This quote really resonates with me, but it also raises some questions that need answered:
I have often heard people state that a particular item is a blessing from God for something they did. That’s a nice idea, but it doesn’t hold water. God isn’t passing out rewards yet; that comes later, in heaven. Between here and there, God is investing His assets with His people to be used purposefully for Him.
I’ve posted before (see Tit for Tat, July 2, 2013) that I don’t think God’s blessings are His one-for-one trade for our good deeds. I do believe God’s blessings are given to us so that we can channel those blessings to others, fulfilling His purposes.
But what about scriptures that speak of God’s rewards for our actions? Curious, I did a search for the phrase, “if you” in the Bible. I was intrigued to find a stark distinction between most Old Testament usage compared to the New Testament.
In the OT, there are lots of passages in the form, if you do _____, God will do _____. The ties between human actions and God’s earthly actions are strong. In short, obey and be blessed, disobey and suffer the consequences.
The NT talks of eternal (vs. earthly) consequences (confess & believe and you will be saved; forgive and you will be forgiven, etc.). It also uses “if…then” to validate, or point to the evidence that God’s at work in us (e.g. if you abide in my word, you are my disciples; if you love me, you will keep my commandments; they will know you’re my disciples if you love one another).
There are a few NT verses like John 14:14, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it”, and John 15:7, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” These may seem like they’re telling us to ask and we’ll receive a blessing. But the phrases, “in my name”, and “abide in me” suggest a context that is consistent with Bob Shank’s quote above. If we’re tuned in to living for God’s purposes, he’ll resource our requests.
So why the shift between the OT and the NT? I think it’s because the OT provided proof that, despite clear consequences, man isn’t capable of being holy. With that proven, the NT shows God’s love motivating us to want to do good works to please Him. It’s not about doing good so we get what we want.
The OT examples are still valid for revealing how we can please God. But our focus is on bringing God pleasure, not “what’s in it for me?”