On being conscious of God
Find out what pleases the Lord, and then don’t put off doing it
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HOW DO WE KEEP FROM STUMBLING daily into the trap of sin? Peter shares a secret: keep conscious of God: “It is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God” (1 Peter 2:19).
Everyone knows that behavior changes when we are suddenly conscious of another person in the room. We will restrain our boorishness on a dime if someone whose opinion we value walks through the door. Let us practice the presence of the Person who counts most—God. I know a woman who managed to live graciously with a mean husband all her adult life. She kept her eye on God and the reward.
But dare we speak of “reward”? It would be the height of presumption if it were not God Himself who offers this incentive: “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). He has blessings ready to bestow in his right hand and his left (Proverbs 3:16).
The pantheon of men and women of faith held up for our emulation in Hebrews 11 all knew this secret. Through trials and alluring temptations they maintained consciousness of God, looking for a better reward than the illusory cheapjack carnival prizes that earth affords. And remember that they were people “with a nature like ours” (James 5:17).
Such faith as we are describing is calculating, in the best sense of the word. It tries to “find out what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10). (Yes, we can please the Lord.) It soberly weighs one possible course of action or verbal response against another course of action or verbal response, to choose the one that will bring God pleasure.
In every moment we are making a choice between the now or the hereafter. Abraham said to the rich man who did not see fit to keep consciousness of God and of the future: “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish” (Luke 16:25).
There are those who do “not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God” (Romans 1:28). Others, taking the better way, “resist the devil” and find that he flees from us (James 4:7).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer campaigned against faith that is an abstraction, a complacent passivity, a kind of voter-registration-card mentality of membership in Christendom, which he observed among his countrymen. His 1937 The Cost of Discipleship is largely a book trying to persuade his readers that you’re not a Christian just because you’re a European. Christianity that is not a moment-by-moment conscious following of Christ is an illusion. It will produce weeping and gnashing of teeth in the end.
Francis Schaeffer issued the same warning in 1971 in True Spirituality. Not afraid to criticize his own denomination, he writes: “There is a reality of faith to be acted on consciously after justification. This last point is the point of ignorance of many who stand in the orthodox and historic stream of the Reformation.” God is not against obedience; he’s against earnings. Obey as strenuously as you can. “Make every effort” (2 Peter 1:5).
No one is talking here about achieving absolute sinless perfection in this lifetime—not Scripture, not Schaeffer, not Bonhoeffer. But there is a wide spectrum, with many points on it, between sinless perfection and the moribund sin-and-confess rut that many are content to live in as Christians, as if God tolerates it well. John says, “I am writing these things to you so that you will not sin” (1 John 2:1).
I think he means it. I think it is the “newness of life” we are called to experience (Romans 6:4).