The Favor of God

The Ends of Blessing

“For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” -Exodus 33:16

The glory of being a Christian and living within the Biblical worldview is that we daily enjoy the assurance of having found favor with God. As basic as this truth is, we must not take it for granted. Nor may we fail to recognize the profound implications it entails.

For many Christians, the favor of God amounts to little more than a sense of unshakable well-being. Through the storms of life, this one thing we know: God accepts us in His beloved Son. Therefore, we know that come what may, God, is working for our good. (Romans 8:28).

Sadly, some Christians use the assurance of God’s favor as a license to sin. When faced with temptation, many believers reason, “Oh well, it doesn’t matter. God loves me as I am, and He will forgive all my sins.”

While there is truth in each of these views, they fail to grasp the significance and responsibility that accompany the favor of God. The favor of God, when viewed in these limited ways, can lead to false assurance in the present, and ultimate disappointment before the judgment throne of God.

Moses’ brief interview with God helps us better understand the meaning of God’s favor, and the extent of His blessing. Four aspects of the favor of God come to light.

First, the favor of God consists of our entering into an intimate personal relationship with Him. This relationship must be one in which His judgment is removed, His Spirit gives us a new heart, and we come under His special care (v. 12; cf. Psalm 1:5,6; Ezekiel 36:24-28). We experience this aspect of God’s favor in terms of forgiveness, assurance, and hopefulness. This is perhaps the most common way that many believers regard the notion of God’s favor. He has already forgiven us in Christ, taken us to Himself, and bestowed His Spirit upon us. Today, he continues to guide and guard us like a shepherd, and is preparing a place for us in Heaven with Him.

Moses reflected on this aspect of God’s favor when he recalls how God knew him “by name.” God had called him, set him apart for the deliverance of Israel, and promised to go with him throughout the assignment. Moses’ obedient response fulfilled the requirements of God’s covenant. It allowed him to enter into a personal relationship, a relationship that Old Testament saints knew would be completed only in the fullness of times. In the tight squeezes of the wilderness journey, Moses fell back on this aspect of the favor of God. Repeatedly, he sought the Lord in prayer and trusted in Him for the enablement to fulfill His calling.

But there is a second aspect of the favor of God that Moses reflected on in this passage. This is the sense that we must improve our experience of God’s favor by being taught from His Word (v. 13; cf. Psalm 19:4-7). Moses prayed, “Show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight.” Wait a second; I thought Moses had already found favor with God. True, but Moses knew that he could receive even more favor—God had an endless supply of blessing. As Moses grew in his knowledge of God, by carefully heeding His Word, he would discover new ways to experience the favor of God. Indeed, it seems that he had a sense of “one good turn deserves another.” After receiving the favor of God, and the sense of well-being that accompanied it, he desired to have more. God’s favor, he realized, could only be discovered by learning the ways of the Lord.

Certainly, we would say that God granted this request; it seems as if God granted favor to Moses so that he could lead him more deeply into His favor. Thus, God’s favor is supposed to draw us into a more intimate knowledge of Him and His ways. Those who have truly experienced the favor of God understand that there is more blessing to be gained, and they seek it by learning the ways of God as revealed in His Word.

This is an area where too many contemporary believers seem rather lackadaisical. We are not diligent in searching the Scriptures and working out in our own lives the ways of God—the paths where more of His favor may be found. Yet God clearly intends this to be one of the ends of His blessing. If we neglect regular study of God’s Word, choosing instead to indulge in the things of this world, then we have not understood the purpose of God’s initial favor. By declining to plumb God’s original favor more deeply we may actually be declaring that we have never really tasted the first fruit of divine favor.

A further purpose of God’s favor appears in verse 16: it was to be apparent to all that God was with Moses and Israel. The nations along the Israelites path to the Promised Land would have clearly perceived the presence of a mighty God. I base this conclusion on two examples. One, God performed mighty works in delivering His people from Egypt. And two, God provided a Tabernacle where the Israelites could worship Him.

The favor of God begins to flourish even more brightly among His people as they gather to worship Him, and reflect on His steadfast faithfulness. But worship must be on God’s terms, not ours. He has told us how to worship Him, and has forbidden us from devising our own means worship—especially those we have imported from the surrounding culture of unbelief. After all, if our worship is merely a pale reflection of contemporary culture, how will it be apparent that God is accompanying us with His favor? And if we decline God’s prescribed means of worship, in favor of those that best suit our tastes, how shall we expect Him to meet with us? If no supernatural power is evident in our ministries or worship, how can we be sure that we’re not just doing “our thing” according to our limitations and interests, rather than seeing the mighty hand of God at work in our midst?

So a third aspect of the favor of God is that we should be a people who clearly display the power, majesty, and mystery of Him to the surrounding culture. Many churches need to recognize that we have some work to do if we want to realize this end of God’s favor.

Finally, the favor of God is designed to set His people apart as a distinct nation. We are to be a people whose priorities, morality, and culture stand out against the backdrop of our surrounding culture (v. 16; cf. Deuteronomy 4:6-8). God gave The Law so that His people could experience the mystery of divine love (Leviticus 18:1-5; Matthew 22:34-40). Idolatry and immorality might be fine for the pagan nations, but Israelwas to be a people holy to the Lord. They were to stand out by the fervor with which they loved the Lord, and by the diligence with which they loved one another. The Law of God unfolded His plan for Israel’s sanctification. Sadly, the people of God in the Old Testament never quite seemed to understand this aspect of God’s favor.

And we’re not much different from the Israelites. When considering moral issues or personal decisions, we love to ask, “What would Jesus do?” That’s easy: He would keep the Law of God. He fulfilled all the priestly regulations—the sacrifices that took place in the Tabernacle and Temple—and replaced them with sacraments of His own (baptism, the Lord’s Supper). He also fulfilled the Ten Commandments and the principles of equity embedded in the civil code of Israel. Now He expects us to follow His example and pursue holiness in the Lord (2 Corinthians 7:1). We must live within the parameters of the Law, a law that now incorporates liberty and love (Romans 7.12).

But we remain largely ignorant of, or sometimes indifferent to, this holy Law. How shall we ever advance in the blessings of God if we continue to ignore this sanctifying component of His favor? The short answer is, we won’t. Jesus prayed that God would sanctify His people by His truth, meaning His Word (John 17:17). At that time, the Old Testament (specifically the Law) was the only Word the people of God had. Sanctification unto the Lord means becoming more immersed in His favor. We must clothe ourselves with the good works of the Law, which God ordained before the foundations of the world, because we have been created anew in Christ. (Ephesians 3:8-10). If we would know the favor of God in all its joyous aspects, we must give ourselves to the study of the Law of God, just as Jesus did.

The favor of God thus exists at four levels; the followers of Jesus Christ have the enormous privilege of plumbing the depths of this well of blessings. As we see in Moses’ interview with God, the favor of God cannot be broken into pieces: desire one section of it and you must receive the whole; enter into it at one level, and it will inevitably lead you to all the others. Too many followers of Christ are content to slurp at the drippings of God’s favor, rather than drink from the fire hose. We need to recognize that there is no favor with God unless we have all the favor of God.

Which of the four aspects of God’s favor are you consistently experiencing? Where do you need to press on to know the favor of God more completely? How will you begin to do that today?

T. M. Moore is dean of the Centurions Program of the Wilberforce Forum and principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He is the author or editor of 20 books, and has contributed chapters to four others. His essays, reviews, articles, papers, and poetry have appeared in dozens of national and international journals, and on a wide range of websites. His most recent books are The Ailbe Psalter and The Ground for Christian Ethics (Waxed Tablet), and Culture Matters (Brazos). He and his wife and editor, Susie, make their home in Concord, Tenn.

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