Pastoral Perspectives

Because God Cannot Stop Being God

What comes to your mind as you read the following statements – “Worship is the only thing that God cannot do for himself. When you do for God what he cannot do for himself, he will do for you what you cannot do for yourself.”?

I must confess that I was rather troubled by it when I first came across it in one of my WhatsApp group chat. As much as the Christian brother who shared this quotation from a worship pastor had intended it to be a word of encouragement, I have concerns that such statements can be rather misleading as it present a flawed understanding of God’s nature and Christian worship. Although I do not have the context in which those statements are made, I have doubts whether there could possibly be one where it would turn those statements to become biblically sound and helpful for believers.

To be sure, Scripture teaches us that there are some things that God cannot do. For example, God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18). In addition, the Apostle James reminds us that God cannot be tempted by sin (James 1:13). Here, we need to understand that when Scripture reveals these truths about God, it is not suggesting that God is like us human beings who have limitations in our abilities. Rather, it is to provide us with a glimpse of God’s nature and to help us understand that God being God, it is impossible for God to contradict his own nature. To put it in another way, God cannot and will not do things that will cause God to no longer be the God that Scripture reveals him to be. Indeed, for God to be God, he cannot stop being God or for that matter, stop existing.

God cannot lie because doing so would mean that the he would no longer be morally perfect and consistent with his nature of being holy and righteous. Likewise, God cannot be tempted by sin since he would then exhibit a sign of weakness and no longer be all-powerful and intrinsically good. With this in mind, I trust that one will realise that the God of the Bible is very different from the gods that the nations worship.

Unlike created things which are subjected to time and space and therefore subjected to change, God being God is the only constant, the only being who remains infinitely good and morally perfect for all of eternity. Surely this is good news for Christians because if anything, it means that God can always be trusted and that he will always keep his word.

While it is evident there are things that God cannot do, it is a separate matter to claim that there is one thing that “God cannot do for himself”. Taken at face value, it sounds almost true since by definition, worship is the expression of reverence and adoration that one offers to another who is deemed worthy or superior. If God is God, God cannot exactly be said to be offering worship unto another.

The trouble really lies in this little phrase “for himself” and the following claim that when one does for God what he cannot do for himself, God will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Here, I would venture to say that this is almost blasphemous since it seems to suggest that God has an intrinsic need and requires the help of humanity. Not only so, it is a distorted understanding of biblical worship, especially when couched in such transactional language.

When it comes to the attributes of God, Scripture is clear about the self-existence and self-sufficiency of God. In Job 41:11, God reminded Job that “Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine”. Likewise, the Apostle Paul declared to those who gathered at the Areopagus that “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands as if he needed anything” (Acts 17:24-25).

What we learn from these passages is that God does not experience any need. Undoubtedly, God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything. Furthermore, even if humans were to harden their hearts and refuse to worship God, we would still be unable to deny or rob God of his glory!

There is a fundamental difference between saying that worship is ultimately for God (in that God alone is the rightful object of worship) and saying that worship is doing something for God that God cannot do for himself. Since God alone is worthy of worship, then worship is to be the proper response of all unto him. This also means that it is us who ought to and need to worship God rather than God needing our worship.

Moreover, if God is God, then we have no right to expect God to be obliged to do something for us simply because we chose to worship him. Not when in the first place, it is us who have everything to lose should we choose not to worship God.

When one understands the redemptive provision of Jesus Christ that God has graciously made for fallen humanity, one will realise that it is us who always need God. Before we became Christians, we were worshipping all sorts of idols and under the bondage of our sins. If not for God doing something for us first, for his grace to open the eyes of our hearts to the Gospel, we would not even be able to truly worship God.

When it comes to being in right relationship with God, it is Christ who came to do everything for us that we could never have been able to do for ourselves. Even as a Christian now, we still need God’s grace so that we can continue worshipping rightly and for our worship to be acceptable before him. Thanks be to God that this is the God whom we have now come to worship! A God who cannot stop being God!

Rev Edwin Wong

September 8, 2019