 things that were forbidden and under many of those were further additions so that finally there were literally scores of laws, any of which if broken by a Jew make him guilty, presumably before God. They went to such lengths that in their minds Jesus was guilty of breaking the law because he forgave sins on that day! To add to the confusion, different groups of zealots had different laws about the Sabbath Day. Does this sound familiar?
God says to Christians “Don’t neglect to meet together as is customary to some, to encourage each other…” (Hebrews 10:25) Simple enough isn’t it? Not a lot of rules to be broken. Ah, but along comes a legal beaver with a Wal-Mart suit and he (and others like him) makes it more clear and easier to observe. You must be at “the building” on Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and all of the days of the annual “gospel meeting” (and many, many more). Violate any of these and you are in danger of hell, that is according to the zealots.
Once you get to the “building”, God says “Eat the bread and drink the wine together to remember the Lord until he comes. Sing to each other in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs…make melody in your hearts.” It sounds nice doesn’t it? Enter elder Joe Bob Dogooder. He and his ilk insist that you sing only a certain kind of song, a certain number of songs, decide who can stand where while singing, there can be no musical instrument, no clapping of hands, no raising of hands, and no solo singing. Not very inviting huh? Well, I could go on.
Presently there is a huge push back against those of us who teach that sinners are saved by faith. That is that God justifies those who turn away(repent) from their life of self and simply put their trust (faith) in Jesus who died to pay for their sins. God calls it grace. People who claim to be exclusive representatives of God claim it’s bogus and cheap. Their claim is that God needs to see what you are doing and they appeal to James and Matthew as primary sources for their proof texts. Oh, there is Acts chapter 2 as well.
Jesus said something unusual to Nicodemus when they had their late evening chat. Jesus talked about the wind. The wind? Yes. He told this well educated Jewish leader that those who are “born of the Spirit” are like the wind!
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)
Being born of the Spirit is not something you can see, like the wind. You can hear it blowing the leaves of the olive trees but the wind is not observable. It makes some folks jittery to talk of spiritual things but Jesus did. A true Christian has been “born from above”, “born of the Spirit”. When God justifies a sinner and makes him his child it is a spiritual transaction. In God’s kindness he has given us some tangibles that point to this spiritual event. Confession is one of those. We can hear words. Apart from the Lord’s Supper, water baptism is the most beautiful illustration of this spiritual birth. As one goes into the water his object lesson says “I am dying with Christ, dying to my old life”, and when he is raised up from the water he is saying by that “I will now live the Christ life, I am a new man”.
God made it very simple. Along comes brother Dogooder again. He redefines the new birth to no less than 5 acts, (or according to some, 6 things). It’s as if God is only a spectator sitting on the edge of his seat waiting to see if some sinner will do all those things so he can say “Approved!”. God doesn’t wonder what a person will do, he knows. Added to his omniscience is the fact that Jesus can “see faith”. He knows what is in the heart of a man before he takes a step or says a word. But we tend to want to only affirm things we can physically measure or monitor. Not so with God!
Here are two contrasting examples of this. The first is from Luke
The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. (Luke 15:14,15)
Have you ever met anyone like this? I have. Jesus set the record straight. You see, they probably had some of those who observed them believing that, with all their trappings of religion, they were really fine men of God. They didn’t fool Jesus. “God knows your hearts”! It’s good to keep this in mind. What men think is very cool and might impress God, He finds to be awful! Now the opposite example.
And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.” (Acts 157-9)
Peter was defending having baptized Gentiles. And, he baptized Gentiles who got the order all messed up. They received the Spirit before they were baptized and were praising God! Peter, like Jesus earlier, set the record straight. God decided that “Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and…believe”. And moreover, “God, who knows the heart bore witness to them…” God knew they had put their faith in Him before a song was sung, before the invitation was given, and before the waters were disturbed. God Knows!
It seems to me a good plan is to stay out of God’s way. Love people, love them enough to tell them the good news, and God will take care of the saving. We have the joy of baptizing them in water and teaching them to become good disciples. Gospel song writer Mark Lowery wrote a song part of which says ‘I catch’em God cleans’em”.
In my view we should stop trying to reduce God’s plan of redemption to a neat little check off sheet as if he has appointed us to grade the papers. God was doing quite well before you and I came along and he can do well without our amendments to his plans. There are millions of people who don’t look like me, sound like me, worship like me, or live like me who might not meet my approval but are some of God’s own dear children. I think it would be good for all of us people of the dust to stop trying to be God. We don’t do a good job of it.