Why God Cares About His Reputation, and Why We Should too.
In the school paper from one of our universities some time ago I read the following: “It is more important to God to be with us than to look good.” The author extracted his conclusion from the story of Abraham when he lied to Abimelech (Genesis 20:1-18).
The basic message of the article was: “Don’t sweat your mistakes. God loves you so much He will stay with you even when you make Him look bad.” While it is true, praise God, that He is longsuffering, the Scriptures are exceedingly clear that our sins separate us from God (Isaiah 59:2, Ezekiel 39:24, Joshua 7:12). Not only that, but God’s presence is a transforming agent. When God is with us, He will not simply make us look good, He will make us good, and he will do it because he cares about His name. The Psalmist says it this way: “He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake” (Psalms 23:3 KJV).
God cares about His name because it represents who He is, and who He is really matters. To take the name Christian is serious business. The third commandment says, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless” (Exodus 20:7). If we claim to belong to God but experience no deliverance from sin, we take Christ’s name in vain. Our Christianity is mere form without power. Paul adds, “let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19).
In nearly the same breath Paul affirms that the seal of God’s foundation is how well He knows them that are His, thus exposing the false dichotomy in the idea that God cares about relationships, not His reputation (Ibid). Just think about it! If God had no interest in His reputation, how could He be a God interested in relationship? How many successful relationships do you know of where one or both parties ignore, misunderstand or misjudge who the other person is? How could God be satisfied with a relationship where we think He is someone He is not and are unwilling to listen to Him long enough to learn the truth? Would you be happy in such a relationship?
Yet reputation goes far beyond your loved one’s perception of who you are. What if your closest family misrepresents, defames and disrespects you in front of your friends, or the general public? What if they selectively quote you to make you appear contradictory, selfish and unreasonable? How about when those who should know you best misinterpret your motives and accuse you to others of being something that you’re not? You feel betrayed, humiliated, grievously injured and angry, don’t you? God does too.
When Abraham, as an intimate friend and representative of the Creator God, lied to the king of Gerar he slandered God’s reputation. Often we do the same. We should be zealous to honor the Name we profess, but unfortunately, many of us seldom love Christ enough to care about His reputation! We choose to believe that God doesn’t care about His reputation so we won’t have to either! Scripture, however, shows that God does care about His name, though not for the same little, selfish reasons that we often care about our own. Ultimately God’s zeal for His reputation is all about saving us:
“For my name's sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off. Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction. For mine own sake, [even] for mine own sake, will I do [it]: for how should [my name] be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another (Isaiah 48:9-11).
We like to call God “Father,” but usually it’s for what we can get from Him, not because we love who He is. If we did love Him, we would honor and obey Him. God complains about our impudent disrespect in Malachi chapter one: “A son honoureth [his] father, and a servant his master: if then I [be] a father, where [is] mine honour? and if I [be] a master, where [is] my fear? saith the LORD of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name?” (verse 6). Is it possible that like the priests in Malachi’s day we too have deceived ourselves? In what ways do we despise God’s name today without even realizing it? Thankfully, God is always willing to let us know:
“Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the LORD [is] contemptible. And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, [is it] not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, [is it] not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the LORD of hosts. For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name [shall be] great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense [shall be] offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name [shall be] great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts. But ye have profaned it, in that ye say, The table of the LORD [is] polluted; and the fruit thereof, [even] his meat, [is] contemptible” (Malachi 1: 7, 8, 11, 12).
What fare from the Lord’s table do I accuse as polluted by the human instrument, or the historical context? Which fruits of the Spirit do you refuse with the contemptuous excuse that no one is perfect? Too often we presume to criticize and dissect God’s Word with our puny human reasoning. We believe ourselves able to refine the Bread of Life, and make it more relevant to today’s white-bread culture.
We can also talk about our sacrifice, or more probably, lack thereof. Like the priests who gave God their blind and crippled lambs, we often give God polluted, defective service that profanes His holy name. But all that changes when we learn to give for the honor of God. That’s why Christ offers His reward to those who sacrifice for His name’s sake: “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life” (Matthew 19:29).
Few are willing to forsake houses, lands, and family. Yet even for those who do, how often have we made such sacrifices, not for His name’s sake, but for our own? We love to be held in high esteem for our consecration. The view from the missionary pedestal is pleasing. Jesus says of such, “Verily I say unto you, they have their reward” (Matthew 6:2,5). We must be motivated by a love that longs to vindicate Him who shed His own blood and risked worlds to redeem us.
In the words of Ellen White, our fidelity in the midst of suffering on account of God’s reputation is the way that His love reigns supreme in our lives:
“If we can bear persecution for His dear name's sake, His love becomes a ruling power in our hearts, for we have the assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ” (White, That I Might Know Him chap 69 pg 275.3).
“Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature” (Rom 8:38-39).
Do you really know who God is? Have you listened when He tried to tell you? Do I understand what His name means? Have I accepted His name without trying to blend it with mine? If we can answer “yes,” it is because we love Him, not in word, but in deed and truth, and we will count it nothing to suffer for his precious name, that it might be exalted in this desperate world.
The entire Great Controversy at its core is about clearing God’s name, which the Archenemy has slandered before the universe. In the midst of a striking description of the destruction of Gog and Magog which parallels the scenes of Armageddon and the final judgment in Revelation, God says: “So will I make my holy name known in the midst of my people Israel; and I will not [let them] pollute my holy name any more: and the heathen shall know that I [am] the LORD, the Holy One in Israel” (Ezekiel 39:7).
We would see a lot more conversions if it weren’t for all the naughty Christians. Yet God says the day is coming when He will put a stop to our calumny. Thankfully, unlike a politician’s, God’s reputation will not be determined by the latest poll, or skillfully selected quotes from an interview with a popular news pundit. Nor will it be left up to the inconsistent, lackluster representation of His professed followers. Ultimately, God himself personally takes charge of vindicating His name:
“Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I do not [this] for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name's sake, which ye have profaned among the heathen, whither ye went. And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the heathen shall know that I [am] the LORD, saith the Lord GOD, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do [them].” (Ezekiel 36:22-27).
The Lord Himself will vindicate His name, and Praise Him, if we are willing, He will use us to do it! This is a promise we can count on. God will know them that are His and they will be sealed in His righteousness if they will die to the world.
All the good that God has done and continues to do for His people is not because of who we are, but because of who He is. Perhaps nowhere in Scripture does this theme exude with such insistence as in the 20th chapter of Ezekiel. Three times God says, “But I wrought for my name's sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen” (vs 8, 14, 22). Throughout the long, painful history of treachery, stubbornness and rebellion, God has done everything possible for us to get to know Him and share that knowledge with the rest of the world who He loves and longs to save. Still He promises us:
“I will accept you with your sweet savour, when I bring you out from the people, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered; and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen. And ye shall know that I [am] the LORD, when I have wrought with you for my name's sake, not according to your wicked ways, nor according to your corrupt doings, O ye house of Israel, saith the Lord GOD” (Eze 20:41, 44).
When we understand how holy and perfect is the name of God, and how much He has done “for His name’s sake,” we can begin to truly appreciate the scope of His astounding promise, “And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them” (Numbers 6:27). Our hearts will rejoice with Jeremiah to know that we are “called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts” (15:16). Oh wonder of wonders, the Lord offers us every mighty miracle He has ever wrought for “His name’s sake.”
With confidence we can pray as Daniel, “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy name” (9:19).