Recently in a Sunday evening bible study, I shared with the group my reflections on the statement and oft repeated exhortation, “God meets you where you are.” I had been giving considerable thought to this statement as it is often proclaimed as a sort of “mini-gospel.” It’s purpose to to reassure and at the same time teach people that one cannot “get right” and then come to God, you must allow God to “get you right” as you come to Him. It is a restating of being saved by grace through faith, and not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
It is entirely accurate to state that yes, God meets us where we are. The incarnation is God coming to man, as a man, as God, because mankind is entirely incapable to approach God, nor is he able to see - apart from the working of the Spirit – his need to do so. That is not to say that those without the Spirit do not suffer from sin; it is to suggest that mankind has no inner answers to the problem of sin, only an inclination that something is not right, evil is real and it is wrong.
Back to our discussion. The qualification of this axiom brought about considerable debate. I suggested and maintained that there are some issues with this statement, “God meets us where we are.”
First, it is not precisely or specifically biblical. That is, this is not a biblical quote nor a paraphrase of a specific passage. Given that much of our Christian vocabulary and phraseology lacks a specific biblical citation, perhaps this point is not that critical. But consider the remaining points:
Second, repentance is absolutely critical to the gospel. It is the gospel. If repentance is not preached (or proclaimed or included in the message) then the message has not been fully delivered. We lament over the moral conditions of our world, but shy away from offering up a solid message of repentance. Can we not see the correlation? God meets us where we are, yes. But “where we are” must be a place where we are spiritually willing to repent – however we communicate repentance. God the Father does not dwell with the unholy – God the Son, the Incarnate, came and indeed, did dwell among unholy man. Here we get insight into the reality and necessity of the Incarnation. It seems to me that the phrase “God meets you where you are” too often unknowingly communicates “don’t worry about your sin” and folks are left with the false message that my moral condition will have no bearing on my relationship with the Lord, and does not need to be addressed. What is the gospel if it is not the message of righteousness and holiness and repentance of sin in Christ?
The third point is really, for me, a better understanding of what we are trying to say. I believe that it’s not so much that God meets us where we are, but that He moves us to where we need to be. The woman at the well (John 4) is the classic justification (apart from the incarnation) of this suggestion that God meets us where we are. Indeed, it is a powerful and hopeful story. Jesus approaches, engages, loves, and saves. The woman (wife of 5 husbands!!) hears and believes. Consider, though, the rich young ruler. He met Jesus, heard the truth, knew what to do – but he couldn’t do it (Luke 18). There was a difference in these two individuals on their spiritual readiness to receive the truth that impacted their eternity.
When speaking of “God meets you where you are” generally I think we are referring to that spiritual place of surrender to God. Yet, many hear this message who are not in the spiritual location they need to be. And when we get to where we finally surrender, finally give up the fight, we can look back and see God’s hand in our past – bringing discipline, judgement, providential suffering, to get us to that place where we are ready, able (because of the Spirit), and willing to receive the gospel, repent of sin, and give our lives over to Christ. The point is that when we meet God “where we are,” that location is not the same place that God started working in our lives! By the time we come to realize the truth and are ready to receive it, God has been working in us for longer than we know!
Now, if you say you need to get some things right before you can come back to God, understand this. First, those things you know to be wrong and unpleasing to Him, put them out of your life. Secondly, understand that there is no work of righteousness that can garner favor with God, so don’t waste your time trying to be righteous and good on your own – do what is right, but don’t expect that goodness to justify you before God. And third, it is only in surrendering to Christ that getting those things fixed and doing what is truly right is possible!! We only come to Him by accepting the gift of life offered to us in Jesus Christ. And, just like the rich young ruler, when we meet Him, truly meet Him, He will make clear what is that “one thing” we still lack. (see Luke 18:18-23 )
“God meets you where you are.” This is entirely true! But, like that rich young ruler, some of us might not be where we need to be! And until you let God move you, your meetings with Him will not bring about the transformation that only comes with full and complete surrender. My concern is communicating a message of indifference on the part of God toward sin in people’s lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. He loves us more than we can know, and it is because of the great love with which He loves us that unrighteousness is so important. Too often, people try to exist with the blessings and hope of God and a continuing indulgence in the flesh. That place is where we find that rich young ruler, not the woman at the well. Both met the living God, but only one was ready to go with Him.