religion

What Does God Want Us to Do?

A question about God asked over and over in one form or another boils down to—What does God want us to do? It may get asked in different ways and with other words but it’s the same question.

This is reflected in the way many people describe what they think God expects of us what asked about their religious beliefs, God, or Christianity in general—be good and do good to others.

When I was a young believer in an introductory theology class, we looked into the meaning of the word religion. It’s generally used to describe the nature of engagement or relationship between people and God.

Different meanings can be found but the origin of the word religion is based on two words—relegere and relegare. The first means—go through again, as in reading or in thought. Relegare means, to bind fast, with the idea of an obligation on or a bond between humans and gods.

I came to realize religion could mean many things to different people but it spoke of humanity’s efforts to engage with God in some way. The emphasis being on humanity’s view of how to relate to God. And this is reflected by how many different religions exist in the world.

Scripture

When the people saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into these boats and went to the city of Capernaum to look for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Jesus replied to them, “I can guarantee this truth: You’re not looking for me because you saw miracles. You are looking for me because you ate as much of those loaves as you wanted. Don’t work for food that spoils. Instead, work for the food that lasts into eternal life. This is the food the Son of Man will give you. After all, the Father has placed his seal of approval on him.”

The people asked Jesus, “What does God want us to do?” Jesus replied to them, “God wants to do something for you so that you believe in the one whom he has sent.” [vss 24-29]

The people asked him, “What miracle are you going to perform so that we can see it and believe in you? What are you going to do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the desert. Scripture says, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ”

Jesus said to them, “I can guarantee this truth: Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. God’s bread is the man who comes from heaven and gives life to the world.”

They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread all the time.”

Jesus told them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never become hungry, and whoever believes in me will never become thirsty. [vss 30-35]

(John 6:24-35 GW)

Key phrase—

God wants…you (to) believe in the one whom he has sent

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • Who goes to find Jesus and His disciples? Where do they go and how do they get there?

  • What do these people ask Jesus and what is His response to them?

  • What does Jesus say they should and should not work for? What do you think He means by this?

  • What kind of bread are the people asking for and how does Jesus answer them?

Reflection...

Stories are observations of a slice of time in life. Something can be learned from any and every incident but it requires good observation skills and an discerning understanding of what’s observed.

The dialog between the people who searched for Jesus and His responses to them reveal a lot about humanity in general. In general, we are more concerned with the immediate than what’s eternal. And, we’re more focused on the physical than the spiritual.

Perhaps this seems obvious in this story but I’ve found it to be true for myself as well—even though most of my life has been centered around ministry and spiritual things. It’s easier to see spiritual dullness and ignorance in others than ourselves.

I’ve met thousands of Christian believers in many places and cultures. I’ve realized the majority of them—even those with much Bible knowledge—still tend to wonder—What does God expect of or want of me?

The answer isn’t difficult nor deeply spiritual. This is what God wants—

Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29 NLT)

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • Does it seem like the people and Jesus are talking about two different things? If so, why do you think this is?

  • How does Jesus try to explain the difference between the bread people are seeking and what they should seek?

  • How does Jesus describe Himself? In what way does He answer the people’s questions?

  • Do you understand what Jesus means about coming to Him and never hungering again? How is this true in a spiritual sense?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— If you still wonder what God wants from you, try seeing it from His point of view. Consider what Jesus says in response to questions people ask Him. The Lord desires for us to have a personal relationship with Him not gain anything from us.

Prayer Focus— When you find yourself desiring or hungering more of what this world has to offer, ask the Lord to help you see things from His perspective. Ask Him to give you His gracious and merciful vision to see you as He sees you and to see others with His eyes.

©2019—Word-Strong

5 True Testimonies of Jesus

In a day and age where knowledge is plentiful—even overwhelming—the existence and prevalence of ignorance is amazing. Why does ignorance prevail in the midst of a rising tide of knowledge? For a myriad of reasons.

Some ignorance is born out of laziness. We can be too lazy to verify whether or not something is true. Or too lazy to think deeply about something. How many times have you heard people repeat an opinion as factual, as if it’s beyond question? Have you done this yourself?

Bias and prejudice contribute to a developed ignorance. An ignorance numb to the truth. This could range from racism to politics to religion, even in the sciences which is self-contradictory in itself. A developed ignorance is born out of self-interest and resistance to the truth.

One of the ignorant things I’ve heard people say about Jesus is—He never claimed to be God. This is untrue. He did. This is a major reason He was condemned to die by the Jewish leaders. The primary focus of John’s gospel is to declare the divine nature of Jesus as the Son of God. In the following verses, Jesus gives five truthful testimonies to verify who He is.

Scripture

“If I testify on my own behalf, what I say isn’t true. Someone else testifies on my behalf, and I know that what he says about me is true. You sent people to John ⌊the Baptizer⌋, and he testified to the truth. [vss 31-33]

But I have something that testifies more favorably on my behalf than John’s testimony. The tasks that the Father gave me to carry out, these tasks which I perform, testify on my behalf. They prove that the Father has sent me. The Father who sent me testifies on my behalf. You have never heard his voice, and you have never seen his form. So you don’t have the Father’s message within you, because you don’t believe in the person he has sent. 

You study the Scriptures in detail because you think you have the source of eternal life in them. These Scriptures testify on my behalf. Yet, you don’t want to come to me to get ⌊eternal⌋ life. [vss 36-40]

“Don’t think that I will accuse you in the presence of the Father. Moses, the one you trust, is already accusing you. If you really believed Moses, you would believe me. Moses wrote about me. If you don’t believe what Moses wrote, how will you ever believe what I say?” [vss 45-47]

(John 5:31-47 GW) [full text]

Key phrase—

You study the Scriptures…These Scriptures testify on my behalf

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What does Jesus say about testifying on His own behalf?

  • Who does Jesus say gave a true testimony about who He is?

  • What else and who else testifies on behalf of Jesus?

  • What are the last two sources of testimony of Jesus and why should the Jews know this?

Reflection...

The five testimonies Jesus gives are an indictment against the Jewish leaders. They understood John the Baptizer’s testimony. This was made clear earlier in John’s gospel. Though the Jews knew John was a prophet sent from God, their leaders rejected what John said.

They rejected John’s testimony for the same reason they didn’t accept the Father’s testimony of Jesus and the signs and miracles Jesus did. Why? Because it wasn’t what they wanted to hear or believe. Their minds and hearts were numb to the truth of the Scriptures because they clung to their own interpretations of the Scriptures.

This is the real issue—in spite of all their religious fervor, their hearts were hardened towards God. This is the problem for many people regardless of their religion or rejection of religion. When our mind is set on what we want to believe, it makes it hard to hear or accept the truth.

In reading through all the gospels, especially John’s, it may puzzle you how resistant the Jewish leaders were to Jesus, His teaching, and how His authority was confirmed by the signs and miracles. And yet, it’s the same for all of us. It’s a matter of control. Our natural default is to want to be in control—to determine our own destiny—to be our own god.

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • Why do you think the Jewish leaders either ignored or did not accept John’s testimony?

  • What does Jesus point to as the reason why these leaders don’t hear the Father’s voice or accept Jesus as the Messiah?

  • What does Jesus say they could receive if they would come to Him personally and believe in Jesus?

  • Do you believe Jesus was sent by God the Father? If not, are you willing to consider this is true?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— When confronted with the truth, we all have a choice to consider and weigh what we hear or read. If we have a genuine desire to know the truth, we need to be willing to understand it with an open heart and mind—free from bias or self-interest.

Prayer Focus— When you have difficulty accepting what the Bible says, especially when it comes to who Jesus is, be honest about it with God. If you’re willing to approach God with an honest heart, He will help you understand it by His Spirit. Just be open and honest with Him!

©2019—Word-Strong

Like Father, Like Son

One of the difficulties people have with the Christian faith is Jesus being in God in nature. It was something I struggled with in my journey of faith. How could Jesus be both God and human? How could He have two natures at the same time?

The gospel of John begins with this truth. The purpose of the apostle John’s account of the gospel is to reveal who Jesus is through what He said and did (John 20:30-31). The Pharisees—the religious elite—struggled the most with Jesus’ declarations as the Son of God.

One simple reason the Pharisees didn’t accept Jesus as the Son of God was their religion. Not Judaism as established by Moses but the complicated and restrictive system of religion they developed over the years. I believe the reason most people struggle to believe and trust in Jesus is because of opposing religious beliefs and traditions.

Humanity tends to turn the relationship God calls us into by faith and make it a religion—a set of rules and expectations. We try to deconstruct what is eternal and infinite, then reconstruct it in a way that fits our finite and limited understanding. And so, we struggle to accept what God makes simple by creating barriers and restrictions Jesus removed through His life and death on earth, and His resurrection from the dead.

Scripture

The Jews began to persecute Jesus because he kept healing people on the day of worship. Jesus replied to them, “My Father is working right now, and so am I.”

His reply made the Jews more intent on killing him. Not only did he break the laws about the day of worship, but also he made himself equal to God when he said repeatedly that God was his Father. [vss 16-18]

Jesus said to the Jews, “I can guarantee this truth: The Son cannot do anything on his own. He can do only what he sees the Father doing. Indeed, the Son does exactly what the Father does. The Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing. The Father will show him even greater things to do than these things so that you will be amazed. In the same way that the Father brings back the dead and gives them life, the Son gives life to anyone he chooses. [vss 19-21]

“The Father doesn’t judge anyone. He has entrusted judgment entirely to the Son so that everyone will honor the Son as they honor the Father. Whoever doesn’t honor the Son doesn’t honor the Father who sent him. I can guarantee this truth: Those who listen to what I say and believe in the one who sent me will have eternal life. They won’t be judged because they have already passed from death to life. [vss 22-24]

(John 5:16-24 GW)

Key phrase—

The Son does exactly what the Father does

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What are we told the Jews begin to do?

  • What are two reasons the Jews treated Jesus as they did?

  • How does Jesus describe His relationship with His Father?

  • What does Jesus say about judgment? How is this relevant and important for those who do trust in Him?

Reflection...

Many people—even those who don’t claim to be Christians— see the life Jesus led as exemplary—a model life. Indeed, Jesus lived His life on earth as an example. One of His primary goals was to disciple those who trusted in Him to live by faith.

The core element of Jesus’ life of faith was His relationship with His Father. Is this something every believer can do? Yes, absolutely! How Jesus prayed, spoke, and acted are all the ways believers—those who trust in and follow Him—are to live.

But following the example of Jesus isn’t about holding to a set of beliefs and practices in a religious sense. True disciples are to live by faith as Jesus did—relying on the Holy Spirit to guide us each step of the the way.

The followers of Jesus are not called to set up a religious way of life and judge others who don’t hold to their same ways. This would make us more like followers of the Pharisees. We’d become modern-day religious elites. Jesus calls His disciples to follow Him by faith so we may be free of judgment and pass from death into life—eternal life.

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • What great blessings does the Lord give those who honor Him as the Son of God?

  • What type of life is guaranteed those who listen to and believe (trust) in Jesus?

  • How can a person who believes in Jesus as the Son of God pass from death to life while on earth? What do you think this means?

  • Are you living by faith with assurance of eternal life? Is this life Jesus promises already present in your heart?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— Following the example of Jesus isn’t about holding to a set of beliefs and practices in a religious sense. It’s a life of faith—relying on the Holy Spirit to guide us each step of the the way.

Prayer Focus— If you don’t have assurance in your heart of the promise of eternal life Jesus extends to all who trust in Him, ask God to give it to you. Ask in faith—accept His promise by trusting in Him by faith.

©2019—Word-Strong

A Pitiful Man

The gospel of John is different than the other three gospels. It only has 8 miraculous signs while the others recount many. Each miracle in John is a sign illustrating the Lord’s ministry—why God became human (John 20:30-31). Each one is part of a larger story and context.

As with many stories of Jesus’ interaction with people, some deeper insight is needed to understand all that takes place. The Mosaic Law and religious cultural restrictions are a major part of this story, along with Israel’s history. It revolves around a sick man laying beside the pool of Bethesda who encounters Jesus.

This man was part of a crowd gathered around the pool to receive healing. These people believed the first person to enter the pool when an angel came from heaven and stirred up the waters would be healed. Their hope was in a legend.

Jesus saw this man who’d been sick for 38 years and approached him with a simple question—Would you like to get well? But the man doesn’t answer Jesus directly. Instead, he gives Jesus an excuse for why he can’t be healed. His response is the first indicator of how pitiful this man is, which becomes more clear as you read the whole story.

Scripture

Later, Jesus went to Jerusalem for a Jewish festival. Near Sheep Gate in Jerusalem was a pool called Bethesda in Hebrew. It had five porches. Under these porches a large number of sick people—people who were blind, lame, or paralyzed—used to lie. 

One man, who had been sick for 38 years, was lying there. [vss 1-5]

Jesus saw the man lying there and knew that he had been sick for a long time. So Jesus asked the man, “Would you like to get well?”

The sick man answered Jesus, “Sir, I don’t have anyone to put me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I’m trying to get there, someone else steps into the pool ahead of me.”

Jesus told the man, “Get up, pick up your cot, and walk.” The man immediately became well, picked up his cot, and walked. That happened on a day of worship. [vss 6-9]

So the Jews told the man who had been healed, “This is a day of worship. You’re not allowed to carry your cot today.” The man replied, “The man who made me well told me to pick up my cot and walk.”

The Jews asked him, “Who is the man who told you to pick it up and walk?” But the man who had been healed didn’t know who Jesus was. (Jesus had withdrawn from the crowd.)

Later, Jesus met the man in the temple courtyard and told him, “You’re well now. Stop sinning so that something worse doesn’t happen to you.”

The man went back to the Jews and told them that Jesus was the man who had made him well. [vss 10-15]

(John 5:1-15 GW)

Key phrase—

“Would you like to get well?”

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What stands out to you about the beginning of this story?

  • Who is gathered at this pool? Who does Jesus approach and what does he ask this man?

  • How does the man respond to Jesus’ question and why do you think he says this?

  • What does Jesus say to the man and how does He say it? What takes place immediately?

Reflection...

Over the years, Jewish rabbis reinterpreted the fourth of the ten primary commandments of the Mosaic Law, as they did many other laws. Successive interpretations added restrictions to what a person could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath. These added laws distorted God’s original purpose for the Sabbath.

When Jesus spoke healing to this pitiful man, it came in the form of a command to do three things—get up, pick up his mat, and walk. Not long after his healing, the pitiful man is rebuked for carrying his mat as Jesus directed him to do.

Imagine you’re this man—what would you do? Whose command would you follow? Here we see the pitiful state of this man and his weakness. His response and actions illustrate the weakness and futility of following religious laws.

Religion itself has no power to transform a person compared to God and His power. It comes down to where a person puts their trust. Do we trust in our own efforts to transform ourself through religion? Or…do we trust in God Himself and His transforming power?

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • Do you understand all the dilemmas this man faced?

  • Can you see how and why this man is so pitiful?

  • Have you found yourself in paradoxical situations where you don’t know what to do?

  • Do you get caught up with what others expect of you? Do you struggle with trusting God with the dilemmas of your life?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— Our confidence needs to be in God rather than our own efforts or religious regulations. The Lord calls us into a personal relationship of trust rather than following a rigid set of rules. God intended the Sabbath to be a restful blessing not a restricted religious day.

Prayer Focus— As you consider present or previous dilemmas you’ve faced, ask God to give you insight and direction for how to move beyond these struggles by trusting in Him. Be honest and specific in your prayer and spend time listening and waiting for His guidance.

©2019—Word-Strong

In Spirit and Truth

Confusion has prevailed since the beginning of civilization about who God is and what He desires of those who would trust in Him. The reason is simple. We all tend to have our own ideas based on our own reasoning, rituals, superstitions, traditions, and the influence and opinions of others. This includes people raised in churches and who read the Bible.

This confusion is illustrated in the story of a Samaritan woman who encountered Jesus at an ancient well. When Jesus—the Son of God—engages her in conversation, her confusion about spiritual things is evident.

When Jesus reveals what He knows about her, she responds with a challenge about religion. Jesus doesn’t mince any words. He tells her plainly, “You don’t know what you’re worshipping.” Sadly, this is just as true for many today as it was for this woman.

The woman dismisses what Jesus says by changing the subject. This is a common tactic when a conversation about spiritual truth goes beyond our understanding. But Jesus keeps the conversation centered on what is spiritually true, as seen in how the story unfolds.

Scripture

The woman told Jesus, “Sir, give me this water! Then I won’t get thirsty or have to come here to get water.” Jesus told her, “Go to your husband, and bring him here.”

The woman replied, “I don’t have a husband.” Jesus told her, “You’re right when you say that you don’t have a husband. You’ve had five husbands, and the man you have now isn’t your husband. You’ve told the truth.” [vss 15-18]

The woman said to Jesus, “I see that you’re a prophet! Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain. But you Jews say that people must worship in Jerusalem.”

Jesus told her, “Believe me. A time is coming when you Samaritans won’t be worshiping the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You don’t know what you’re worshiping. We ⌊Jews⌋ know what we’re worshiping, because salvation comes from the Jews.  [vss 19-22]

Indeed, the time is coming, and it is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. The Father is looking for people like that to worship him. God is a spirit. Those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will tell us everything.” (Messiah is the one called Christ.)

Jesus told her, “I am he, and I am speaking to you now.” [vss 23-26]

(John 4:15-26 GW)

Key phrase—

God is a spirit. Those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What water does the Samaritan woman ask for and why does she want it?

  • What does Jesus tell the woman to do and how does this result in a religious discussion?

  • What does Jesus say about “true worshipers”? How are they to worship God and what do you think this means?

  • How does Jesus respond to the woman’s comment about the Messiah?

Reflection...

Discussions about religion are difficult for many reasons, especially when emotions are driven by opinions and ignorance that interfere with clear thinking. Terminology and traditions also contribute to confusion and fruitless debates that are more emotional than spiritual.

As Jesus speaks of spiritual things—living water—the woman is focused on what’s immediate and physical. This illustrates what Jesus says about God and worship. Worship is neither mystical nor religious, but spiritual. True worship is based in a personal relationship with God not a specific action.

When the woman dismisses what Jesus says to her about worship by speaking of the Messiah to come, Jesus reveals who He is to the woman. As the story continues, she appears to believe Him and what He says about God and true worshipers.

God is spirit—spiritual in nature, not human in origin. He’s eternal—self-existent and above and beyond the natural world. True worshipers—those whom God is seeking—worship Him in a spiritual way rather than with rituals and traditions. True worshipers also worship Him in truth—according to what is revealed by God in His written word, the Bible.

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • How does Jesus’ discernment about the woman’s marital status relate to what Jesus says about worshiping God?

  • What is Jesus referring to when He says, “…salvation comes from the Jews”?

  • Are you a “true worshiper” of God? If so, in what way have you learned to worship God “in spirit and truth?”

  • When Jesus tells this woman He is the Messiah, how does this reveal who is included as the true worshipers God seeks?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— God is spirit and we need to worship Him in spirit and truth in ways that are genuinely spiritual, that reflect His true nature, and are in agreement with the truth He’s revealed about Himself in the Scriptures.

Prayer Focus— Practice times of quiet reflection before and after bringing your concerns, petitions, and intercessions to God in prayer. Ask God to help you understand how to worship in ways that please Him.

©2018—Word-Strong