It’s probably the most asked question in the early stages of our Christian experience. We understand the sacrifice of Christ, what he did on our behalf, and the question just comes out, “What do you want from me in return?” While our salvation is not based on our good works (Ephesians 2:8-9), God does have something for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). We are created for good works.
Perhaps we even offer to God some great sacrifice. The ascetics used to deny self to the extreme in order to appease God. Is that what God wants? Does he want me to be a missionary in Africa? Does he want me to sell all I have and give it to the poor? Does God want me to be in church every Sunday? Check out this verse:
“What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?” says the Lord. “I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony? Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting—they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings. (Isaiah 1:11-13)
Wow, that hurts.
Maybe this image brings back memories. A small child pulls a variety of ingredients from the pantry and refrigerator (cereal, orange juice, potato chips, bread, ketchup, and other interesting choices) and blends them together in a bowl in hopes of surprising Mom with “dinner.” When Mom receives the “gift,” how do you think she’ll react? Despite the mess, both inside and outside the bowl, I’m sure she will express gratitude and joy, grateful for the sincere expression of love.
But what if the child missed the point and thought the gift was more important than the motive and attitude behind the giving? And what if the child continued to make similar presentations, year after year to Mom in hopes of appeasing her and earning her love? “It wouldn’t happen,” you answer. “Because the mother wouldn’t put up with it!”
Now look back at the Isaiah passage (Isaiah 1:11-13). God doesn’t sound very happy with the “gifts” of his people; because they had it all wrong! They had confused the animal sacrifices with the reason for making those sacrifices in the first place. So they worked hard at their religious works, and they missed the point. Did they really believe that God needed dead animals and blood? Didn’t they know that, instead, he wanted their hearts?
That’s the difference between “legalism” and “grace” and Christianity is all about grace. That’s why Jesus came to earth, to satisfy the demands of the law, to give himself as the ultimate sacrifice, to open the way for us to come directly to our Father (see John 3:16, 17, 18).
Yet, sadly, we often continue to mix our potions and religious ingredients and miss our reason for life, our Savior. Just like that loving mother, God is standing at the edge of the kitchen with arms wide open with an invitation: “Come to me, child. I want your love. I want your trust. All I really want is you.”