Monday, June 25, 2012

God's Ultimate Goal: Defining the Relationship, Part 1

In the last two posts, I described what I believe is God's ultimate goal and discussed its three parts

God's ultimate goal is to have an intimate relationship with a group of people.

This is clearly evident in Revelation 21:1-4, where we see the three components of this goal:

"I will be Your God."
"You will be My people."
"I will dwell among you."

These three phrases, which occur at various places throughout the Bible, teach us the kind of relationship that God wants to have with us.  First, He wants to have a reciprocal relationship.  In other words, He wants to love us and he wants us to love Him in return.  The first two phrases express this concept. 

When God tells His people, "I will be Your God," He is saying that He wants us to worship Him, to acknowledge Him as God, to submit to His authority, to be faithful to Him, and to be identified with Him.  In the biblical world, people worshipped many gods.  Each nation had it's own set of gods, and to a great extent the god of a nation determined the character and values of that nation.  In that context, when God told the Israelites, "I will be Your God," He was distinguishing Himself from the false gods that were worshipped by other nations.  Instead of being the people of Baal (a Canaanite god) or of Ra (an Egyptian god), He was offering to make them the people of Yahweh.  By offering to become their God, He was offering Israel a special position among the nations of the world.  They would enjoy the benefits of serving and worshipping the One, True, Living God who is all-powerful and who rules over the land and the sea.  It was a chance that was not given to any other nation on earth.  It was an act of grace and mercy for God to make such an offer to a group of sinners.  And later, in the New Testament, this offer is extended to all nations.  Anyone can be "grafted in" and become part of the people of God (Rom. 11:17).

In the second phrase, when God says, "You will be My people," He is promising us that this will be a two-way street.  The Living God is not a god who wants only to dominate His creatures and demand their worship and service.  He is not a god who only takes and never gives.  Quite the opposite, He promises that if you will become one of His worshippers and join with His chosen people, then you will experience the blessing of a reciprocal relationship.  You will be faithful to Him, and He will be faithful to you.  You will love Him, and He will love you back.  As Peter wrote, you will become part of "a people for his own possession" (1 Pet. 2:9, ESV).

The biggest problem we see in scripture in the relationship between God and His people is that His people often do not hold up their end of the bargain.  He is faithful to us, but all too often we are not faithful to Him.  He loves us perfectly, and we love him half-heartedly or sometimes not at all.  However, the fact remains that the ultimate goal God is working toward is a reciprocal relationship: "I will be your God, and you will be My people."  As John tells us, "God is love."  He loves us and He asks for our love in return.  And one day, when this first heaven and first earth have passed away, those who have believed in Jesus the Messiah, have repented of their sins and have submitted to Jesus as king, will enjoy perfect fellowship with God in the new heaven and new earth: He will love us perfectly, and we will love him back with our whole hearts.

In the next post we will deal with the third phrase: "I will dwell among you."