When I was a little guy, my parents would take me to the Protestant chapel at whatever army post to which my father was assigned, and I would sit through an hour of the most boring part of my week. It was worse than watching paint dry because I had to “be still.” This went on for the first 10 years of my life. After mom and I came to a saving relationship with Christ, we left the chapel (I think my dad just quit going), and we ended up in a church where the gospel was preached, but God was relegated to the Supreme Being who is just waiting to catch you messing up. Somehow the Father in heaven was presented to us sinners as one third black-bearded Ayatollah, one third black-robed Puritan, and a final third just plain hard to get along with. He was stem in His holiness and stuffy in His relationship to His born-again children.
It was never preached this way, but you got the distinct impression that Christians were on a performance footing with the Father, and if you didn’t measure up on any given day, then you were “out of fellowship” with God. If you stayed out of fellowship long enough, you might be “put on the shelf” of unused and unusable believers.
Now I know that my God is a holy God. I know that He has given us His Ten Commandments as the summation of His holy character and how we are to relate to Him and to one another. I also know that He has called me to be holy and reflect His character.
But the difference between me now and me as a college student preparing for the vocational ministry is that back then I actually thought I might be able to measure up. Thirty years later, I know that I never will and that my entire standing before God is based on sheer grace and mercy as I’m clothed in the perfection and righteousness of God’s Son. Apart from Jesus, I have nothing with which to commend myself to the Father before or after conversion. So today I relate differently to the Lord than I used to. Before, it was sort of “grace plus performance,” but now it's just grace, and the performance is out of devotion and a desire to honor Him, since I now know that even my best efforts are tainted by my sin. The truth is I can never “measure up,” and that’s why I desperately need Christ’s substitutionary work on my behalf—since only He can meet the holy demands of the Father.
But how does the Father relate to me today? How does He respond to me in His heart? Well, for the answer to that question, I need to take you to Zephaniah—chapter three and verse 17. “The Lord your God is in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Now that’s an amazing thought! Did you ever think about God singing? And if He is singing (and Zephaniah tells us he is), then what is He singing about? Well, according to this passage, God sings over you if you know Him as your Lord and Savior. He even rejoices “over you with gladness.”
What a profound truth that is. It’s honestly beyond the limits of my comprehension that, through Christ, God not only loves me and rescued me from myself, but He actually sings and rejoices over me. What a very different concept than the one I grew up with. God was either painfully boring, or He was painfully austere; but never did I think of Him as profoundly happy and rejoicing (dare we say “singing”) over the likes of me. Yet such is the case.
What a delight it’s been for me to finally realize that my Father in heaven delights in me—His son, not because of what I do but because of my relationship to Him through His Son. I hope you can catch sight of that too.
The Rev. Gary Cox is a minister of Meadowview Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Lexington, NC.