How do you view God?
Do you see Him as a Holy Judge-King?
Perhaps you view Him as a Loving Father-Savior.
Or maybe you like to take a “balanced approach.”
I ask because an acquaintance of mine recently wrote an article entitled “Should We Dress for Church Like We’re Meeting with the President?” In the article he makes the observation that,
“There is a kernel of truth that surfaces when comparing a meeting with the president to our ‘Sunday’s best’ for God. The disturbing reality of this parallel is what it actually does reflect — a sterile meeting with a stranger and the complete absence of any real relationship and transparency. This illustration exposes the nominal Christian’s relationship to God — distant, infrequent, formal, absent of any true affection, and void of any real relationship apart from an official appointment on Sunday morning. I wonder if those who use this argument wear their ‘Sunday’s best’ when they meet with God through His word on Monday morning or Thursday evening? It leaves me wondering who they are really dressing up for? Perhaps it’s a high view of the corporate gathering, or possibly it’s a disconnect stemming from a false dichotomy.”
I am very passionate on the subject of worship because not only is it something I take very seriously in my own life, but also because how we worship God reveals what we believe Him to be. That revelation should be a dramatically important grapple-moment in our lives – especially when “what we believe God to be” does not fit His revelation in Scripture. When Who God is and how we view Him don’t match up, we have a profound problem with sweeping implications – not only for worship but for every facet of our lives.
Let me lead into this short discussion with the observation that I agree with most of what Steve Hafler wrote in his article. And something tells me that he would agree with mine. Of course, that’s left to be seen. I think the difference of application grows from a misunderstanding of what a “balanced approach” to God actually is.
Who is God?
In one sense, God is completely “other.” He is not understandable to our mortal minds. But beautifully He has stooped to reveal Himself in nature and – more poignantly – in Scripture. Through this revelation He uses ideas and descriptions that His creation can understand. He’s a King, a Father, a Savior, a Judge, a Shepherd, a Brother, a Friend. He’s a Comforter, Prince, Prophet, Advocate, and Priest. He also divulges that He simultaneously can love and hate. He accepts and rejects. He is jealous and gracious. He’s the most dynamic, eclectic mix of multi-faceted perfection in the universe.
It’s for this very reason that so many people don’t view Him the right way.
What’s a Truly Balanced Position?
1. One common approach is to see God solely as the condemning and holy Judge of the universe. This is an appropriate understanding of His nature, but to embrace this view alone denies His other attributes.
2. A pendulum swing away is the person who focuses only on God’s loving mercy and grace. Again, this is appropriate . . . but not in a vacuum.
3. So then we have the balanced approach. This attempts to incorporate all that God is into a singular “middle position.” However, this view often has a very dangerous outcome. By mediating God’s attributes into a “middle of the road” approach, we must water down His divine extremes. We’re left with a god who is loving and angry, but who looks and acts very much like we do. In fact, he just so happens to love and fight for our greatest passions. But this “balanced on the fence” view of God also denies the extremes in His Persons.
4. However, a biblically balanced position does not mediate God’s extremes. It accepts and responds appropriately to them as they are. Unfortunately, responding dynamically to such an awesome God can be tiring. For this reason, I believe most people find it easier to accept the version of God that appeals to them the most – whether that be an extreme side or a mild middle.
How Should this Affect My Life?
1. When I view God only as Angry Judge, I am motivated to “do” a lot. My words and deeds must be finely tuned in order to perfectly align to His prescribed will (or presumed will) lest I anger the Judge and receive condemnation. Legalism and Pharisaism are the most prevalent outgrowth of this type of thought. Typically people who see God this way seem to “know” a lot about Him, but see little need for a deep, intimate relationship. Who does that with a judge? This is the group Mr. Hafler referred to in the above quote.
2. On the other hand, when I see only a Loving God devoid of righteous anger, I tend to believe He treats me the way I treat people I’m infatuated with. I ignore their shortcomings, encourage their strengths, and avoid conflict at all costs. Arminianism, Easy Believism, and the Prosperity Gospel are a few versions of a life lived with this God-conception. This philosophy generates high emotion but low real knowledge of God. Isn’t this true of puppy love – a lot of emotion, but very little real or experiential knowledge?
3. The so-called Balanced Approach creates a unique response that explains why so many in the church are merely apathetic. Their god isn’t passionate except when the worshipper is passionate. Their god isn’t mad except when the worshipper is mad. Otherwise, in areas outside the worshipper’s areas of interest, God plays a small supporting role as an uninteresting side character. He’s not demanding, nor is He loving. The “balanced position” has actually become its own third false god.
4. But when we truly embrace (as much as a mortal can) the full spectrum of God’s impressive personality vista, we realize:
- God accepts me who I am, but changes who I am.
- He loves me and hates my sin.
- God rejects the proud but gives grace to the humble.
- God covers all of my sin by the blood of Christ, yet holds me 100% accountable for the words, attitudes, deeds, and thoughts I have in this life. Though He will never take back His free gift of salvation, He does withhold blessing when I live in sin.
- He has high expectations for worship yet hates religious pretension. He demands our best internally and externally, but doesn’t quantify what the physical expression needs to be.
- God expects my best in all things, empowers me to do my best, provides ways to guarantee I do my best, chastens me when I fail, forgives me when I repent, never ceases to be loving, but never lowers His expectations for future life and godliness.
The total view of God requires that I loath my sin and sorrow over my disobedience, but it simultaneously calls me to rejoice over the undeserved love and grace He showers on me to remove my sin. Too many never leave the Slough of Despond and too many others are never saddened by their rebellion against God because, “He loves me!”
So, Do I Wear a Suit to Church or Not?
I can’t answer that for you.
I can tell you, however, that God requires your best in all things – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. You are to do all to the glory of God with all of your strength.
For me – I see a God who sets nearly unreachable standards in worship. The whole earthly sacrificial system (though now voided by Christ’s blood) was an earthly representation of a heavenly, unchanging reality. My worship must be brought on His terms, not my own. This undoes the philosophy that I can worship God the way I want, and that He’ll simply be pleased with what I offer just because I meant well.
At the same time, God requires obedience over sacrifice. Without a genuine heart of devotion to God, my externalism doesn’t please Him. He hates it. The widow’s mite was offered in pure devotion and was acceptable to God, whereas the riches of the undevoted mean nothing to Him. This requires that I’m not off the hook just because I “look” right.
It can’t just be the outside, and it can’t just be the inside . . . or it’s not either. If my inside is right, I will strive to glorify Him on the outside. But if my inside isn’t right, nothing I do on the outside will matter.
I wear a suit to church because in my culture as a Caucasian, Christian, American male who has been blessed with nice clothes. . . that’s my best. I love Him dearly and want to offer Him worship that is beautiful and acceptable in His sight. A t-shirt and jeans is not my best. At the same time, my tie does not equal righteousness. Only when I wear that tie in submission to God is He pleased by it.
However, someone else who has nothing more than bib-overalls had better wear them to the glory of God on Sunday morning!
A Final Note About Our Best
If you’ve been a parent, taught students of any age, or managed employees, you know that most of the people under your authority have no idea what their best really is. Laziness, wrong motivation, distractions, poor understanding, and rebelliousness are real and unrelenting hurdles that keep us from having a realistic idea what our best truly is.
This is why mature Christians who desire to sharpen one another in the Lord need to have a Biblically Balanced View of God. Just like Paul encouraged the strong believers not to offend the weaker brothers, he also taught the weaker brothers that eating meat offered to idols wasn’t sin. He lovingly encouraged half of them to be kind and the other half to understand.
This is the single best approach for the “worship wars.” Mature believers need to realize that not everyone views the Lord the way He desires them to. The stronger brothers and sisters, therefore, need to be a kind example. They also need to edify and encourage the weaker to grow in wisdom and knowledge. Whereas, the weaker siblings need learn from their spiritual family members that perhaps their best isn’t what they think it is – the wiser family needs to admonish only in areas that matter.
And this is where Steve Hafler and I completely agree.