In addition to a long, flowing mane, the noggin of English Puritan Stephen Charnock also produced a heavyweight, two-volume work on the attributes of God. It is considered by many to be “the work on the character and attributes of God.” In volume one, he poses the following question:
Would any man seek God merely because he is or love him because he is if he did not know that he should be acceptable to him?
Great question. Would anyone seek God if he didn’t believe that God would accept him? Of course not. No one would, and more importantly, no one does go to God until they know that he invites them to do so with sweet gospel promises. Once a guilt-laden sinner realizes that, in the gospel, God is waiting to embrace him with open arms, then he flies to him. The point is that God’s merciful nature is what draws us to him: “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4).
“The bare existence of a thing,” continues Goldilocks, “is not the ground of affection to it but those qualities of it and our interest in it that render it amiable and delightful.” Let’s translate that into modern English: We can’t trust and love God until we know that he loves and accepts us. For this very reason, Satan’s lie is that God is harsh and stingy, not kind and generous. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1). His question suggests to Eve (and to us) that God is strict, keeping many good things from us. When the same old liar can convince Christians today that God has it out for them, they too will begin to doubt his loyalty and love, and their faith will waver.
How can men whose consciences fly in their faces seek God or love him without this knowledge that he is a rewarder? Nature does not show any way to a sinner how to reconcile God’s provoked justice with his tenderness. The faith the apostles speaks of here is a faith that eyes the reward as an encouragement and the will of God as the rule of its acting; he does not speak simply of the existence of God.
Christian Fabio is considering Hebrews 11:6: “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Faith anchors itself in God’s promise that he will certainly be found by those who seek him. Without that word, faith has nothing to sink its teeth into. Sure, we ought to trust God simply because he is. But we need help, and he supplies plenty of that in the gospel.Struggling to obey God? What you need is a fresh perspective on the situation, one that only the Good News can supply. Click To Tweet
In the same way that the gospel feeds our faith, it also fuels our obedience. There is a direct connection between the gospel and obedience in the Christian life, but always in order. Good news comes before good works. Only the heart that knows it is loved by God can love him in return, walking freely in the way of his commandments. There is a bit of a law-gospel dance here: the law convicts us of sin in the first place by showing us that we do not obey God. This then drives us to the gospel of Christ, who frees us from the guilt and punishment our cosmic rebellion deserves. Once we believe, the gospel, in turn, alters our entire relationship with the commandments of God. It changes them from threatening judges to helpful friends. They teach us what God wants us to do, not to earn his love, but because he already loves and accepts us forever in Christ. We are His children now and this is His will for us: that we obey Him.
Struggling to obey God? What you need is a fresh perspective on the situation, one that only the Good News can supply. Before you can obey God freely, you must realize that your obedience does not win His favor and love. Only when our good works are free from the unbearable weight of keeping our relationship with God on good terms can they grow into what they are truly meant to be: free, creative expressions of eternal gratitude to our loving Father in heaven.
Stay fueled up on the potent stuff of the gospel. As the rhyme goes:
Run, John Run, the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands,
Far better news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings!
 Joel Beeke and Randal Pederson, Meet the Puritans (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), 145. “It should be read,” the authors go on, “by every serious Christian.”
Luke Walker is the lead pastor of Redeeming Cross Community Church in Minneapolis. He is the author of six biographies on historic Christians, and a book entitled He Gave Them Judges: Jesus in the Book of Judges. Luke is an MDiv student at Reformed Baptist Seminary. He is married to Angel and is the father of three children.