by Ben Edwards

We’ve all heard it, and most of us have either thought it or even prayed it. “God, if You [do this thing I currently want], then I’ll [do something I probably should do but haven’t].” We find ourselves in a situation we don’t like or lacking something we crave, yet we feel incapable of attaining our desire. Thus, we turn to someone we believe is capable of accomplishing what we want and hope God will show us favor.

But we understand how life works. People don’t just give away favors. They want something in return. So we begin to barter with others when we are seeking their favors. We started doing this when we were young (e.g., trading your sandwich for your friend’s crackers). The other person has something we want—either an item (good) or the ability to accomplish something (service)—so we offer him something we think he wants. In our society the most common bartering item is money—you give me something and I give you money in exchange. But we occasionally offer other goods or services (e.g., housing and food in exchange for childcare; use of vehicles in exchange for professional work, etc.). In each situation, the offer is successful only if both parties have something the other lacks or needs.

But there’s a problem when we try to barter with God. He doesn’t lack or need anything! The truth that God does not need anything is part of a larger truth of God’s self-sufficiency or aseity. This means that God’s existence comes from Himself, thus He is not dependent on anyone or anything else. We as humans derive our existence from God and live continually in dependence on Him (Col 1:17), but God exists in Himself and needs nothing (Exod 3:14; Acts 17:24-25).

Most pagan gods respond to the barter system. You offer sacrifices to a god, and he responds to help you in the way that he can. Thus, you worship the god of travel, and he in return gives you safe travel; you bring a sacrifice to the god of fertility, and he makes you fruitful; or you give to the god of war to make your army successful.

The Christian God is nothing like these pagan gods, which means we have nothing to offer God that would make Him respond by giving us a favor.

  • “God, if you give me this raise than I’ll give you 15% of it.” God is not sitting in heaven wondering how he will be able to finance His work and hoping someone steps up to foot the bill. The whole world is His! (Ps 50:9-12)
  • “God, if you heal me of this sickness, I’ll go to church every Sunday.” God does not struggle through the week waiting for Sunday to come and hoping more people show up this time to lift His spirits. God takes pleasure in true worship, but He does not need it.
  • “God, if you get me out of this difficult situation, then I’ll [stop doing something wrong or start doing something right].” God is not fretting over whether or not people do what is wrong or right. He has commanded us to do right and will justly punish us for doing wrong (either we bear the punishment or Christ does). So God is pleased with our obedience, but does not need it.

Why does it matter whether or not we can barter with God? Because if we can’t barter with Him, that means we have to accept His terms. We can’t entice Him with our offers. We can only accept His offers. He is not impressed by our promises of service or obedience and will not respond to them. But He, of His own will, determined to offer us a relationship with Him as a gift on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ. We must submit ourselves fully to Him, offering our lives to Jesus as Lord. And He promises to give us eternal life—a relationship with Him.

God is the one who establishes what He will do and what we will do, and we either accept or reject those terms. But we can’t try to change the terms to something we prefer—you can’t barter with God.