A.W. Tozer says, “What comes to mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” He goes on to say, “For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.”
Tozer is arguing that the most important thing about us is what we conceive God to be like. Do you agree? The more I’ve thought about it, the more I agree with him. Because our view of God affects every area of our lives: the way we view the world, ourselves, and everyone else. If we do not have an accurate view of God—a view based on what the Bible tells us about him—then we haven’t got a shot at understanding sin and why it is such a big deal. And if we cannot understand sin, we can never begin to wrap our minds around grace, much less the gospel and why it is good news. An incorrect view of God comes with an incorrect gospel, and consequently misplaced love and misplaced worship:
“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:2-5, ESV).
The first time I heard about Jesus, he was pitched to me as a “get out of jail free” card. I was told that if I repeated a certain prayer, then I could avoid Hell. I was told that Jesus would make my life better, happier, and more satisfying; basically that he could and would fix all of my problems. And as if all that wasn’t enough, I was sold when I saw the rainbow WWJD bracelets. My earliest view of Jesus was that he was “means to an end.” He was my ticket to Heaven; he was my forever safety net, my magic eight ball guiding the way; he was my homeboy. Jesus was the guy who could get me what I wanted from life; this was my gospel and it was good news to me.
While some of these characteristics are true of Jesus according to scripture– No one gets to the Father but through him (John 14:6, NIV). He will never leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:6, NIV). He does determine our steps (Prov. 16:9, NIV)– these subtle discrepancies and their implications during those formative years of my life dramatically distorted my view of Jesus and consequently everything about my approach to Christianity. Because it works like that, our view of God directly affects our view of ourselves, others and our approach to faith. Since I conceived God to be a sort of hybrid of Genie, Superman, and Dumbledore, I believed that he existed to grant my wishes, save the day, and bestow wisdom. And if I behaved myself, he would see that and reward me accordingly (just a splash of Santa Claus).
Disappointment ensued when this god of mine didn’t live up to my expectations. As to be expected, since he was a god of my own creation, predicated on the things that I wanted him to be and assumed him to be rather than on what his book actually says about him.
When we deviate from Scripture things gets cray.
Scripture tells us that Jesus isn’t means to the end; he is the end. He isn’t merely our ticket to heaven; he is the reason we want to go to Heaven in the first place. He isn’t simply an experience to be had, like a stamp in our passport; knowing him and walking with him is life’s main event. He isn’t a character who fits nicely into my story; he is the divine author of the story of humanity, and I am but one of countless characters in it.
It is much easier for us to worship a god of our own making and play by our own rules than it is to worship the God of the Bible and submit to his. Since truth is considered relative in our culture, and absolutes are offensive, this “build-your-own-god” mentality is enabled, endorsed, and encouraged. And if we aren’t careful, we will begin to worship who we want God to be or who we assume God to be instead of who he really is. When we do this—build a god as if we are customizing our Nikes— it’s called DIY Theology. This particular post will come in multiple installments throughout the next weeks to break this concept up into manageable chunks (because I’m nothing if I’m not long-winded and theology, even in digestible terms, is still a lot to stomach in one sitting). All of these distorted views of God I have learned through years and years of first-hand experience. Settle in, this should be fun. Introducing the first distorted view of God:
My Homeboy, Jesus
Many moons ago, in the early 2000s, there was a popular graphic tee that said, “Jesus is my homeboy” with a picture of a jovial animated Jesus, with brown wavy locks, clad in white robes, smiling playfully while holding both thumbs up. Naturally, I had to have it. I remember pleading with my mother, the keeper of the purse, to take me to edgiest store in the local mall and invest in my ministry to the skaters and stoners who also happened to have the shirt. I translated the message for her, explaining that since ‘homeboy’ meant ‘friend’, Jesus was in fact my homeboy and this public declaration was a righteous thing for me to want. Her counter-argument was that the message was irreverent, which after thumbing through a dictionary, I couldn’t entirely disagree with. There is a common belief that Jesus is a sort of happy-go-lucky, Birkenstock-wearing, hippie in the sky, who looks down on us with a pardoning “kids will be kids” smirk. This Jesus is a mere observer, turning a paternal blind eye to the shenanigans on earth. This distorted view of God comes with a false gospel that says, live and let live the holy homeboy has got your back.
In the Bible, Jesus does say that we are his friends (perhaps “homeboys” in later translations, TBD) but under certain parameters: “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14, NIV). Those are slightly less-than-convenient stipulations, JC! More often than not, when we want to be buddy buddy with Jesus we are more concerned about covering our bases than we are with learning what Jesus commands, much less putting forth effort into being obedient. Ultimately, we just want to stay on good terms with the big man upstairs. We assume that since Jesus is all loving and abounding in grace, and since he already died for sin, we can live and let live and tell the holy homeboy to put any slip ups on our tab. Yes, Jesus is our friend, and yes he abounds in grace, but he is also our authority—the one we answer to, the one we obey, the one we surrender before—and to abuse his grace by using it as a license to sin is to cheapen it and miss the big picture all together. To this mentality the Bible says: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2, NIV). Again Paul confronts this mentality saying, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4, NASB).
His kindness leads us to repentance, not to exploitation. He is not only our friend, He is our King.
What does it look like for you to view Jesus as your homeboy? And how does this view of God affect your obedience?