[The following post is based on a sermon series presented in January-February 2006 while I served as pastor at Exeter Area Christian Fellowship in Newfields, NH.]
People love to get their own way. A popular and well known slogan used by Burger King was ‘Your way, right away’. America is the champion of individualism; of having things done our way, right away. This individualistic thinking played a big part in the development of American Christianity and is also a significant reason why so many churches and Christians are doctrinally flawed. Somewhere along the way, we came to God and said, in essence, ‘that’s nice, but we want things our way.’
Here we come to the final entry in this series, Five Things God Cannot Do.
God Cannot Accept Us Unless We Come On His Terms
The first issue we need to settle is whether or not God is God, meaning this: If God is God then His is the final word on every matter. This is a premise that this post affirms. If you accept, at least in the broadest sense, that God is the only God, then you either submit to His Word or live in rebellion against Him.
So then when we come to God, whether in worship, prayer, the reading of the Bible or, most importantly, for salvation and forgiveness of sin, we need to always remember that we must come on His terms or we shouldn’t come at all.
An episode from the Old Testament book of Leviticus helps us understand this (text is from the ESV unless otherwise noted).
God had brought the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt to freedom at the base of Mt. Sinai (more likely in modern Saudi Arabia by the way, not the Egyptian Sinai peninsula). God has given the ‘legal code’ (including the Ten Commandments) as well as the patterns for the Tabernacle where worship would take place. Numerous times God directs that all the items are to be made “according to all that I have commanded you”. (e.g. Exodus 29:35)
In Leviticus 9:22-24 Aaron, the High Priest, initiates the sacrificial worship of God. It is a momentous moment in the life of Israel as God responds with a display of glory: “and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar…” (9:23-24)
Then we are given an odd and troubling scene: “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.” (Leviticus 10:1-2)
What in the world is going on? We have to jump back to Exodus 30, where God gives the instructions for the Altar of Incense. As part of the ministry at this altar, the priest was to burn special incense, the make-up of which is given in Exodus 30:34-37. In the case of Nadab and Abihu, they “offered unauthorized fire”, namely a different type of incense than that which God commanded.
It is probable that as God’s glory appeared and the people celebrated they were caught up in the moment. Yet even with what might have been ‘noble’ motives, Nadab and Abihu stepped outside the bounds that God prescribed and took it upon themselves to determine how God was to be worshipped. God would not, and could not accept these men on their terms.
Was it ‘fair’ of God to judge these two priests so severely? Throw out your human conceptions of ‘fairness’; God’s concern is righteousness and holiness. In the case of Nadab and Abihu, at the very outset of Israel’s formal religious worship of the Lord, God needed to show the people that He was serious about being approached on His terms.
Moses defends God’s action: “Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord has said, 'Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'’ And Aaron held his peace.” (10:3)
Aaron’s heart must have been breaking for the loss of his sons, but he knew God was right. They needed to approach God on His terms.
The late J. Vernon McGee notes, “God will not accept worship in our own will, no matter how sincere…note…that the high position of these men offered them no immunity.” (J. Vernon McGee Through the Bible vol. 1 p364)
Coming to God in our way and on our terms is known as ‘will-worship’; “a way that seems right to a [person], but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12)
We can all fall into the trap of ‘will-worship’, but we can guard against this by remembering that true worship recognizes God as He has revealed Himself in the Scriptures and gives Him the respect due to His greatness (see Psalm 2:11).
God has set His boundaries for us that we may find life. To think that we can operate outside those boundaries is a belief and practice that can only lead to death.
God cannot accept us unless we come on His terms.
This is especially important as we consider how a person can find forgiveness from sin, be made right before the Holy God and enter eternal life. The pathway to these blessings is not a matter of our decision, but is completely dependent on the terms God has set. And what are those terms?
~“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
~“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31)
~“ If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
God has provided salvation…but on His terms: Jesus Christ and Him alone.
People outside the church call Christians narrow and extremist for holding to this view of salvation being exclusively found in Christ. They have that right. Our loving response needs to be simply this: ‘I believe God is God and His Word is final. This is what I am convinced God has said; and I choose to come on His terms.’
God cannot accept us unless we come on His terms. Come ever and always on His terms and you will know joy and peace and life.
It has been enjoyable for me to revisit these messages, streamlining them for this format. I hope you have found them challenging and helpful. As always, your feedback is eagerly welcomed.