What do you picture when you think of someone being far from God? Sometimes we might feel far from God because we’ve been messing up big time. Perhaps our life has just been full of sin.
Same with looking at others. We might often think of the person on drugs, or deep in partying, or just living a wild or troubled life as being so very far from God.
Conversely, when you look at the person who has their life together, working hard, being responsible and a productive member of society, you might be less inclined to think of them as being far from God.
If they go to church, then they are definitely not too far from God. From birth many of us have learned what it means to be a good person or a bad person. We have learned what is acceptable and what is not. If we were raised in a religious context, that standard got spiritualized and we are even more sure of what it means to be “good” or “bad” and what it means to be far from God.
Of course, if we have a Biblical theology, that tells us something a bit different.
If we have studied the life of Jesus, that tells us something different as well.
What does it mean to be far from God? Is it found in behavior, or in reception to the love and forgiveness of Jesus? We know from the Bible that the key to being close to God is to receive his love and forgiveness by repenting and turning to Him. We do not have to clean ourselves up or make ourselves acceptable. We need to admit that there is nothing we can do in ourselves to make ourselves presentable to Him.
When Jesus walked the earth, there were a lot of really “good” religious people who were busy being good and following the rules. There were others who were successful in life and impressive members of society. Few actually followed Jesus. We may know of the rich young ruler who admitted that he kept all the commandments, but wouldn’t follow Jesus because he also wanted to keep all his money. Then there were all the religious leaders who didn’t want to admit that they weren’t good enough.
They were really far from God.
Meanwhile the poor, the destitute, the sinners of the world, the outcasts who didn’t have a place in polite society had a great reaction to Jesus. It even became a bit of a scandal, seeing who Jesus tended to hang out with for dinner. He was friends with some really bad people.
They were much closer to God. Having supper with Him.
In Revelation, one of the churches that is rebuked the strongest, Laodicea, has a problem with thinking they are really good when what they really need is the work of God.
Many very good polished people who even go to church are very far from God for the simple reason that they are good and polished people who think they do good things Humanly speaking, they are doing great things.
Being close to God is not a matter of behavior, but is a matter of grace and mercy. If you are not fully aware each day that your closeness to God always rests in His grace, His mercy, His sacrifice on your behalf, on His work, then you miss what it means to be close to God.
Now to be sure, those who have been touched by the Amazing Grace and Mercy of God will be changed and will no longer live for themselves. In other words, if you are close to God, you will live better, but living better does not earn you closeness.
Our theology teaches us this. Let’s live it. Make each day about His goodness, not your goodness.