In his book, With, Skye Jethani describes five ways people relate to God—four wrong ways, and one correct way. Here is how Jethani summarizes each of the four wrong ways (Skye Jethani, With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011), 6-7.)
- LIFE FROM GOD is when people want God’s blessings and gifts, but they aren’t particularly interested in God himself.
- LIFE OVER GOD is when the mystery and wonder of the world is lost as God is abandoned in favor of proven formulas and controllable outcomes.
- LIFE UNDER GOD is when God is seen in simple cause-and-effect terms—we obey his commands and he blesses our lives, our families, our nation.
- LIFE FOR GOD is when we expend everything to accomplish great things in God’s service.
Now, that last one may have thrown you for a loop. You may have even thought that I made a mistake and included the right way to relate to God, but I didn’t. Life for God isn’t God’s intention—Life with God is. Here is what Jethani says about this posture later:
But as we discussed in the last chapter, an idol is a good thing made into an ultimate thing, and the temptation within activist streams of Christianity is to put the good mission of God into the place God alone should occupy. The irony is that in our desire to draw people away from the selfishness of the LIFE FROM GOD posture, we may simply be replacing one idol with another. This is the first failure of LIFE FOR GOD—it puts God’s mission ahead of God himself. Paul, the most celebrated missionary in history, did not make this mistake. He understood that his calling (to be a messenger to the Gentiles) was not the same as his treasure (to be united with Christ). His communion with Christ rooted and preceded his work for him. (Skye Jethani, With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011), 87.)
LIFE WITH GOD is centered on relationship with God. It focuses on enjoying God and allowing that love and relationship with God to drive how we live each day. Life for God sounds noble, but it misses the heart of the gospel—knowing and loving God. Sadly, I agree with Jethani that the common posture for most of us in evangelical churches is not life with God, but life for God. We put our focus—most of our attention, if not all of it—on living for God to please Him.
And that takes us to this week’s session, Elijah Confronted Evil Ahab. (Unit 13, Session 1)
Here is the basic premise of the Bible story this week. See if you hear the life for God (or “gods” as the case may be) and life with God postures in it.
Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to a contest. The prophets and Elijah would construct two altars—one for Baal and one for God—and place a sacrifice on each. Whichever sacrifice was consumed by fire would indicate the winner—God or Baal.
The prophets of Baal went first. They danced, cried out, and even cut themselves to gain Baal’s attention. Here is how this scene is described in 1 Kings 18:26-29.
26 So they took the bull that he gave them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “Baal, answer us!” But there was no sound; no one answered. Then they danced, hobbling around the altar they had made.
27 At noon Elijah mocked them. He said, “Shout loudly, for he’s a god! Maybe he’s thinking it over; maybe he has wandered away; or maybe he’s on the road. Perhaps he’s sleeping and will wake up!” 28 They shouted loudly, and cut themselves with knives and spears, according to their custom, until blood gushed over them. 29 All afternoon they kept on raving until the offering of the evening sacrifice, but there was no sound; no one answered, no one paid attention.
Do you see the Life for Baal here? The prophets believed that they had to earn Baal’s response by proving their devotion—thus the frantic dancing and cutting themselves.
Now, contrast that with Elijah’s turn. After instructing the people the soak the altar to prove the miracle that would follow, this is what happened:
36 At the time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet approached the altar and said, “Yahweh, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that at Your word I have done all these things. 37 Answer me, Lord! Answer me so that this people will know that You, Yahweh, are God and that You have turned their hearts back.”
38 Then Yahweh’s fire fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 When all the people saw it, they fell facedown and said, “Yahweh, He is God! Yahweh, He is God!”
Now that is life with God! Elijah doesn’t do anything to “earn” God’s response, as if there is anything he could have done. Instead he calls on his relationship with God (“Yahweh, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel”) and shares his desire is to see God’s people turn their hearts back to Him and love Him. Elijah cared about God’s glory and the people’s good.
And that is what we want our kids to see this week. This story is amazing! The details make for a tremendous story with a fantastic miracle at the end, but don’t let your kids get distracted by all of that. The story isn’t the focus—the gospel behind the story is. Help your kids see that we can be like the prophets of Baal when it comes to relating to God. We can try to do things for Him—to please Him and earn His love and forgiveness. But that is contrary to the gospel.
We don’t act so that God acts. We don’t initiate. God does. And that’s at the heart of the gospel. There is nothing we can do to be accepted by God—He is the One who initiated. He is the One who extends grace and mercy out of His infinite love. We don’t need to dance, shout, and cut to prove our love for God to be accepted by Him. Instead God proved His love for us by sending Jesus to pay our sin penalty. All we need to do is trust in Jesus and then we are forgiven to enjoy relationship with God.
That’s life with God. That’s the gospel. That’s what your kids need to see this week.
How have you seen people try to please God to earn His favor? Leave a comment below.
Here is more help for leaders preparing for the September 4, 2016 session (Unit 13, Session 1) of The Gospel Project for Kids.
Brian Dembowczyk is the team leader for The Gospel Project for Kids. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to LifeWay. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian, his wife, Tara, and their three children—Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb—live in Murfreesboro, TN, where Brian enjoys drinking coffee and teaching 4-5 graders at City Church.