Most people know when they are being used. It’s obvious. A friend likes the perks of being around you because you can afford to pay. A family member emotionally manipulates you to get their way. A coworker sticks close because you do the better work.
We dislike being used. It feels slimy. We can see through a person’s attempt to keep us near, right to the heart of their agenda. But God’s ability to look on a person’s heart far surpasses our own. He can clearly discern that what we often want isn’t him, but what he gives us.
The good news? The gospel is for users like you and me. But first, a story.
Israel’s Attempt to Use God
In 1 Samuel 4, the Philistines confront Israel in battle, so the Israelites decide to use the ark of the covenant as protection. We know their motive was foul because “the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God” (4:4), and these men were the opposite of God-fearing. “Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord” (2:12). As priests, they dealt dishonestly with sacrifices, stealing portions for themselves, and they acted immorally with the female servants (2:17, 22).
Israel’s attempt to use God didn’t end well. Their confidence came to a quick defeat. “Every man fled to his tent,” 30,000 soldiers perished, “the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died” (4:14).
Through this account God, “The Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim” (4:4), makes clear that he will not be used by men.
Our Attempts to Use God
The moral of the story? We dislike the feeling of being used by others—but we are not innocent. We often seek to serve our agendas and control our plans. We like to walk “by faith”—but only if this will lead to reward.
See if any of these scenarios describe you:
- Do you attend church services because you want to feel better about yourself, or as a remedy for your problems?
- Do you leave church dissatisfied when the worship service didn’t exactly fit your preference?
- Do you only pray when you want God to give you something, or when you’re feeling unfulfilled?
- When you serve, are you frustrated that you don’t get more attention?
- Are you generally disappointed with God unless something good happens to you?
- Do you easily forget to thank him?
- Do you expect God to give you immediate success when sharing the gospel?
- Do you read the Bible solely to live a better life?
- Do you use the Bible to push your own agenda?
- Do you expect God to immediately reward you for doing good works?
- Do you avoid any talk about sin because it offends you?
In what ways are you attempting to use God? We live in people-centric cultures and times—but this is nothing new. From the beginning, sin has bred selfishness. We’ve lost sight of “the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim.” We’ve made ourselves the center of the universe. Adam and Eve first sinned against God because they wanted to be like him (Genesis 3:5). And this desire for self-glory and control perpetuates with you and me.
But the God who is high and lifted up, our Creator, will not be controlled by his creation. He holds the depths of the earth in his hand, and the heights of the mountains are his (Psalm 95:4). He looks upon the children of man with full knowledge of our sin, and he tests our hearts (Psalm 11:4). He knows all—past, present, and future—and he dictates and orchestrates his purposes and plans for his glory.
This is our God! We exist for him; God does not exist for us. He longs for us to come to him dependent and weak, to recognize our need for his salvation, hope, and strength. We were created to submit ourselves wholly to him, not the other way around. What are users to do?
What Are Users to Do?
The gospel is for users. This is the paradoxical, beautiful reality of who God is and what he has done for you and me:
- He will not be used by mere man—yet he freely dies on the cross for mankind.
- He will not be controlled by humans—yet he humbles himself to save us by becoming a human in the person of Jesus Christ.
- His plans will not be dictated for him—yet Christ submits to the Father’s plan and lays down his life for selfish sinners.
God knows our selfish hearts—but he also redeems us. Jesus sees our vain ambitions—and yields to the Father’s will to free us from them. The gospel of Christ convicts users, cleanses users, and changes users into worshipers.
Knowing our sin, and the generosity and grace of Jesus Christ, we repent. We turn to him and confess our attempts to use him for self-centered purposes. We confess selfish ambition, narrow-mindedness, worldly understanding, and the foolishness of thinking we are stronger and wiser than he. We turn from our sin and yield to God because he forgives and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. We take joy in knowing that we exist for God.
God will not be used—but he will give himself freely to sinners. All of this beautiful gospel so we would have new hearts that desire his will, not our own.
[1. I’m grateful to Aubrey Hoeppner for pointing this out to me!]
[Post Credit: Unlocking the Bible]