Becoming God's Spiritual Person
Being All You Can Be
Throughout my lifetime, there has been an enormous emphasis on the potential of the person. The value of education was stressed when few went to college. Dreaming of doing the incredible was emphasized when people usually surrendered to futures that avoided change. Aiming high in one’s work was stressed. There was praise for those who made unusual sacrifices in dedication to self-improvement. Rewards provided incentives for those who increased personal opportunity. As a society, we long have valued the kind of commitment and sacrifice that resulted in the individual’s development.
The means of development and improvement have varied. The route to self-improvement varied with the realities of the decade. The decade may have stressed hard work to the point of sacrifice when most were content with an income. The decade may have stressed education when many ignored education’s creation of opportunity. The decade may have stressed personal development as the road to choice. The decade may have stressed personal vision when many were satisfied with generic goals. The decade may have stressed risks when many were content with security.
However, in most American routes, the emphasis was on this: personal achievement laid 100% in human effort. Achieving individual potential was only a human enterprise. The stress was placed on “I.” Being what “I” can be was the result of human sacrifice and effort which focused on “me.”
As a result, people in this society have become increasingly poor (a) in knowing how to form relationships, (b) in understanding the importance of keeping commitments, (c) in honoring “our word,” and (d) in keeping promises. As a society, people have become increasingly proficient in being selfish, being greedy, using people to achieve personal ambitions, and defining success by money and possessions. Increasingly our society’s battle cry is “What’s in it for me?” The attitude of many is “I am owed! My rights are more important than your liabilities! I am entitled to what I want! If my success is based on your failure, that’s life. However, if your success is based on my failure, that’s just plain wrong!”
Individual potential is incredible! Human effort is capable of achieving the remarkable! No one achieves by refusing to exert self! Any attempt to achieve that bypasses human commitment and sacrifice commonly results in tragedy!
The question is NOT can a person become all he or she is capable of being without human effort. The question IS “Are we capable of being all we can be by using ONLY human effort?”
The Bible’s continuing emphasis declares, “Human potential is maximized when individual effort is in partnership with divine focus.” Or, “We are our best when we allow God to provide our definitions and objectives.” Human effort alone is unable to achieve full human potential. This is not a claim that the person does nothing but wait for God to “come through in my life.” It is the understanding that human effort coupled with God’s focus results in full human potential.
In Genesis 1:26, 27 (NASV), we read these words in Genesis’ brief creation account:
Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
The distinction in human life as compared to all other life forms was found in people being in God’s image or likeness. Since God was not and is not physical, that image or likeness should not be defined by the physical form of people. The Bible does not refer to God as a physical being, though occasionally it uses anthropomorphic terms to make some of God’s acts understandable. God is never presented as an extension of people’s physical form. He is not a “super human.”
However, people have the capacity to reflect the divine. There has been a centuries-long debate about (a) what the image and likeness are, and (b) can the image and likeness reside in sinful people? The human ability to reflect God has not been and is not a matter of debate among most groups who trust Jesus Christ.
In Genesis 1 there is a brief account of the origin of the beginning of the world including the male and female persons. In this account among the things affirmed are (a) God is the source of life, and (b) God was pleased with original human life.
People rebellion produced a number of created-world consequences. Among those consequences was a rupture in the human relationship with God (see Genesis 3:8 ff).
By Genesis 6, people became the opposite of God’s intention. People were so opposite of what God intended that the writer declared,
Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5, NASV)
The result of extreme human wickedness profoundly affected God. God was “sorry” that He made the human, and He was “grieved” to his heart that people had become something He never intended (Genesis 6:6, NASV). The concepts of sorrow and grief are feelings and attitudes that humans relate to quite well. In a profound way, God’s intent in people was not realized. The result was profound disappointment. Humans used their potential to cause God grief rather than continue God’s joy.
Consider. In six brief chapters of the Bible’s first book, people went from being God’s delight to being God’s severe disappointment. The human went from 100% divine approval to 100% divine displeasure. Humans went from unrestricted relationship with God to no relationship with God. That which was suitable for divine companionship became an insult to divine companionship. That which had the capability for accurately reflecting the divine became a perversion of the divine.
Absolute evil is the opposite of God’s absolute holiness. Thus that which God made to reflect Him became that which dedicated itself to all God is not. What a profound disappointment!
Why? What is the difference in human life before wickedness and after wickedness? God physically did not create, uncreate, and recreate again. The potential before wickedness and the potential after wickedness were unchanged.
It was not a matter of potential. It was a matter of perversion of potential. Note: the Bible affirms that people were made to reflect God’s righteousness, not evil’s wickedness. Thus, the more like God’s righteousness a person becomes, the more that person moves toward full potential. The more the person moves toward evil, the more that person moves away from his (her) full potential.
The result: no one captures his (her) full potential by moving away from God’s righteousness. The more a person moves from God’s righteousness, the more hurt that person inflicts on self and others.
In Practical Terms, What Does That Mean?
First, that means one’s concept of God is critical. All Bible evidence, both Old and New Testaments, deserves acknowledgement, consideration, and evaluation as a person determines God’s nature, character, and attributes. A person’s concept of God will change through spiritual growth as the person acquires more information. That concept also will change as the individual grows in insight, wisdom, and experience. This change in concepts is not undesirable. Such change may indicate a growth in faith, not a loss of faith. It may indicate proper growth and development in spirituality.
Second, that means the Christian objective is not uniformity in concepts and understandings accepted. The objective is seeking truth about God’s nature, character, and attributes. Ultimately, God will be the One who examines and judges each person’s concepts and understandings. God Himself will examine both the content and the motives of the individual. Read Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 to see this view.
Consider an illustration that focuses on the problem of personal growth in faith and spirituality. If you as a person grow from your faith in your God concept that I regard to be inferior to my faith in God concept, I am pleased with your spiritual development. I am confident that your spiritual growth is a positive thing that moves you in the correct direction. In this situation I consider your growth is a good thing. However, if your concept of a faith in God begins where I am in my understanding, and if your concept grows and develops in areas that I have never considered and do not understand, then I declare your growth to be not good because I do not agree with nor understand your spiritual development. Have you left God? No! You left my understanding. None of us regard our faith in God concept to be inferior or capable of being outgrown! Thus we all regard growth to my concept as good, but growth beyond my concept as bad or evil.
Is this not the type of situation Paul referred to in Romans 14:4 (NASV) when he said:
Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
Or in Romans 14:12 (NASV),
So then each one of us shall give an account of himself to God.
Or in Romans 14:16, 17 (NASV),
Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Or 1 Corinthians 8:1 (NASV),
Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.
Or in 1 Corinthians 8:7 (NASV),
However not all men have this knowledge; but some being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
Is this not the situation in Acts 15:5 (NASV),
But certain ones of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed, stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.” (Emphasis mine.)
Is this not the situation in the entire conflict of Jewish Christians and gentile Christians throughout the New Testament?
The problem with institutions drawing lines of conformity is found in the consequences to the individual growth of the believer. One’s concepts of God should not rely on institutional approval, or group approval, or another person’s approval. The objective is not the ability to say, “I have confidence in their view,” but to say, “This is my view because of my understanding of this scripture or these scriptures.”
To agree with someone because of a shared view from scripture is not bad, but to depend on a person or a religious institution to form your view of God is a dangerous approach to the truth about God. Nothing impacts an individual religiously as much as do that person’s concepts of God’s nature, character, and attributes.
A congregation does not exist to inhibit the individual believer’s spiritual growth, but to encourage the individual believer to grow in faith. The spiritual objective must not be a conformity based on fear of the congregation or its leadership, but a spiritual growth based on faith in God. The pioneers of faith who blessed us tremendously were believing people who dared (often as they confronted unpopularity) to study and grow beyond controlling or prominent religious individuals and religious institutions. Forward movement is commonly made by individuals who refuse to be inhibited by the chains of fear produced by religious people who control a situation or religious institution.
There is a vast difference between declaring, “I think,” without scriptural basis and declaring, “I conclude on the basis of this scripture (or this scriptural incident’s emphasis).” To appeal to the context of the scripture should not be considered a rejection of scripture. Context may challenge/change one’s view, but it will not challenge/change the original intent of scripture.
It has become too common in American society for a person to say, “I believe in God, but my concept of God is . . . .” The concept that follows often is no more than a personal conclusion based on personal opinion arising from experiences, views, and concepts. Usually a discussion about God is meaningless because the common reply is “My God does not do that,” or, “My God does not think like that (or feel that way).”
The first tragedy is that few turn to Christians to expand their view of God. The second tragedy is that if a person turns to Christians to explain his (her) view of God, often he (she) is more likely to encounter conflict than encouragement.
Christians need to be seriously informed about God, but easy to approach in their discussion of God. A faith commitment to belief in God and the Lord Jesus Christ is not verified by a thoughtless confrontation that refuses to listen, but by a verification of why one lives by his (her) faith commitment. Faith is the result of study and prayerful consideration, not of allowing others to tell one what to think and how to think.