A Guest Post by Taylor Zimmerman
And [Moses] said to [God,] “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” Exodus 33:15-16
I’m currently a student at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore. I love theology and talking about theology. I love asking big questions and seeking out big answers. I get excited about complex theological problems and how some of the greatest minds throughout history have handled them. I love thinking about how theology works on the ground — in churches, homes, and offices, and how we as Christians can form a church of pure imagination where everyone’s needs are being met and everyone feels the love of God.
But because I enjoy theology so much, I sometimes get wrapped up in theories of life and systems of knowledge talking about the love of God but not seeking it out personally. I can read Scripture to find the answer to a question, I can talk with my classmates about who God and Jesus are, and I can even attend worship and sing all the songs. But if I’m not careful, I could end up doing all of these things without ever encountering the person of Jesus Christ. As John Wesley famously quipped, there are times when I “[have] the form of religion without the power.”
I became a Christian at 16 and before I did, I never understood the purpose of being one. Could a person not be morally good without going to church? Could someone not join a community that didn’t believe in God and still do public service? Could I not be an emotionally and physically healthy person without a theological justification?
Fast forward several years in the future, the question still remains (albeit in a somewhat different form.) If I can talk about Jesus and God, if I can talk about community ethics and social justice, if I can talk about emotional and physical health, and if I can grow in all of those areas, what difference does it make if I have an active relationship with Christ or not?
What difference does it make to be a Christian?
In Exodus 33, God had just brought the Israelites out of captivity and was working on molding them into the holy people he had created them to be. Not long after they were rescued did the Israelites begin to doubt God’s power to provide for them and begin to worship their own created idols. In anger, God punishes the Israelites and tells Moses that he can take them to the land God promised them but God’s presence would not go with them.
Moses does not see this as a victory. He doesn’t shout Yes! We’re no longer restricted by God’s strict standards! We get the promised land AND no rules! Who needs God when we can come up with our own systems ourselves!
Moses is crushed. He cries out to God pleading with him not to leave them. How will they be set apart as God’s people? How will they be taken care of? Who will provide and care for them? Even when offered the promise land — the land flowing with milk and honey, the land they really wanted — Moses considers it nothing without the presence of God.
All throughout Scripture we see example after example of those thinking they could do it without God (tower of Babel anyone?). We see examples of human beings who are fluent in the ways of theology and who definitely have all the form of religion, yet Jesus calls them unfaithful, wicked, and whitewashed tombs. When God is not at the center, human beings, no matter how theologically trained, wander away.
So what difference does it make to be a follower of God?
It means that in all things – regardless of whether what we’re doing has the right outward appearance or seems like its centered on God — we are seeking out relationship with the Lord. As believers in Jesus Christ we know and believe that Christ is God incarnate, God in the flesh. He empathizes with us because he experienced life as we do. The difference between a Christian with power versus a human who merely has the form of religion is that we reject all the treasures of the earth and the accolades of our fellow human beings – considering it all rubbish in the face of the sheer joy of loving and being loved by God.
Practically, it means that we reject the idea that we can ever get what we truly want (the promised land, the successful career, the perfect family) if God is not with us. That’s not to say that if God is with us he rewards us with those things, but it is to say that if God calls us to walk away from opportunities or potential blessings because he will not go with us if we pursue them, we follow God. For those of us who are heavily involved in the Church, this is perhaps more difficult because we have learned enough theological lingo to rationalize our decisions as following God’s calling despite never speaking to him. For us seminary students, it is possible to talk about God for long periods of time without ever talking to him.
For all of us today, this means we seek God first in prayer. This is what makes us different than the non-believer or the person who practices only the form of religion. We find power in seeking God in prayer and through Scripture. We follow a living God who is moving within us and communicating to us constantly. Only when the living God is truly at the center of our lives can we truly flourish.
Have you spoken with God today? Have you invited him into all of your decision making? Have you found the power in submitting yourself to Christ’s Lordship and the overwhelming joy of a relationship with him?
V0034280 Moses with his rod and his brazen serpent. Engraving by J. H
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Moses with his rod and his brazen serpent. Engraving by J. Hall, 1793, after B. West.
1793 By: Benjamin Westafter: John HallPublished: 30 August 1793
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/