For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:21–23)
We human beings also confuse the Person of God with the personality of God. We make the attributes of God into God. This tendency to confuse who He is with what He does is part of our fallen identity. We then seek the actions and the attributes of God, falsely thinking we are seeking God.
The Person of God is different from His personality. Knowing God is different from simply recognizing His attributes. Relating to God is different from relating to His expressed qualities.
A Spirit-to-spirit communion in the original design has now become a mind-to-attribute, emotion-to-attribute, and body-to-attribute transaction. The God of twenty-first-century Christianity has become only the sum total of His attributes and actions. Our understanding of God starts with what He can do for us, not with who He is and who He can be in us. We say, “Come to Jesus and He will give you peace, wealth, healing, and purpose.” Who is this approach about? Us. What is this approach about? One thing: what we can get.
So from all this we have created the religion of Christianity, which encourages us to engage with the attributes of God and believe this is what a relationship with Him means. We may not have created images of gold or silver, but we have certainly created idols.
We engage with a purpose-driven God to fulfill our own purpose for God on earth! But engaging with the attributes of God does not require spirituality, because the mind and body can engage with an attribute. Other religions define these and then point people toward them. In Hinduism, Brahma is the equivalent of the Great I Am in Christianity with the expressions of Brahma being various gods and goddesses. For your finances, you can engage with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and this becomes a part of your religious system. There is absolutely no difference between a Hindu praying to Lakshmi for wealth and a Christian praying to Jesus for wealth. There is a vast difference between having a relationship with God and engaging with the attributes of God.
My children can see me as a person or as a set of attributes. When my children see me solely as a financial provider, we do not have a relationship but a transaction-based engagement. But I am more than a set of attributes. When they see me as a father, we have a relationship. I am a father first, and my attributes flow from my fatherhood. I expect my children to relate to me for who I am and not what I give. What I do for them is a consequence of the relational identity between parent and child. My relationship with my children is evidenced by a part of myself in them. DNA evidence is the irrevocable legal proof of fatherhood. Relational evidence is the irreversible proof of my love for them as a dad.
While some may feel I am engaging in semantics here, I am only reflecting Christ’s teaching.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21–23)
Notice how Jesus distinguished attributes and actions from relationship. He drew a clear line between what is done in His name and knowing Him. In fact, He called the use of His name without a relationship a counterfeit action, an evil. We live in a day where we need to understand that supernatural displays of the miraculous need not be and may not be the evidence of Jesus Christ.
They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator. (Romans 1:25)
Paul tells us human beings are constantly making images of creation and mistaking them for God. The creations and expressions of God among humans are not God. The identity of God rests in His self-existence. The evidence of God is known internally and is spiritually discerned. The inner awareness of God in an individual is the evidence of God.
We mistake mere engagements for relationships. A relationship exists at the personal level and not at the action level. Even when actions and attributes fail, a true relationship continues on. When actions and attributes fail or change, an engagement falters or even ends. A performance-based connection is not a real relationship.
True relationship goes beyond actions, attributes, and performance, because it happens at the being level. When we say, “I love you” in today’s context, what we are actually saying is, “I love the way you look,” “I love the things you have,” or “I love the things you do.” Again, who are these statements actually about?
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” (Exodus 32:1)
The Israelites saw God as their deliverer from the slavery of Egypt. They saw Moses as the instrument of that deliverance from their pain and hardship. The Israelites were concerned only with their immediate problems under Pharaoh. When Moses disappeared at Mount Sinai to meet with God, they wanted another deliverer. Their focus was the attribute of deliverance, not the Person of God. So when the person representing the Deliverer was out of their sight, they wanted any god who would help them escape their problems. They did not care who God was. Even though He revealed Himself on Mount Sinai and reached out to them for a relationship, they were interested only in His actions and attributes.
The Israelites’ engagement with God was at the level of the mind and body. Their hope was that their desires and immediate problems would be solved through God’s actions and attributes. Their engagement was transactional, not relational. God was a quick fix. They did not have a relationship with I Am. As long as He kept meeting their needs, He was a good God. But when problems arose, when life became uncomfortable, the Israelites rebelled. All they cared about was getting to the Promised Land, just as the twenty-first-century religion of Christianity promises Jesus is a passport to Heaven.
The most perverted form of religion is found here—we use God to meet our desires and needs, ever seeking but never understanding (Mark 4:11–12). God becomes another commodity. This is idolatry in twenty-first-century Christianity.
One of the biggest challenges for Christians today is to distinguish between an occasional encounter with God and an ongoing relationship with Him. We must learn the difference between relating to the being of God and engaging with the actions of God. Christians need the wisdom to sift transaction from the relationship. Far too many mind-and-body-experience seekers are fooled into thinking they are in a relationship with God. Religion is public expression that conforms, while relationship is private communion that transforms.