God is a loving God, who wants all of his creation to worship him. However, throughout the ages, there have been those who choose to glorify God, and those who choose to go their own way. What are the hallmarks of those who choose to glorify God? They have faith (like Abel), spiritual vision (like Abram), trust in God (like Abraham and Isaac), and take a conscious stand against sin (like Noah and Moses).
It’s easy for discussions about “Who are the people of God” to get stuck in ‘Jews vs. Gentiles vs. others’. Whilst the people of God come from every nationality, place, and point in history, and vary in age, gender, appearance and social 'status', I’ve tried to identify some shared characteristics of those who choose to glorify God rather than go their own way.
A key chapter in this is Hebrews 11, which is akin to a “Hall of Fame for the faithful”. What is it about those women and men of old that marks them out as belonging to God?
The ability to see beyond the present. Faithful women and men have an uncanny knack to see through the current situation to the bigger picture. Take the example of when Abram and his nephew Lot separated because they had become too numerous to dwell together. Abram generously gave Lot the choice of which direction to take. Lot very understandably chose the fertile looking direction, but this made life hard for him – he returned from this decision virtually alone and with his life in tatters. Meanwhile, Abram was content to live like a stranger in a foreign country, looking for God’s future Kingdom (Heb 11: 9-10).
Faith. Perhaps above all else, faith is the universal hallmark of the people of God. It doesn’t mean that followers of God will live perfect, sin-free lives – but it does mean that whatever happens, they will continue to be believe in God. Take Abel, for example. Whilst we don’t know “technically” why his sacrifice was accepted but his brother Cain’s sacrifice was not, we do know (from Heb 11:4) that it was by faith that Abel offered a ‘better’ sacrifice than Cain.
Trust God. I think trust is probably best defined as the expression of faith towards God – and it’s another hallmark of those that choose to glorify God. God put Abraham to the test under the most challenging of circumstances: he was challenged to sacrifice his own son to God, I think to illustrate just how hard it is to sacrifice a son (in the way that God sacrificed Jesus). The plan was never for this sacrifice to take place – that would have been grotesque – but it was the ultimate test of Abraham’s trust in God.
Standing against sin. It’s easy to be a Christian in church. Everybody is of the same mind and trying to live a life that is consistent with God’s principles. But outside of church, things are different. People have different priorities. Those who choose to follow God need to muster the courage to stand against sin. When the world had ‘gone bad’, Noah stood against the trends of society and, in doing so, inherited righteousness (Heb 11:7). Equally, Moses, rather than accepting an easy life in Pharaoh’s household chose to suffer alongside his people and, ultimately, deliver them from Egypt (Heb 11:24).
Jesus is our ultimate expression of the best way to glorify God – and he like the faithful women and men of old had the ability to see beyond the present (“My kingdom is not of this world”), have faith and trust in God (“Destroy this house and it will be rebuilt in three days”), and stand against sin (“My father’s house is a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers”). And we can use these examples to help us to do the same!