On Sunday I quoted a section from the end of Elizabeth Elliot’s novel, No Graven Image. In the novel, the main character (who is a faithful missionary attempting to translate the Bible into an unwritten tribal language) sees her entire life’s work destroyed. In the end, she confesses
“Now in the clear light of day I see that God, if he was merely my accomplice, he had betrayed me. If, on the other hand he was God, he had freed me.”
During the sermon (available here) I didn’t really expand on the idea of us being freed by God being God and not our accomplice. But I want to give you four things that placing God on His throne frees us from and also what that freedom allows us to do.
He frees us from idolatry (to Christian hedonism)
If God is our means and something else is our ends, we are engaging in idolatry. An idol is anything that captures our vision or our affections more than Christ. It doesn’t matter if that something is pleasure, wealth, family or ministry success, it is an idol. If God is our accomplice, He is a means to some other ends. If He is our God, He is the ends and everything else is the means.
And, because we were created by God and for God, ultimately it is only when God is our ends that we experience true joy and fulfillment. John Piper’s call to Christian hedonism (the pursuit of pleasure in God instead of the pursuit of pleasure in things from God) is just as true today: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” But if God is our accomplice – no matter how “righteous” the pursuit is – we are not being satisfied in God. It is only when God is our ends that we are seeking fulfillment in Him. And it is only then that we are operating as we were created to.
He frees us from identity building (to identity rest)
Our sin-twisted world basis identity on our action. We are what we do. But that is not how God approaches the world. The gospel teaches us that we are not what we do. Rather, we have been given a new identity, not one based on our success or our failure but on the complete, total, unblemished success of Christ. We are not what we do, we are who we have been remade to be. Though we were enemies, we are now children of the King.
But if God is our accomplice – if He is ripped from His throne in heaven and tossed into the passenger seat of our lives – our identity cannot be built on Him, it is built on what we do. Every day, the justification of our purpose, the core of who we are is on trial. Like Harold Abrams in Chariots of Fire we stare down the track knowing we have 10 seconds to justify our existence. But this ultimately destroys us doesn’t it. How can the weight of our whole identity and existence weigh on our performance. We just can’t handle that.
Imagine being on a first date. You really like this person from a distance and they finally agreed to go out with you. You gotta give your best, right. You gotta be perfect. You plan out conversation starters in case things drag. You but a new outfit. You comb your hair. You pull out all the stops. You want to be yourself … but maybe not all of yourself. Now imagine it goes well. Really well. Imagine you get married. But imagine you are still who you were on that first date. Always batting 1.000. Never a hair out of place. New suit every day. And you have to be. Because you don’t have a guarantee that the relationship will exist tomorrow if your aren’t perfect.
That’s what it's like if our identity rests on our performance. We are never sure who we are. We are never sure if that’s who we will be tomorrow. But that is what is so great about the gospel. We are who we are because of what Jesus has done. Our name is His name. And that won’t change.
He frees us from success (to glorifying)
If our whole identity depends on our performance and we succeed, that will continue to enslave us. For one, there is no such thing as reaching the top. There is no such thing as being done. Remember J.D. Rockefeller’s famous retort to how much more money he needed? “Just one more dollar.” Enough is like tomorrow, it never comes. You see, even if we succeed, that quickly becomes yesterday’s success, which just looms against today’s challenges. Today you don't just compete against everyone else, you compete against who you were yesterday.
But even if we can navigate around that, we still need to be freed from success, because success can twist our souls. You see if God is our accomplice, that means our success is ultimately up to us. And if it is up to us, that means that we did it. And if we did it, that means that we did something that others who failed didn’t. We are smarter, or we work harder, or we are better visionaries. And the more we see this and believe this the more we take pride in our accomplishments and the more we look down on others who have less. And that eats away at our grace and it eats away at our compassion and it isolates us further and further from everyone around us.
He frees us from failure (to sacrifice)
If God is our accomplice and our identity is dependent on our performance then failure is a death blow. If we fail, we are crushed. But it isn’t even just failing, it is the fear of failure. How many people refuse to take risks because they can’t handle the prospect of failing? It causes us to stand still and to hoard what we have.
It isn’t a surprise to me that it was a child that offered the 5 loaves and two fish that Jesus multiplied to feed the 5000. It doesn’t surprise me that that wasn’t an adult. I think any adult would be afraid of being mocked that what they have given pales in comparison to the need.
But if God is God and the results are up to Him, we don’t have to be afraid of failing, we just have to be faithful. And we don’t have to hoard what we have afraid that if we give it away we will come crashing down, rather often being faithful is being willing to sacrifice. Compared to God and compared to the need in the world, all that anybody has to offer is 5 loaves of bread and two fish to a multitude. It isn't how much we give, but who we give it to.
You see, God is God. He is not our partner. He is not our accomplice. And because of that we are free. We are free to pursue pleasure in Him, not just from Him. We are free to rest the whole weight of our being on Him and our identity as His children. We are free to have His glory be the main concern of every fiber of our being. And we are free to sacrifice for the extension of His Kingdom. God, free us.