Christianity Oasis Ministry
Playing Games with God
What is at Stake?
by Robert M. Smith
In most games there are winners and losers. In some games one can lose phony money, make-believe property, imaginary lives and even immaterial spaceships but at the heart of every defeat and every victory is one's own reputation. The chattel, the points and the funny money that changes hands during a game are merely those elements which declare a winner or a loser.
Some games/sports such as professional football, hockey, baseball, soccer, tennis, golf and basketball have real money riding on the outcome ... particularly when played in a "final series". Oddly enough, however, the reputation of an individual or a team becomes a curious admixture when a "title" is won; being deemed the world's best or the world champion has a certain satisfaction that money simply cannot compete with. Pride, therefore, has every bit as much to do with winning as the financial rewards. Being recognized as a winner then provides a breeding ground for self-glorification and self-centeredness.
Many secular accomplishments are accompanied by a vast array of material and immaterial trophies. In contradistinction, when a Christian plays a secular game he/she should be able to override the emphasis placed upon both types of reward in order to pass glory and exaltation on to his/her Lord. Though often misunderstood and misinterpreted by fans, there is an increasing number of professional athletes, who also happen to be followers of Christ, engaged in thanking God for their abilities, their successes and even their losses on the highly-visible stage of professional sports. This attitude is depicted so well by the Spirit-guided pen of the Apostle John as he writes about the twenty-four elders he saw worshipping before the throne of God, in the book of Revelation (Rev 4:10-11). Their crowns are rewards for faithful service to God throughout their earthly lives but in His presence the elders proclaim that Christ is the truly worthy One and so they cast those golden crowns before Him. Of course, it is only reasonable to assume that if our victories are to be handed over to Him, our defeats must also be handed over to Him. This is a particularly poignant concept for from within a tremendous personal loss either true service to God or service to self will show forth. So often in our lives, however, the natural bent of man surfaces and, with it, spectators cannot differentiate between the Christian game-player and the rest of the secular participants. Taking this even further, we shall be going much deeper than temporal competitions: we must examine, with all due responsibility and objectivity, those games that a child of God often plays against his own heavenly Father. What happens when a believer plays games with God? What does a Christian hope to accomplish in such games? What does the Christian see and what goes unnoticed in such endeavours?
To be sure, each game that we play with God fosters and reinforces particular attitudes, propositions and rewards [or a lack thereof] but there are some underlying – perhaps, even unconscious – tendencies within this whole scenario, just as there is on the secular level. It can be confidently argued that any degree of play is primarily for amusement. This cannot be ruled out in any of the insubordinate triflings that we, as Christians, attempt either. In Isaiah 55:8-9 we find that God is quite different from anyone else that we have ever known or experienced: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts." He does not approach situations or circumstances the way a man would and that leaves us rather apprehensive in our relationships with Him. Still, over and above even this, there is that persistent inclination that, when it comes to our lives and our circumstances, we know which is the better of the two "ways". My way, man's way or the natural way is the way of amusement and ease (Matt 7:13-14). Our ways are designed for self-gratification, thus appearing much more attractive than the frequently tougher route that God would lead us toward. If and when we begin to play games with God our basic premise starts here.
In addition to this, the reward we seek is often the same as the premise we have just considered. We hope that by exercising our own choice on a given matter we will ultimately attain satisfactory results for ourselves while results for God are ignored, neglected and denied. In other words, believer and unbeliever alike, tends to acquiesce to the pitiful state of doing what is right in their own eyes ... only the levels and repercussions varying in depth and magnitude. Recall that it was Isaiah who wrote, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way;" (Isa 53:6). That great man of God did not exclude himself with his assessment of the human predicament ... and we dare not either.
These are the basic perspectives of human eyes, whether they are Christian or not, but what about God's perspective? What is at stake in these games as far as He sees it?
Primarily, it cannot be overlooked and understated that God loses a disciple when His way is ignored. We may not consider this to be of major import at first glance but, if that be the case, we should obviously examine this further. Jesus, throughout His earthly ministry, constantly dwelt upon the matter of obtaining disciples (Matt 10:24-42; Matt 16:24-25; Lk 8:57-62; Lk 14:25-35; Jn 8:31; Jn 13:34-35; Jn 15:8) and the "good news" was to be proclaimed to the world in order to bring forth, neither believers nor converts nor "Christians" nor decisions for Christ, but disciples (Matt 28:18-20). If one were not to pick up his cross and follow Jesus Christ, he was not a disciple. In other words, if we aren't going God's way and if we do not have our eyes firmly fixed on Him, we are not His disciples and therefore, not what we should be.
There exists, in Paul's epistle to the Romans, a certain phrase which addresses the inconsistency of blind guides and false teachers. Paul was targeting those who taught one thing and lived another ... indeed those who were playing a game with the Law. In his assessment, Paul utilized two Old Testament references, in tandem, to denounce this game and all other subsequent games played by any believer. Combining Isaiah 52:5 ["My name is continually blasphemed all day long." NASB] with Ezekiel 36:21 ["But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations where they went." NASB] Paul composed this statement under the guidance of the Holy Spirit:
"For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you," (Rom 2:24 NASB)
The games we play will invariably lead to the disgrace of God's name among those who can least afford to look at it askance! When we fool around with the truth of God we – who are to be ambassadors for Christ on earth (2 Cor 5:20) – become traitors to our Sovereign as we cause others to see Him incorrectly. Of all things, as witnessed in countless Old Testament passages, this is the most odious and deplorable thing that could be done to God! God loses His rightful place in the eyes of all created things when we cheapen His grace and glory through the games we play!
In addition to this loss there are specific benefits or blessings that are advanced to a disciple of Christ which are subsequently jeopardized when playing games with God. Ponder the chain reaction established in Jn 8:31-32. Continue in Jesus' word and you will be a disciple; by being a disciple you will know the truth; the truth – not a knowledge of the truth but the truth, itself or Himself – will make you free.
What is at stake for us in our games with God? Though we seldom realize it, it is a deep personal, experiential knowledge of the truth and a freedom derived from that same truth. Jesus Christ, who is Truth (Jn 14:6) offers us an intimate relationship with Himself and a special kind of liberty reserved for the children of God. Even before the game begins we become losers and yet we continue to tinker and trade in the silly, temporal and all-too-typical human hope that we are achieving something, by taking upon ourselves the lives that were worthless and nonproductive before Jesus Christ transformed them.
Also at stake is the fact that the unity and love inherent within a group of Christ's disciples (Jn 13:34-35) will be missing in our fellowship. Certainly we will lack harmony with God but we seem to think that this will remain hidden on a temporal level. Jn 13:35 indicates otherwise, however. As the amity and equilibrium of a heart set after a divine pattern will overflow into horizontal relationships, so too will any deviation from that supernatural pattern.
We must also be reminded that there is a certain lifestyle that is lost when we pit ourselves against God. The Apostle Paul placed this same argument before the Corinthian Christians with this as his main thrust: "The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 'For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct Him?' But we have the mind of Christ.
But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ." (1 Cor 2:14-3:1 RSV)
The Corinthians, you see, were also playing games with God and Paul was hereby giving them an ultimatum. He says that one should be able to, easily, discern which is the better of the two types of life: unspiritual or spiritual. And yet, these Corinthians were not spiritual, so what were they?
If it is true wisdom and true knowledge of God that one desires, the only route available is the spiritual route. And at the very core of a spiritual life is Jesus Christ, the crucified Saviour (1 Cor 2:2; 2:7-8; 2:16) and not ourselves.
What else can we lose in our games with God?
We can lose spiritual discernment and the comprehension of God's thoughts and ways; we can lose the wisdom that God bestows; we can lose access to the spiritual gifts that God has to offer; but most of all we can lose the mind of Christ. We can deliberately will His mind from having any significant influence upon or in our own lives. And yet we are constantly urged not to be so foolish in ignoring this blessed opportunity (Rom 8:9-11; 12:2; Eph 3:14-19; Phil 2:5-7; 4:7). A disciple can have a lifestyle similar to his Master's, where he actually begins to think like Him. Christianity – true Christianity – is the relationship with God through Christ and the call to be Christ-like. As we play our little games with God we place a strain on our relationships with Him but in addition to that our Christ-likeness is obliterated.
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