Why Does God Expect So Much of Us?

Wednesday, 21 October 2015 19:52

Mike  DaphneAnyone who wants to work on improving their relationship with God must surely try to understand him better, try to find out what is important to him, and if possible, the reason, "Why?"

About 20 years ago, soon after I was baptized, I struggled with the big why question: “Why does God expect so much from us and yet seems to accept so little?” I had just read a DPI book called First...the Kingdom. It was a verse by verse analysis of the greatest and most challenging message that Jesus ever preached, the Sermon on the Mount.

I was hugely impressed and inspired but I also found it quite daunting. As an excited young disciple, I was stopped in my tracks. How did you react when you first studied those three chapters in Matthew: 5, 6 and 7?

Were you like the "crowds, amazed at his teaching" as it says in Matthew 7:28?

If you were as amazed as I was, what was it that amazed you?

For me, it was that Jesus had laid out an ideal but unrealistic moral standard that no one, in all honesty, could live by, least of all a young disciple. 

Here are a few examples: “Anyone who says ‘you fool’ will be in danger of hell” (Matt 5: 22) and “Do not resist an evil person” (Matt 5:39) and “Do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matt 5:42) and “Love your enemies” (Matt 5:44) and “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matt 6:24) and “Do not worry about tomorrow” (Matt 6:34) and ”Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5: 48) and finally “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand…and it fell with a great crash” (Matt 7:26-27).

I believe that only one person has ever lived by all the expectations that God has of us, spelled out by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount and throughout his teachings. That person is not Mother Theresa or Albert Schweitzer or Nelson Mandela. As I’m sure you know, that person is Jesus himself.

When we first realize how difficult it is to live up to God’s expectations and how far we fall short, I think that many of us typically react in one of two ways:

The first way is to feel overwhelmed with guilt, to try harder and harder to live up to God’s expectations, only to be discouraged, even defeated, by our invariably inadequate efforts.

Does this sound familiar to you? My wife, Daphne, is one of you "compulsively guilty people."

The second way is to try to rationalize God’s impossible expectations. “God is love. He doesn’t want us to fail. He just wants us to try to please him. Just trying is surely enough to satisfy him!”

For those of us who think this way, the doctrine of grace is heaven-sent!

“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ” -- Romans 3:22-24

Isn’t it comforting to know that all of us sinners can be saved by the undeserved grace that came through Jesus? All we need is to believe in him and lead the fulfilling life he has set out for us. 

Unfortunately, being comfortable about being saved can too easily turn to complacency. Are you like me, one of these "compulsively complacent people"?

After 20 years, I can look back on my spiritual growth with justifiable modesty. I once told Daphne that I would gladly repent of my sins if I could just remember what they were. She burst out laughing!

So in which way are you tempted to feel about your sin: "over guilty" or "over complacent"? Too much guilt from sin or too much complacency from grace? Trying too hard to please God or not trying enough? Or swinging from one extreme to another?

It seems to me that neither can be good for our spiritual health. But Jesus told us to “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”! So why does God expect so much of us and accept so little? 

Surely he sets the standard really high because that’s who God is: Perfect! And he cannot compromise on this just because we find it so difficult to reach his heights.

However, he doesn’t want us either to be discouraged by this or, on the other hand, to feel entitled to our salvation, to slack off and relax. Rather he wants us to keep on striving to reach higher…to keep on growing stronger and better to the end of our days.

Isn’t that what all parents want from their children? That they keep on trying to fulfill their potential…to happily continue learning and trying to be the best that they personally can be?

But good parents also know that continual effort requires a lot of encouragement. So they show their love and patience with every inevitable setback and they celebrate every little victory with their child. They do this however small the progress that has been made. But they also keep reminding their child of the end goal, however far away that goal may seem to be.

Since Romans 8:16 tells us that “we are God’s children” (and he is the best parent we could ever ask for), why would he treat us any differently? Set us an ideal goal and encourage us in every way to try and reach it.  

So I suppose that is just what Jesus was doing when he urged us to "be perfect.”  We just need to remember that is our end goal, not our target for today! 

We should be encouraged by every small success and not agonize over the slow progress we are making.

Paul put it so well in Philippians 3:12-14, “Not that I have already…been made perfect but...one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal…”

So, how should we focus on growing steadily towards being made perfect? Well, both too much guilt and too much complacency are obviously out! 

The familiar 2 Timothy 3:16 always seems a good starting point: “All scripture is God-breathed (inspired by God) and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”   

Doing "good work’" is certainly a key part of growing spiritually. 

Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

What are these "good works" that please God and that he has prepared for us to do?

Importantly, as it says in Philippians 2:4, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others." Notice that’s not the interests of "one another’" (family, fellowship, and close friends). ‘"Interests of others" means the under-privileged, outsiders in our community where we can make a difference.

You may find, as I have, that the strongest motivation to continually look for work that pleases God will come from our gratitude for God’s amazing love and grace, which he shows us over and over. 

And for guidance on where to look for good works to do, we should pray for opportunities to use our unique talents and experience to meet the needs of others in the best way we can. That way, we all win! 

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