What God Wants

"Be renewed [transformed] as you learn to know your Creator and become like him” (Colossians 3:10)." by Dr. David Winters

Why is it that, for some believers, a pursuit of holiness has not been a major part of our experience of God? Perhaps we have never considered this simple question: “Why did God create me?”

Some of us have limited our life with God to a formal transaction. My part: I confess that I am a sinner, I repent, ask forgiveness and believe that Jesus died for me and rose from the dead. I pray the sinner’s prayer and receive Christ as Savior and Lord. Until He returns, my response to God is to serve Him and tell others about Him. In other words, “Believe and Behave,” as JD Walt succinctly states in his podcast “The Wake-Up Call.” 

God’s part: He promises the gift of eternal life and if I stay true to Him, He will accept me into His Kingdom when Christ returns. I fulfill my part of the agreement, God fulfills His and I will live in heaven forever. That’s the plan of salvation, as it is commonly understood. 

This is all scriptural, as far as it goes. But that’s the problem — it doesn’t go far enough. By settling into this transaction, we may miss the very reason God created us. He wants us to experience Him in a love-filled, interactive relationship, communicating together as frequently and easily as we do with our closest friend or relative. God loves us with an eternal love and His love is the primary motivating force in all of history.

Throughout scripture, we see evidence of the Father’s love for us and desire for relationship. “I have loved you … with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself” (Jeremiah 31:3). “I will make an everlasting covenant [relationship] with you” (Isaiah 55:3). And with a heart-breaking cry — “If you had responded to [me], I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you” (Proverbs 1:23 NIV). Hear the sorrow in God’s voice for those who do not understand why they were created and reject His love. The Father wants us all to be reconciled to Him (1 Timothy 2:4-6).

The truth continues in Christ. “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him” (1 John 4:9). Jesus said, “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me … There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends“ (John 15:9,13). That is exactly what Jesus did for each of us. 

And relationship? Paul declares, “Everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord … I want to know Christ” (Philippians 3:8,10). Jesus warns, “A person is a fool to … not have a rich relationship with God” (Luke 12:21). He also promises, “When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am” (John 14:3). Our Savior places immense value on unlimited relationship with us.

Knowing God is eternal life. Christ affirms, “This is the way to have eternal life — to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth” (John 17:3). Eternal life is not a gift I receive from God when I enter heaven. It is the gift of God living in me. My reward now and for eternity is the rewarder Himself (Romans 6:23).

Scripture underscores this in multiple passages. “All who declare that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them” (1 John 4:15). “Christ lives within you…The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you” (Romans 8:10-11). And the familiar Galatians 2:20, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” This makes us holy.

The Father invites us to a life of personal holiness. “God’s will is for you to be holy” and “God has called us to live holy lives” (1 Thessalonians 4:3,7). “Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Can He be any clearer? Intentional and continuous relationship with God is necessary for personal holiness.

The pursuit of holiness is essential — it is the pursuit of God Himself! To be holy is to be made different from the world, and to have a likeness of nature with God. His promises “enable you to share his divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). We are “growing in every way more and more like Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). This is possible because we were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). 

This clarifies our understanding of why God created us. Instead of “Believe and Behave” the richer truth is “Believe and Be Holy,” or “Behold and Become.” Behold the Lamb of God, and become Christlike and holy, to finish JD Walt’s analysis. We move from a contract with God that ensures entry into heaven to a dynamic, interactive relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that will continue and grow throughout eternity.

After our first parents rebelled against God, and sin separated them (and us) from His presence, His plan for all of us was that relationship would be restored. In Diane Leclerc’s text on Christian holiness, she states “[John] Wesley believed that God’s love and God’s desire for a renewed relationship with humanity is the very message of the Bible” (p. 25). This was true in Old Testament times, and now that Christ has come and the Holy Spirit has been given, God’s plan for reconciliation is even more incredible. “The Lord — who is the Spirit — makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18b).

God’s challenge, “You must consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44), is a plea for a relationship that allows us to become more like Him. The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine (HOD) simply states, “Holiness is Christlikeness” (p. 193). Our conversion was just the start of our continuing reconciliation with God, and this involves regeneration, which is necessary to salvation. Again in the HOD: “Regeneration is God’s work in us, the gift of the indwelling Spirit and the beginning of a life of holiness” (p. 148).

To properly balance God’s wonderful plan of reconciliation, we must remember His caution for those who neglect relationship with Him. All of us engaged in what is often exhausting Christian ministry should seriously consider Christ’s terrifying warnings. “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven … I will reply, ‘I never knew you’” (Matthew 7:21,23). The foolish bridesmaids were refused entry to the marriage feast when the Lord tells them, “Believe me, I don’t know you!” (Matthew 25:12). Notice that God’s standard for entry is not “Have you prayed the sinner’s prayer?” but, “Do I know you?” In other words, “Are you in loving relationship with me?”

“Work hard to enter the narrow door to God’s Kingdom, for many will try to enter but will fail … You will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Lord, open the door for us!’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you’” (Luke 13:24-25). We gloss over these passages, assuming they are for someone else. They make us uncomfortable and they should. Some of us have been “treading spiritual water” far too long, so busy with our “Christian ministries” that we have not taken the time to grow in God. We are going through the motions without being invested in the relationship. We are not allowing the Holy Spirit to make us more like Christ.

This is serious business. Christ is coming soon. The Holy Spirit will help us build for eternal value on Christ’s foundation (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). We surrender ourselves in God’s presence to permit the Spirit access to us, as we give our bodies as “living and holy sacrifices” (Romans 12:1). The time-honored spiritual disciplines are time-consuming, and we need to carve out a place in our hectic schedules to practice them. 

As we engage in daily relationship with God, immersing ourselves in Scripture (reading, studying, meditating and memorizing), listening for God’s voice in silent prayer, worshipping together with other believers, loving each other and loving God with all that we are, we are pursuing holiness. By faith we believe in the power of Christ’s sacrifice, death, and resurrection, God sets us apart with a holiness given to us (1 Corinthians 1:30, Colossians 1:22). We continue becoming holy as we allow the Holy Spirit to transform us in life long relationship.

Practicing these and other disciplines does not make us holy, but it places us where the Holy Spirit can shape us from the inside out. Richard Foster reminds us, “The Spiritual Disciplines are the means God uses for producing in us the needed transformation of heart, mind and soul” (Celebration of Discipline). “Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life” (Romans 6:22). We live holiness as we pursue it.

Let’s be very practical — can we set apart even 30 minutes each day to be acutely aware of God’s presence, focused on scripture, prayer and silence while we listen for His voice? This songwriter knew this experience: “Take time to be holy, the world rushes on; / Spend much time in secret with Jesus alone” (William Longstaff, Song 790 SBSA). Christ felt the need for solitary time with the Father. “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16 NIV). Can we do less? Christ invites us — “Come close, draw near, follow me.”

“Be renewed [transformed] as you learn to know your Creator and become like him” (Colossians 3:10). He wants to pour out His heart to you and make His thoughts known to you, and He wants you to reciprocate. Could there be a better representation of a loving relationship? Let the Holy Spirit shape you in holiness — that’s what God wants, and that’s why He created you.

This article was published in the October 2023 issue of The War Cry.

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