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June 26, 2016
You in, You Out? Life With—and Without—God
You in, you out? We might hear this question from friends, teammates, or partners that want us to join them in some activity. The question itself indicates that there are only two possible answers: “Count me in!” or “Count me out!”—there is no middle ground. In just the same way, there are only two possible answers to how we will live our lives: “I’m with God!” or “I’m without Him!”—there is no middle ground.
Jesus, dealing with His enemies, reminded them that anything divided cannot stand. In Luke 11:23, He then states, “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters.” Jesus doesn’t give a middle ground, either. Choosing to live a life without God puts you squarely against Him.
Choosing life without God is hard. It may not seem like it to some who are short-sighted. After all, God does cause the rain to fall on all men. “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44-45). However, anyone who is willing to look will see a sharp contrast between life with God and life without.
In or Out in Romans
The apostle Paul makes the contrast between trying to live by our desires and living with God abundantly clear. In his letter to the Christians at Rome, he speaks of the guilt of living outside God’s will. “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate … For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want … For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:14-25). Then, Paul shows the stark difference of being in Christ. “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death … For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:1-9).
In or Out in Genesis
We can also see these contrasting lifestyles by looking at Adam and Eve and the lives they lived before and after their sin. God’s creation was good (Genesis 1:26-31) and there was no shame between man and woman (Genesis 2:24-25). When they chose to act according to their own desires, out of God’s fellowship (Genesis 3:1-6), they experienced shame and discomfort. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:7-8). From that point, as desires outside of God were acted upon, history was filled with pain and toil (Genesis 3:8-24), murder (Genesis 4:1-24), rampant evil (Genesis 6:5-7), drunkenness, shame, curses (Genesis 9:20-27), and worldwide confusion (Genesis 11:1-9). The world that God had designed for people’s good became evil and destructive. What a wretched state when contrasted with the beauty, wonder, and glory of God’s good creation.
In or Out in Ecclesiastes
One way to understand Ecclesiastes is to realize that it shows a contrast between two very different outlooks on life—either acknowledging and depending on God, or failing to do so. Notice the phrases related to the failure to honor God: “under the sun,” “on earth,” “under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 1:3,9,14; 2:11,17; 1:4; 5:2; 8:14; 1:13). It is a life filled with pain, toil, disillusionment, and sadness. Notice the contrast of living without God and of living recognizing that blessings come from God: “For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight” (Ecclesiastes 2:26). “Every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 3:13). “Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:19). What harmony and joy when recognizing God is the source of blessings!
Romans, Genesis, and Ecclesiastes portray a similar picture of what God intended and what we experience as a result of sin. We have the choice of whether to acknowledge God or to try and make sense of life without Him.
• We are a fragile combination of of the dust of the earth and the breath of life that God has breathed into us (Genesis 2:7; 3:19; Ecclesiastes 12:7; Romans 9:20).
• We were created to be upright, but everyone sins and can be trapped in these miserable patterns (Genesis 1:26-31; 3:16-19; Ecclesiastes 7:20,29; Romans 3:23).
• We are created to worship and serve God, but our hearts become separated from Him when we choose to be dominated by evil schemes (Genesis 6:5-7; Ecclesiastes 8:11; 9:3; Romans 1:28-32).
• We sin, and so just as Adam and Eve sinned, people today ensnare each other (Genesis 3:6,12; Ecclesiastes 7:23-29; Romans 1:21-27; 2Timothy 3:6).
• When we sin, things no longer thrive as God intended (Genesis 3:17-19; Ecclesiastes 1:15; 2:11; 5:16-17; Romans 8:22).
In many ways Ecclesiastes spells out what happened in the garden of Eden, what happened in the first century, and what continues to happen today. It is the account of a man who faced himself and life and recorded what he learned for the benefit of others. The conclusion is this—we are called to acknowledge God and the ultimate vanity of life without Him (Ecclesiastes 12:1-14). Life in Christ or out of Christ—the choice is ours. You in, you out?
—S. Scott Richardson Sr.