Distinctive aspects of God's Value System perspective
What does relationship with God look like?
Salvation is the work of God and is not contingent on what we do. We are saved by faith in a gracious God (Eph 2:8-9). Through Jesus' death and resurrection, we can have a relationship with God.
Unavoidably we learn from the Jesus' teachings in the Gospels and from the teachings of the apostles, that our behaviors must change when we believe in Jesus. It is very true that what we do will never save us. However, if what we believe does not change our actions, is there evidence that we were saved?
So, what changes do we make after we come to Christ? Why do these changes happen? And how are they a part of relationship with God?
The perspective following was developed by Darren Twa from a desire to simplify and strengthen Christianity for the young. However, the concepts that came from this effort are startlingly effective for all Christians:
- All theology is relational. *
- God's value system is sacrificial love for the benefit of others.
- God's value system most looks like Jesus on the cross.
- The Gospel (the good news about the Kingdom of God) is news about a spiritual Kingdom, not an earthly kingdom.
- The Gospel is simple. There is a part we believe and a part we do. Everything else is tradition and interpretation. 1
Darren is the author of several books related to this material. I have summarized here distinctive aspects of his work. However, please read his book, God's Value System, for full coverage or listen to his teaching.
A value system is the complete collection of things you care about in life. We have many opinions and preferences. Some we hold strongly, others not so much. Each of these things holds some level of value to us. Taken as a whole, we can call them our value system.
Your values are the most important thing about you. In a very real sense, once someone gets past your physical characteristics, the sum of your values is who you are. They are your morality, and what you hold to be important on vocation, politics, family, leisure, food, humor, goals, dreams, etc. Your values guide your decisions which drive your behaviors, your associations and your relationships.
All relationships are based on common value systems. You get to know someone as you come to understand their value system. If we have nothing in common, no relationship will develop. But when we find things that we value together, we develop relationship around that common ground. We can be motivated to a common purpose around that value even if we only share values in that one area. However, the breadth of our shared values will determine the breadth of our relationship. And, the degree to which our common values are deeply held values is the degree to which we can have deep relationships. This is true for non-moral values, but especially true for moral values.
In our relationships, we have varying degrees of conflict. In every case, these conflicts can be traced back to a conflict of values. How the toothpaste tube is to be squeezed is not a moral issue; how money is to be spent may not be a moral issue. However, they become moral issues when there is unresolved conflict over them.
The problem is that we have all chosen value systems that at their core will benefit ourselves. This choice limits relationship because all conflict in relationship is conflict over values. The consequence of our native value systems is broken and failed relationships.
God's Value System
God's value system is different from ours; his value system is sacrificial love for the benefit of others. We know this because of the life and character of Jesus, and because Jesus said God the Father was just like him.
God also completely separates himself from human, worldly, selfish value systems. God has nothing in common with our selfish value systems. Since all relationships are based on common value systems, we therefore cannot have relationship with God. All conflicts in relationship are conflicts over values. God asks us to adopt His value system, so until we do, we are in conflict with God.
However, God's value system is the only one that enables good relationships. Because it does not seek self, it can be shared - with God and between people. It inherently seeks to resolve conflicts over values, and therefore also, conflicts in relationships.
God had prepared for the failure of our values by providing two important things: a way in which He carried the relationship consequence of our value choices, and a means by which we can adopt and live His value system.
The desires that we have flow out of the values we hold. These desires generally fall into three categories. The three temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness (Matt 4) are in these same three areas that we have desire: our bodily appetites, reputation and personal domain. From Jesus we see that it is better to be good than to satisfy our appetites, it is better to be good than to to be adored, and it is better to be good than to have an earthly kingdom.
It is not categorically wrong for us to tend to the needs of our bodies, for people to like us, or for us to have power and control. These desires are normal. And God has provided ways for these desires to be satisfied - in ways that are compatible with His value system. However, we must remain aware of our desires in these three key areas and the values that underly the desires.
Emotions are a Tool
Our emotions are a very useful tool in this process of self-examination. This is because our desires come out of our values, and emotions simply reveal whether we are getting our desires. We experience positive emotions when our values are being done to us (we are getting what we desire), and negative emotions when our values aren't being done to us (when we are not getting our desires).
It is critical to realize first, that positive emotions do not indicate whether a desire (and the value underneath it) is good, and negative emotions do not indicate whether a desire is wrong. They simply indicate whether we are receiving our desires. The strength of the emotion indicates to us the level of importance of the desire. Emotions are indicators.
We may want to change our emotions; however, direct control of emotions is usually counterproductive. Use the emotions instead to discover your desires and therefore, your values. Then, change your values to change your emotions. Change by adopting God's value system of sacrificial love for the benefit of others.
Note that we will experience some negative emotions as we change our values to be like God's. Jesus experienced some strong negative emotions (e.g. sadness, anger) because he lived God's unselfish value system. But the emotions we will experience will be emotions more like God's.
The process of change to God's values is difficult. Even if we experience strong negative emotions, God calls us to act in love. However, we will also experience more of positive emotions as we become transformed to have and live God's values (because our relationships will be improved). Additionally, understanding the principles of why we experience the negative emotions makes it less difficult to go through the experience.
So, from values come desires, which give us emotions as we go through life. God gave us these emotions to be a tool for understanding ourselves so we can become more like God in values. (2: Read this book for more info.)
All theology is relational
Christianity is a spiritual solution to the problem of relationship between man and God, and between humans.
God is a trinity of persons, and all share exactly the same value system. Therefore, they exist in perfect continuous relationship. God is an inherently relational being. God then created our world to create more relationships.
At first Adam & Eve had a great relationship with God. They initially shared God's value system. However, when they followed temptation, they chose their own selfish value system. Immediately they came into conflict with God and their relationship with him was broken.
Through the years until Jesus came, God progressively revealed himself. He used civil law systems to restrain evil; these laws only reflected some of his value system. Even so, they served to preserve relationships. And those who were discerning would be able to see that what God truly wanted from his people was a heart that was right, that was filled with right values. Especially in the Bible's wisdom literature, it can be seen that God's wisdom is all relational.
When Jesus came, he spent three years intensively building close relationships with a group of people. He taught his values to them and lived it in front of them. At the end he gave them one command to love each other as He had loved them. Jesus' active love for his disciples came from His value system. So also then when we adopt God's value system, we will be able to love as Jesus asks us.
Jesus taught that to know Him was to know the Father. He also said the world did not know the Holy Spirit; this is because the world does not have God's value system. However, we can know God because we know and have adopted God's value system. Likewise, the way to understand God is by understanding His value system. However, full understanding can only come by putting His values into practice in relationship with others.
Jesus came to establish a new kind of Kingdom based on a relationship with the King. The one law for His Kingdom was to do His value system. When we do it, all our relationships will be improved.
Since all theology is relational, studying scripture from this perspective is particularly effective. Understanding of the Bible is often simplified by looking for the relational reason underlying the text. And the application is often easier to derive as well. (See also)
God's value system most looks like Jesus on the cross.
God's most full expression of himself was revealed in Jesus at the cross (Heb 1:1-3).
On the cross, because Jesus chose to do what was good, He experienced the ultimate in loss on the human level: care was not taken of His body, he was rejected by the crowd, and others exerted power over Him. And then, God broke His own continuously perfect relationship! For a time on the cross, Jesus received the relational consequence (the curse) that comes from our values choices. ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Matt 27:46) And yet, because Jesus never personally held values that were different than God's, he could not stay out of relationship with God. Before He gave up His physical life, He said: "It is finished." (John 19:29) and "Father, into your hand I commend my spirit." (Luke 23:46) showing that the curse was gone and relationship was restored.
Jesus established His Kingdom with His death and resurrection. He experienced death because He loved God first, and then, this love overflowed to us. He took death because He was confident that God raises the dead to life.
Before the cross, Jesus illustrated His power over the spiritual realm (forgiveness of sins) by healing peoples' bodies. At the cross, He showed His power over spiritual and relational death by laying down, and then later taking back up again, His physical life.
We also participate in Jesus' death on the cross. When we live God's value system and die to self, we choose good over appetites, adoration, and control. We do it because we love Jesus first, and then this love overflows to others. We take this death because we are confident in a God that raises the dead - a God that promises restored relationship with Him, and renewed relationships with others.
The gospel as core to Christianity
The Gospel unifies Christianity, and it has two parts for us: a part we believe and a part we do. The part we must believe is that Jesus is our King. And the part we must do is adopt the value system of our King.
The belief part has some more underlying detail:
- We must believe that the man Jesus, is God.
- We must believe that Jesus is Lord and King.
- We must believe the Kingdom is spiritual and for all people.
- We must believe that Christ's death and resurrection established the Kingdom. (And then repeating:)
- We must adopt Jesus' value system. 3
There are several significant related aspects:
- It is important to note that the last point of adopting God's value system is not a matter of justification; it is a matter of repentance and sanctification.
- It is important to get the gospel right because this is a matter of Christian fellowship. We are to welcome other Christians as God as welcomed us! (Rom 15:7) To reject someone that God has accepted into His Kingdom is a serious matter. (Mt 18:5-6) However, we are not to quarrel with Christians over opinions. (Rom 14:1) And, we are not to extend Christian fellowship to those outside of the Kingdom. (1Cor 5:11)
- It is important to get the gospel right because if we either leave something important out of the gospel, or we include something that is non-essential, we misrepresent the good news of the Kingdom of God to others.
- It is important to get the gospel right because for some, it is a matter of safety. If it is dangerous to be a Christian where you live, you want to be sure that the essential gospel tenets that you hold are worth the risks.
- It is important to not confuse application of the gospel with the core of the Gospel itself. Christians may apply God's values in various ways. There are also many traditions and interpretations in the branches of Christianity. We have freedom in these things as long as they do not contradict the gospel.
- It is important that we do not let our traditions and interpretations get in the way of Christian fellowship and love for the body of Christ. Jesus commanded all of us that He loves, to love each other in the same sacrificial way that He loved us. His command to us supersedes our applications of theology, and our traditions and interpretations. As we obey His command, we will bring great glory to God.
On Becoming a Christian
At first, we were enemies of God. But, God loved us so much that he sent his son to die for us, and become our King. Then he changed our hearts so that we were drawn to him. After salvation he continues by giving us the strength to live for him. He made the complete way that relationship between us could be restored, but we must make the choice by faith to accept this gift. (more on forgiveness)
From the perspective of what we experience, there are two parts to becoming a Christian: we acknowledge Jesus Christ as our King, and we adopt his value system. Acknowledging Jesus Christ as our King solves the problem of the pre-existing relationship damage. Adopting God's value system enables the building of new relationship.
The first part relies on the principle that those in authority are responsible for those under their direct authority. When Jesus becomes our King, he rightfully is able to bear the cost for the relationship consequence of our broken relationship with God. He took that consequence on the cross where for a time, God completely severed relationship with Jesus. Now as our King, Jesus represents us to God, so God sees us through him. This means God sees Jesus' perfect value system when he looks at us (positional sanctification). And this enables us to begin our relationship with God. (See also.)
The second part grows God's value system genuinely within us (progressive sanctification). This is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is his power that enables us to actively adopt God's value system into our lives. A consequence of this change of values is that new actions flow out of our new motivations. This is pleasing to God, and it is evidence of our growing relationship with Him.
Implications of God's value system, and that theology is relational
When we see all theology as being relational, the line from theology to practical application becomes much shorter. In addition, many difficult topics become easy to explain, to understand, and to use within the perspective of God's value system. For example:
Righteousness: God is righteous because He lives His own value system of sacrificial love for the benefit of others. We become righteous as we live out God's value system in our lives, out of love for God.
Holiness: God's holiness is that He is completely free of, and separated from the value system of the world. We are to be holy like him by not retaining any of our own, or the world's selfish value system. See also.
Glory: God is glorious because He does His own value system. We also become glorious as we are transformed to do God's value system out of love for Him. See also.
Prayer: There are some promises in the Bible concerning prayer that superficially appear to offer positive responses for any type of prayer. However, that is a misunderstanding of the promises. Prayer isn't about getting what we want from God; it is primarily about enabling us to change to have God's values. It is about gaining strength for sacrificial living. See more detail
Forgiveness is a process for restoring relationship through a fundamental expression of God's unselfish values. It is all about coming to common values and living sacrificial love. The process of becoming a Christian, and the process of resolving interpersonal conflicts both rely on this exact same process! There are four steps: Confession, Repentance, Forgiveness & Reconciliation. Real forgiveness happens only if all four steps are performed in this order. See more detail
Exclusivity of Christ: Jesus insisted that He was the only way to God. It can be hard to present acceptable theological arguments to people for why this is true. However, when we show Christianity as being about value systems and relationship, the reasons become clear:
- Only when Jesus is responsible for us as our direct authority can His sacrifice become effective for us, so that it covers the relational consequence of our rebellion.
- Only when we adopt the value system shown to us by Jesus can we stop being in conflict with God. See also
The kingdoms of earth vs. the Kingdom of God
All kingdoms have laws, which are encoded moral systems.
The laws of the kingdoms of this earth speak to behaviors and actions. They do not seek to promote good other than by restraining evil. As such, they will always have loopholes, which updates to the laws seek to close. The native values systems of people in these kingdoms influence them to try to break laws because of selfish conflict with the laws. The consequence of breach of the law is punishment.
The Kingdom of God, however, is not an earthly kingdom. It is a spiritual Kingdom, and a Kingdom of relationships. (See also.)
The single rule of God's Kingdom is the value system of the King: sacrificial love for the benefit of others. This rule promotes good. Citizens are to apply it first toward their King; it will then overflow to others. There are no rules on specific behaviors or actions for how we are to express this love. However citizens of God's Kingdom must put God's value system into practice; if they do not, that is evidence they never became a part of God's Kingdom. When they do put God's value system into practice, they will naturally meet and exceed the moral and civil systems of laws God had previously given to people (see Matt 5-7: the sermon on the mount).
It is a mistake to promote the old moral and civil rules of behavior as ideals within God's kingdom. They do not transform people to have God's inner motivating values; they fail at even promoting God's standards of behavior (Rom 7:1-24). God is glorious because He does his own value system. We also will become glorious as we do God's value system. The old law only reflects this glory, it can never create it. The old law was useful in the past as a part of God's progressive revelation of Himself. However, God has now fully revealed himself through His value system in Jesus.
The law of the Kingdom applies to the King as to the citizens. It is sacrificial love for the benefit of others. And in God's Kingdom, the consequence of breaking the law is forgiveness. The King forgives us, and also requires that we forgive each other. (See also)
There is no way to coerce someone to follow this Kingdom rule of love (and forgiveness). Unlike the laws of earthly kingdoms, God's law can only be followed by willing participation. The benefits of His Kingdom are expanded and improved relationships: both with the King, and between people.
Note also that God protects his people by not requiring them to sacrificially love those outside the kingdom, those who would exploit. Jesus sent Judas away before he taught his disciples about this love at the last supper. Judas showed by his selfishness that he was not in the kingdom, not in the group that the disciples were required to love.
However, God does intend for the benefits of his Kingdom to spill out to enhance earthly kingdoms. God's Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom, but his Kingdom is meant to influence and benefit all earthly kingdoms. When we are motivated by love, we are free to love our enemies.
God's Kingdom begins in this earthly life. The benefits of the Kingdom are restored relationship with God and with humans. Because God's Kingdom is spiritual, these benefits do not happen later - they happen now.
Every relationship is based on a common value system. Relationship with God begins when we believe on Him as our King, reject our value systems, and adopt His. In this life, we will never perfectly have God's value system. However as we put sacrificial love for the benefit of others into practice, our relationship with Him will mature. In fact, the only measure of our Christian maturity is the degree to which we have adopted God's value system and are living it (John 13:35).
Living God's values is not within our native abilities. It is very hard, and can only be done with strength given us by the Holy Spirit. So, when we see the evidence of ourselves changing and living God's values, we have assurance that we have relationship with God.
God's Value System is Transformative
Seeing all theology as being about relationships transforms everything! The lens of God's value system of sacrificial love for the benefit of others makes everything more clear, consistent and practical.
- The basis concepts of: all relationships are based on common value systems, and: all conflicts in relationship are conflicts over value system, are intuitively true because we validate them every day in our lives.
- God's value system makes the case for Christianity much stronger.
- It shows us how to move away from loneliness and have improved relationships in this life on earth.
For the non-Christian:
- The comparison of God's value system vs. our native value system is clear and attractive, and immediately cuts through intellectual and philosophical objections to Christianity.
- Our need for Christ to enable relationship with God becomes easy to understand.
For the Christian:
- It does not conflict with classical Christianity.
- It guides us away from legalism, and toward a heart that pleases God.
- It makes Christianity (and theology) much more logical, understandable and practical.
- It enables us to know if we are growing in our Christian life because it is measurable, and it gives us a clear goal, useful in everyday life.
- It enables us to strengthen the body of Christ because we know why and how we have relationship with all Christians.
What does relationship with God look like? Relationship with God looks like us living God's value system.
Would you like to learn more about God's value system so as to bring this transformation into your life?
The ideas on this page are based on the work of Darren Twa, author of several books including God's Value System. He is pastor at Life Fellowship. His audio messages teach the biblical and practical basis of God's Value System.
1 List quoted (with paraphrase) from the introduction to Darren Twa's book God's Value System.
2 For a full explanation of this topic, see Darren Twa's book Emotions: Revealing our Values.
3 List quoted from Darren Twa's book God's Value System, chapter 19: Only One Gospel.