Sometimes, after a good, long time of Bible study, I go right into sinning. When I am alone at home, those sins that prey on solitude can easily sneak in. For me, it is often lust.
And sometimes I don’t stop it. It feels good so I feed it. But afterwards I tell myself, “I spent some quality time with God this morning, and I know He forgives all our sins, so I think we’re still cool.” And I continue my day without a second thought— with no regret, nor a plan to change.
But a little while ago during my quiet time, I came across Matthew 7:21 where Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
That was sobering.
Growing up, the main message I got from church was that having a relationship with God was the most important thing. And I thought the right relationship mostly meant just getting quality time with Him each day.
But that verse got me thinking. Maybe I had been looking at my relationship with God in the wrong way. The messages from the pulpit made me think God was soft and happy and doesn’t care too much about little sins. The contemporary worship songs I was exposed to were mostly about God’s grace and love for us. Sermons were often about God’s love, how we should love others, and about God’s infinite forgiveness.
I learned that Jesus is “super relatable” because He has gone through everything I have gone through. I got the idea that God was my buddy. He’s cool with me just the way I am. The vague message seemed to be, “It’s okay if you sin; you can be forgiven. What’s important is relationship, relationship, relationship.” I seemed to have convinced myself that although God was super powerful, He was ultimately my nice, and infinitely forgiving, buddy.
In my nice, Christian, American culture, staying in right relationship with my “buddies” usually just means hanging out every now and then. Grabbing coffee from time to time. I think that’s what I projected onto my relationship with God. I just had to get some quality time with Him every day or so. Even if I continued in my favorite little sins, we were still pretty much in good standing.
But as I considered this verse on doing the will of the Father, I started thinking that maybe my relationship with God was meant to be more than just hanging out every now and then.
The true nature of relationships
I thought about how relationships were before social media was the norm, and when families and neighbors didn’t disperse across the country. I thought about societies before this independent, ever-changing, quick-in-quick-out lifestyle we live today. I thought about when communities depended on each other to survive and neighbors were neighbors for generations. Those times required deeper, more multifaceted relationships. Relationships were a lot more than just getting coffee once a month.
I think a key element of those old relationships was honoring and respecting the other’s requests. If, in a moment of weakness, I stole one of my neighbor’s sheep and ate it, that wouldn’t be cool. And if I simply didn’t care and kept stealing his sheep when he asked me to stop, I definitely wouldn’t be doing my part of the relationship very well. It would make being neighbors very hard.
This principle applies to present day relationships as well. If it were my very own father who asked me to stop something that was hurting him and I didn’t even try, I would not be honoring him.
I’m also reminded of John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my commands.” And this was recorded by the disciple who called himself the “disciple whom Jesus loved” and who was such close friends that he laid his head on Jesus’ chest at the last supper. They were buddies, but this commandment-keeping-love isn’t what comes to mind when I think of hanging with my buddies. What I think this means is that a relationship with God is also about a deep respect and obedience because He is powerful and sovereign.
It can be likened to the relationship that kings had with their servants. In modern terms, it’s like getting a phone call from our most respected world leader asking something of us. Or a little closer to home: think of the relationship you have with your best teachers or your parents. I think our unique relationship with God is not just having a close friendship, but includes the most honoring elements of all of these as well.
So what do I do about these sins that I keep returning back to? Romans 7:19 recognizes this tendency: “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” But it certainly isn’t saying that we can and should continue in our sins.
To me, part of the solution involves picturing God as more than just our “buddy.” When we deeply value someone and hold them in high esteem, we take their requests of us seriously. In the context of our relationship with God, that means we start to take our sins more seriously.
I’ve since started to pray for God to help change my desires, I’ve made a plan, and I’ve partnered with one of my buddies to help keep me accountable to my commitment.
Thank God, it’s helping.
This article was originally published on the writer’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.