At different times when I’ve been struggling with temptation I have had a thought pass through my mind, “If I could just have a major encounter with God this would be easier.” If I was taken up to heaven like John the Beloved, or saw Jesus manifest Himself in the flesh like thousands of believers through the ages perhaps I would have less temptation, less weakness, or at least more strength so I didn’t struggle so much.
As I talk to people around the world, I realize this thought pattern is not so uncommon. Sometimes it is focused on us receiving an encounter so that we are stronger, but more often it is an assumption about others—they had this great encounter with God so they must be more spiritual, stronger, less sinful, or at least more sensitive to Him. It sounds good, but it’s just not Biblical. A spiritual encounter can change your life, but there is no guarantee it will.
I have been reading in Exodus lately and something jumped out at me that I hadn’t really paid attention to previously. In Exodus 24 it says that Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy other elders of Israel went up on the mountain, sat down at a table on a sapphire pavement, and had a meal with God. They saw Him, ate and drank in His presence, and “He did not lay His hand on the chief men of the people of Israel” (v. 11).
I had thought, and even taught, about the elders having a meal with God before—what I had not caught was the names mentioned other than Moses and Aaron. I had never put it together that it was Nadab and Abihu.
Think about it, seventy-five people go up on the mountain, sit at a table with God, and eat heavenly food and drink. Seventy-three of them go back down the mountain to the people and a few weeks later make a golden calf saying it is the God that delivered them from Egypt (Exodus 32). They just saw God! Why would they make a calf? They knew better.
You can continue through the Israelites journey in the wilderness and see time and again these same men falling into sin after this glorious encounter, one of the most profound encounters in Scripture!
But there is one more part of this story I want to draw your attention to. In Leviticus 10 Nadab and Abihu offer strange fire before the Lord and are consumed by holy fire that comes from the presence of God. The same ones that went up on the mountain, sat down and ate with God, saw God’s glory and power bring down the world power of the day, and heard His voice audibly offered strange fire.
We’d like to think that God is going to give us some amazing supernatural encounter and take away the need for discipline and personal responsibility but He does not. He does give astounding experiences, but not because we have earned it or deserve it, He gives them because He is good and astounding and beyond comprehension. He does supernatural things because He is supernatural. His goodness is His own goodness and is not dependent on ours!
As you read many of the stories of “heroes” of faith in Scripture, and in history, you see that it is not the strongest that have the greatest encounters, but often the weakest! (Think of David, Samson, Gideon, Saul, Peter, and many others!)
He gives us grace—the power to resist sin. He gives us mercy—forgiveness for what we have done. And He continues to draw us to Himself—all of it without manipulation or control. He allows us to be free people. He shows His beauty and glory so we can choose to be inspired to holiness, but the key is choose. We have a choice.
The Israelites saw His power and His glory in ways that no other generation has or will. They are an example to us, their experiences and their failings are warnings (read 1 Corinthians 10:1–14) to us—great experiences do not guarantee or prove mature spirituality. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (v. 12)
So do we despair? By no means! We have been given something that they Israelites never had. Christ lives in us, His Spirit united to our spirit by faith, and we have a new nature. Not a nature that cannot sin (1 John 1:8–10) but one that is able to choose to not sin—a nature that won’t make a practice of sinning.
You see, our hope is not on what God will do. It is not on some supernatural experience to come, it is on a supernatural experience that is already finished. Our hope is in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Our confidence is on His nature, His life in us now.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.” (1 John 3:2–3; read also 2 Corinthians 6:16–7:1 and Philippians 2:12–13)
So let us hope. Let us put our confident expectation on the life and presence of Christ within us, “the hope of glory”, and struggle with all His power that He powerfully works within us to present ourselves holy in the world, proving and confirming our election (2 Peter 1:3–11). “But as for you, O man (and woman) of God, flee these things (sin and temptation). Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.” (1 Timothy 6:11–12a)
At the same time, let us not stop contending for those astounding supernatural encounters. They may not guarantee our holiness, but they are touches from our loving Father and that is our birthright as His children. He shows no partiality and He does not change. His presence is our portion in this life and the next!