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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Theology of Adoration

by Matthew Freeman

I want to discuss what I believe to the most important and freeing concept for Christians to understand. I call it the Theology of Adoration. It is a theology rooted in too many Scriptures to point to just one--meaning once you understand it, Scripture will bear it out over and over again--but it can be summed up most simply in this way:

Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “Purity of heart is to will one thing”.

If we are only allowed one expression of our lives, it must be the adoration of God. To see God in His fullest glory would leave us in paralyzed awe! We would helpless to do anything else. The truth of this statement is so eternal that Jesus said, (paraphrasing) “If they don’t praise me, the force of the necessary response to such glory as mine would cause rocks to realign their atoms to cry out praises, just to fill the void of praise!”

There it is. That is purity. That is singularity of heart and intent. Any other focus of our lives or anything else added to that is idolatry. Now, here is the scary ramification of that statement: any form of work or obedience is included in that grouping of idolatry, right along side of the idolatries of sin and disinterest in God.

Uh oh! You can’t mean that!!!

I absolutely do! However, in NO way do I advocate sinning. I know at this point it would be possible to do “bowling theology” and twist what I said thus far into tossing two gutter balls:

Left Gutter: We can just do whatever we like and Jesus will get us to heaven no matter what. So let’s go par-tuh-hay! That is a gutter ball that this Theology of Adoration won’t accept.

Right Gutter: We can’t sin freely and get in to heaven, so therefore this theology is bogus. We show God our love for Him through obedience.

Both gutter balls are understandable to throw at this point. But instead, let’s continue...

In Genesis chapter 1 we have a picture of how God takes a life that has spun out of control and is surrounded by darkness and transforms it into a creation that is exploding with life, surrounded by light everywhere. How does He do it? Two ways. First, He speaks His will into our lives. So we must be listening for His voice! But second, it says He reaches down and forms it Himself. Note that: creation is unable to form itself, even as it listens for the voice of God.

There is a statement that I believe calms and humbles the idol of the boldness of wanting to be obedient as a sign of our love for God and our ability to prove our worth and our sonship before Him. It is simply, “The will is free, but not able.”

Yes, we want to be good and obey God. Any child wants to show his or her love to their parents in that way. But it is not possible for fallen creatures to be obedient in a way that is acceptable before God. Allow me to explain:

In the beginning, God gave Adam and Eve two commands, 1) Don’t eat the forbidden fruit, 2) have children.

After Eve broke the first command, she wanted to demonstrate her obedience to God. So in Genesis 4:1 she obeys the second command and has a child. In fact, not only is she obedient, but she also gives the glory to God--she gives Him His due.

This seems like true and right obedience. However, this fruit of obedience (Cain) murdered his own brother and his descendants so corrupted the earth that God had to wipe out creation and start over! The poet and hymn writer Isaac Watts said it best:

The best obedience of my hands dares not appear before thy throne.

No expression of our lives and no effort on our parts can ever produce goodness. How can a poisonous plant produce edible fruit? It can’t.

The only thing worse than trying to invest immense time and effort into being obedient by our own will would be to actually succeed in that endeavor! That is a trap that will darken our eyes to such a degree, we may never be able to see Jesus.

Consider the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They were not bad people. They were the conservative church-goers of their day who desired to obey the voice of God! They had such a desire to be obedient to the living God that they didn’t even play the tip-toe games we play with sin. They didn’t see how close they could get to the line of right and wrong. Instead, they even created a fence around the law, to ensure they wouldn’t toy with sin! And it worked!

They broke none of the laws of God. Think about that. They were perfect in obedience! However, even in their perfect obedience, they couldn’t see God when He was standing right in front of them! In fact, they were part of the force that killed God!

The best obedience of our hands...

To whatever degree we focus our efforts on being obedient, we take that focus off of adoration for the Lord and in doing so we lose the purity of heart and the “first and only” becomes asking God to share His throne with our works.

But wait a minute, didn’t Paul say that we can’t just go on sinning? Absolutely, and I totally agree with Paul! I am not advocating sin. I am advocating the Theology of Adoration, which first deconstructs the idol of self-obedience, before it can reconstruct a healthy theology and lifestyle for the Christian, free of idolatry.

If perfect obedience (like the Pharisees practiced) misses the mark, then what is the answer? Jesus is asked this exact question in Matthew 22:36-40:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

37 And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’
38 “This is the great and foremost commandment.
39 “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’
40 “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

In essence, if you want to obey God, stop trying parse do’s and don’ts. Just carve out sacred time and sacred space to come before Him in adoration and listen for His voice. Let go of the burden of trying to be or do something that is impossible for you to do.

In large part Christians don’t worship a Triune God. They worship a Quadrune God of Father, Son, Holy Spirit and Works/Obedience. We even read this God into Scripture. For instance, in John 14:15 Jesus says:

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

Watch carefully what we do with that statement. We tell ourselves, “OK, I’m going to keep a commandment of God to prove to Him that I love Him!” But that is NOT what Jesus is saying. He is saying:

If you love me, if your focus is on loving me, you will keep my commandments, the outpouring of that love for me will so transform you that you won’t have to try to do something as unnatural as obedience, it will simply begin to flow from you, without you even noticing it.

Note the word ‘begin’ in that statement. When God was working to transform creation, He never expected creation to have it all together on day one. God simply worked in one area at a time, leaving the other parts messy.

The idol of obedience tells us that we must have our entire lives together all at once, right at the beginning. That idol is what causes people to put on the “church mask” and hide our sin from each other, when what we need to do is have everyone be so open about our sins that those who wish to judge are so overwhelmed with sins to judge they have a nervous breakdown, trying to do God’s work for Him!

So, to summarize: The Theology of Adoration is to stop worrying about your obedience and put that focus and energy back where it belongs: on cultivating a love for the voice of God. From that, you will be fully acceptable in the eyes of God and as a secondary effect of that focus you will begin to be more obedient, without thinking about it. Imagine that. David sinned, but God saw him as one who was after God’s own heart, and thus he was acceptable to God. Abraham had faith (not works) and through that he was also acceptable before God. The pharisees had perfect obedience and never found God.

Matthew Freeman is an author of Biblical Studies and is a Christian Speaker. He is involved in various ministries and holds degrees in Biblical Studies and Theology. In addition, he also helps spread the word about a James Bible Studies and Nashville Gift Baskets.

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