The human psyche loves negotiation. Children swap hugs for a piece of candy. The husband who repeatedly misses dinner finds his release from marital purgatory with a bouquet of flowers. And the junior executive trades long weekends for a promotion. Most men and women turn their relationships into a type of transaction that resembles trades in a stock exchange. They then overlay this paradigm on their relationship with God, attempting to gain God’s favor in exchange for some religious moralism.
Many people believe their biannual church visits, their occasional prayer before bed, and their ability to avoid murderer’s row will persuade God to hand over a loving spouse, good health, or happiness. Other souls go further, abandoning alcohol, cigarettes, and porn subscriptions in exchange for divine blessing. Lastly, a small group of devote souls offer the greatest possible sacrifice, donating their massive fortunes and their life’s work to the poor hoping to garner some divine recognition. Though these transactional relationships with God may seem a touch impersonal, they often align implicitly and at times explicitly with the commands of Scripture. Those who set out upon a religious life of heroism expect God to notice their efforts.
Does God Respond to Negotiation?
But God is not a man or woman. He does not negotiate with humanity. The fallen and broken creature has nothing of value to offer the holy and perfect creator. The Prophet Micah details God’s perspective of human negotiation with these words:
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?Micah 6:7-9
God does not save men and women because they have smoked their last cigarette, looked at their last image of porn, or written a large check to a non-profit dedicated to the promotion of clean energy. Great sacrifices do not impress God. Rather, he demands holiness: justice, kindness and humility, character qualities only accessible to those who have been saved by God.
God does the saving apart from human negotiation (Mic. 6:1-6). God frees men and women from the slavery of sin, provides them with godly leaders, protects them from attacks, and guides them into the eternal promise land. Nothing remains to be negotiated. There is no divine itch humanity can scratch. God has done it all and offers happiness, eternity and heaven itself as free gift. We do not have to safe or sanctify ourselves. We simply repent and believe.
Those who attempt to appease, pacify, or manipulate God by dumping their vodka down the sink or by hopping on an airplane destined for the deserts of south Africa insult God. The last Adam has come and fulfilled all the requirements of the law. As Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished.” Galatians 3:13-14 proclaims:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
No other sacrifice is needed. Those who continue to sit at the negotiating table tossing out good works schemes in exchange for divine favor will find only divine judgement. Everyone who relies on the works of the law remains cursed by them.
Jesus does not negotiate; he saves.
Does God Fail Us?
Many people in the pew find God to be a grand disappointment because they fundamentally misunderstand the nature of salvation. They attempt to follow the law in their own power, praying, giving, and serving in the praise team, hoping God will bless their efforts. But their struggles with homosexuality, greed, or depression do not improve. After several months or years of trying to please God, they reach a breaking point. Like the nation of Israel, they find themselves surrounded by an army of problems instead of a choir of angels. They conclude that their negotiation with God has failed. Jesus did not uphold his end of the bargain. But Jesus did. The Law condemns. The free gift of salvation remains.
Will you embrace it?