What Does God Want
A. W. Tozer pointedly wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us…Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God” (The Knowledge of the Holy).
And C. S Lewis wrote, “I read in a periodical the other day that the fundamental thing is how we think of God. By God Himself, it is not! How God thinks of us is not only more important, but infinitely more important” (The Weight of Glory).
Lewis and Tozer were contemporaries. I have a hunch Lewis was referring to Tozer in that quote. Both men’s writings were often featured in Christian publications.
So who was right? Does what we think of God, or what He thinks of us matter the most? Read in context, I don’t believe Lewis and Tozer’s statements are diametrically opposed. And according to Paul, they’re both right. That’s why he wrote a letter to the Christians in Rome. He wanted them to think rightly about God and He wanted them to know exactly how God thought about them, too.
We can see this in his greeting. He wastes no time in introducing His subject:
Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. —Romans 1:4–7
What a refreshing reminder for a believer living in a corrupt empire while trying to stay faithful to Jesus. Coming out of a pagan religious environment where the gods and goddesses were impulsive, moody, and often unappeasable, the reminder that God had welcomed them, loved them, and set them apart in Christ would have brought a smile to their faces. Elyse Fitzpatrick notes:
It’s interesting that Paul introduces his masterpiece on the gospel with this thought: “You belong to Jesus Christ. You are loved by God. You are saints.”…Before he gets to the whole world being guilty before God, before he speaks of double imputation (Christ’s righteousness for our sin) and how we should respond, he tells us that we are loved by God and are his possession. He tells us that we are his saints, his holy ones. —Elyse Fitzpatrick (Comforts from Romans)
Is that how you think of God on any given day, believer? Or are you plagued with doubts and misgivings about where you stand with Him? Paul wrote this letter with the prayer that his audience would both understand and experience the Gospel. He wants to magnify the accomplished work of Jesus. He can’t even finish his introduction before celebrating the gospel’s success in bringing us to God and securing us forever.
Rome was a mammoth empire, the center of the known world. It was where the Titans ruled. Power, wealth, beauty, and glory characterized Rome. They boasted of emperors, philosophers, temples, the Republic, and, of course, the Colosseum! Their military might, architectural beauty, and religious complexity were unmatched. As a follower of Jesus, it would be easy to feel small, insignificant, swallowed up and overshadowed by the vastness of it all.
But the Roman Empire also boasted in vice. Their depravity knew no boundaries. Paul will describe it later in this chapter. Rome was rotting from the inside. Corruption touched everything: religion, politics, and entertainment. Sexual immorality and idolatry were everywhere. Living in Rome as a Christian must have been sad and exhausting.
Think of following Jesus in that culture. Not long ago, that was the air you breathed, the only way of life you’d ever known. Breaking free and staying true to Jesus would be an every-day battle, certainly not one without moments of weakness and failure. Wouldn’t you be tempted to feel as though God was perpetually disappointed in you, that if he really knew your vacillating heart, he’d have seconds thoughts about you being in His family? Then you get Paul’s letter that says you are saints, called and loved by God.
It’s an incredible thought. God loves us. In fact, because of Jesus, God cannot love us any more than He does. No need trying to prove yourself to Him. That’s the wrong motivation for obedience. It’s hollow and will only make you moral at best, not godly. There’s a difference. Faith in Jesus is where fruitful obedience grows. That’s Paul’s mission: to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations (vs. 5).
Make no mistake. God desires our obedience. He commands it. He deserves it. We owe it. But the motive of our obedience is just as important as the obedience itself—more important when you consider the rest of the New Testament. Hebrews 11 celebrates not only the mighty acts of obedience from the likes of Abraham, Moses, David, and Rahab; it also underscores the faith that empowered them. Verse 6 settles the matter for good, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” The obedience of faith is what Jesus is after. And when we comprehend the purest expression of God’s love—the Gospel—that’s what we’ll offer.
Paul’s global goal of bringing about the obedience of faith means not only that faith is the proper motivation of obedience, but that obedience is the proper outcome of faith. As James wrote, faith without works is dead. It lacks power and substance. If Jesus is Lord, and we are His servants, then a glad, heartfelt obedience is what we give.
Christianity is not just about believing in Jesus so you can go to heaven when you die. The Gospel changes more than our final destiny. It transforms our life here and now. God not only wants to forgive us. He wants to change us: the obedience of faith.
So now that you know how God thinks about you (Lewis), how might that shape your thoughts about God (Tozer)? Both are critical—and both are connected.