Tag Archives: Obedience

Do You Love God? Examine the Evidence.

At its foundation the Bible is, essentially, a love story. From Genesis to Revelation we learn of God’s deep love for humanity and desire for sinful mankind to be reconciled with Him. Embedded in every passage, every anecdote, every historical account is the message of God’s love.

And while secondary themes exist, they always reinforce the overarching idea that God loves people. The apostle John articulated this simple truth with three simple words: “God is love.” (1 John 4:8, 16; NKJV).

Fortunately, His love is not something we must earn. The apostle Paul tells us “God demonstrated His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NKJV). God does not condition His love on our becoming good people first. Instead, He extends His love to us while we are slaves to sin.

Experiencing that love only requires we place our trust in Jesus Christ and surrender our lives to Him. That simple yet comprehensive act of faith yields eternal life with God. But it also produces the responsibility to follow God’s example of love.

When asked to identify the most important commandment in all of Scripture, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31, NKJV).

Jesus’ response should not surprise us. God expects us to love Him and those around us even as He loves us and every other person in the world. And we are to imitate God and Jesus in our expression of love.

What does that mean in substantive terms? Well first of all, we must understand that God’s love is demonstrated in action not verbalized in words. God doesn’t tell us about His love, He reveals it to us on a daily basis. Likewise, we demonstrate our love for God and others by our behavior and deeds, each and every day.

Second, Jesus takes great care to explain one critical piece of evidence exhibited in the lives of those who love Him:

If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15, NKJV).

He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me” (John 14:21a, NKJV).

If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word” (John 14:23a, NKJV).

Jesus’ words are unmistakable. If you love Him you will obey His commandments. Not just those that are easy to follow, or those that do not disrupt your lifestyle, or those with which you agree. You will follow ALL his commands.

If that sounds like a herculean task, well it is. In fact, it’s impossible. But under the leadership of the Holy Spirit we can begin to live a life of increased obedience. And while we will never live perfect lives on this side of heaven, God does expect us to cultivate a lifestyle of holiness and more closely resemble Jesus as our faith matures.

However, our obedience does more than just evidence our love for God; it reveals genuine faith. The apostle John emphasizes this correlation in his first epistle. “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-4, NKJV). To eliminate any confusion or misunderstanding, John reiterates this point to his audience. “He who keeps God’s commandments abides in Him, and God in him” (1 John 3:24a, NKJV).

John connects obedience with knowing God in a real and meaningful way. Remember that at its core the Christian faith involves an intimate and personal relationship between believer and Jesus Christ. He abides in us as we abide in Him. So in that sense it is unlike any religion in the world – because it is no religion at all. It is a relationship.

John, then, is not suggesting that obedience precedes salvation. Rather, he is saying that faith produces obedience; that the call of Christ demands the passionate pursuit of holiness from would-be followers.

The above verses clearly establish a linkage between our love for and faith in Jesus with our obedience to God and Christ. An absence of obedience exposes an absence of faith and love.

Now, one might wonder, ‘What commands must I obey?’ And the simple answer is, ‘All of them.’ Every commandment captured in Scripture, from the beginning of the Old Testament to the end of the New Testament.

If that doesn’t sound daunting enough, consider this statement from John. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3, NKJV). In other words, we are not just to obey God’s commands, we are to do so joyfully and with gratitude, not begrudgingly or with resentment.

Many readers will protest at this point and claim that all this sounds a little too legalistic. They will insist that God’s love does not require obedience nor is our salvation preconditioned on it. And they’re correct. That’s true.

But these verses aren’t about God’s love for us, which exists regardless of whether we obey Him. They are about our love for Him and our faith in Christ. And if those are real, we will desire to obey God’s commands and thirst for His will, even when His commands and plans require we relinquish control of our lives and put to death our self-interests.

All of which would be difficult enough if God’s commands were few and easy. But they’re not. They are abundant in number and often quite demanding. Consider those below, for example.

1) “Study the [Bible] continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything in it” (Joshua 1:8, NLT).

2) “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NKJV).

3) “What does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, NKJV).

4) “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33a, NKJV).

5) “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39b, NKJV).

6) “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28, 19-20a, NKJV).

7) “Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant” (Mark 10:43, NKJV).

8) “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24, NKJV).

9) “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciples” (Luke 14:33, NKJV).

10) “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2, NKJV).

11) “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Prove yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5a, NKJV).

12) “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16, NKJV).

13) “Seek those things which are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3, NKJV).

14) “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17, NKJV).

15) “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11, NKJV).

16) “Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2, NKJV).

17) “Encourage one another daily, while it is called today, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13, NKJV).

18) “Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8, NKJV).

19) “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15, NKJV).

20) “Keep yourself in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 1:21, NKJV).

Only when we love God, pursue His presence regularly, and submit to the leadership of the Holy Spirit can we hope to partially fulfill these commands. But for those in a genuine relationship with Christ, that hope can transform into reality over time.

And as we obey God’s commands we begin to reflect Him more clearly in our lives and in our treatment of others. And we begin to understand what John means when he says, “By this we know love, because Jesus laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16, NKJV).

We realize that Christ sacrificed His life for us, as an expression of love. And He calls us to do surrender our lives to Him as an expression of love. And when we do, we experience Him and His love in a far more meaningful and powerful way than we ever imagined.

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Surrender or Perish

Imagine being the president and facing an escalating conflict with a country determined to conquer your nation and to compel your citizens to follow its laws.

Would you fight with every fiber of your being against such subjugation and, as president, order the military to pursue any means necessary to defeat the aggressor?

What if a trusted advisor informed you the only way your nation could survive was to surrender? The advisor explained that any attempt to protect your nation or any effort to launch a preemptive attack would result in your nation’s utter destruction.

Would you dismiss such advice as unsound or even treasonous? Why would any leader willingly abdicate control of his nation to a foreign head-of-state, without doing everything in his or her power to prevent it?

That was the situation faced by Zedekiah, king of Judah, more than 2,500 years ago. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, a powerful empire spread across the Middle East, threatened to invade Judah and absorb its citizens into his kingdom.

So King Zedekiah asked Jeremiah, a prophet of God, for advice. And this is how Jeremiah responded.

If indeed you surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then you will live, this city (Jerusalem) will not be burned down, and you and your household will survive. But, if you do not surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then this city will be handed over to the Babylonians. They will burn it down, and you yourself will not escape from them.” (Jeremiah 38:17-18, HCSB).

As the capital of Judah, Jerusalem represented the nation. If it fell and burned then all of Judah would likewise be destroyed.

Understandably, King Zedekiah hesitated to listen to Jeremiah’s advice. It conflicted with common sense and seemed so counter-intuitive.

So Jeremiah reassured him.

Obey the voice of the Lord in what I am telling you, so it may go well for you and you can live. But if you refuse to surrender, this is the verdict that the Lord has shown me… You yourself will not escape from them, for you will be seized by the king of Babylon and this city will burn down.” (Jeremiah 38:20, 23, HCSB).

We face a similar choice today. Not as kings or presidents but as the leader of our sovereign lives.

Inside each of us is a spirit of selfish rebellion that seeks to do whatever it pleases. Our sinful nature has established ‘self’ as lord, and has enthroned our ‘flesh’ as the king or queen of our heart. And too often we do whatever it demands of us.

We zealously pursue the things of this world, chase ephemeral dreams, and seek anything our evil hearts desire. We are in love with a world that promises happiness, satisfaction, and approval but delivers despair, discontent, and rejection instead.

In response we attempt to season our lives with religion: an hour of church every Sunday, religious music in the car, occasional prayers whenever we need something. We give a few cents on the dollar (maybe a dime if we’re generous), volunteer a couple hours a month, and use religious language at church.

Many of us profess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, take communion on a regular basis, and believe the Bible is God’s inerrant Word. We say the right things, believe the right doctrine, and avoid all obvious forms of wickedness (at least in public). We are certain that God’s best for us aligns with our own desires: to entrench ourselves in entertainment, cuddle ourselves in comfort, and lavish our lives with luxury.

We have persuaded ourselves that our lives can mirror those of our unchurched neighbors, as long as we maintain a veneer of religious righteousness, confess Christian creeds, and accept Jesus as Savior. We have convinced ourselves that such a modest commitment to Christ is sufficient to spend eternity in His presence. We have deluded ourselves into believing that we can live the good life in this world and then live it again in perpetuity when the Lord returns.

But God is whispering something we either refuse to hear because of our stubborn hearts or cannot hear because we are too busy chasing the world.

Surrender to Me.”

That is an easy request to obey unless you really understand it. Surrender is comprehensive. You cannot surrender one portion of your life to God and retain another. Imagine King Zedekiah telling the king of Babylon that he will surrender his army but not his navy; he’ll surrender one city but not another. The Babylonian king would recognize this as no surrender at all and would lay siege to Jerusalem.

Yet many of us take a similar approach with God. We give him a few hours a week, claim that represents surrender, then spend the rest of our time pursuing whatever pleasures we delight in.

We do the same with our income. We toss him a few dollars, insist that is enough, and then buy for ourselves all manner of worldly possessions to momentarily gratify our insatiable appetites for the things of this world.

But God demands total surrender, a full and complete commitment to Him in every area of our lives. That is what it means to place our faith in Christ. Authentic faith always transforms the life of a believer.

Jesus informed his followers of this truth with these words:

So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:33, NKJV).

Those willing to obey the Lord’s call to surrender will, like King Zedekiah, live. And that life will be everlasting.

Those who decline to surrender their lives to God in full will instead, like Jerusalem, burn. And that, too, will be for all eternity.

Do not be deceived. A casual commitment to Christ is no commitment at all. A half-hearted surrender is nothing more than a veneer of religion.

Call upon the Lord today and commit yourself to Him. Ask Him to empower you with His Spirit so you surrender your life to Him anew every day. And study His Word (the Bible) as much as possible to learn more about Him, His holiness, and His love.

Follow God – not fear.

How many of us allow fear to influence our understanding of God’s will and dictate the extent to which we serve and obey Him? When the Holy Spirit prompts us in a direction we don’t want to go how many of us use a rational response to explain our disobedience?

  • I can’t move to that neighborhood, Lord. It’s too dangerous and I don’t want to put my family’s safety at risk.
  • I can’t go on a mission trip there, Lord. It’s too hostile to Christianity. They might put me in jail if they learn I’m a believer.
  • I can’t leave my job to work at a non-profit, Lord. The reduction in salary would force me to work another ten years before I retire.
  • I can’t tell people at work about my faith, Lord. That’ll jeopardize my career and sabotage my next promotion.
  • I can’t give generously to the church, Lord. That’ll undermine my 401k and diminish my quality of life in retirement.

Whenever we use logic and commonsense to refute God’s call and justify our disobedience we demonstrate a lack of trust. Such actions reveal doubt and a failure to exhibit the courage of our convictions. We may want to follow God down whatever path He lays out but fear paralyzes us.

To overcome that paralysis we need a reminder that God’s omnipotence does not require favorable circumstances to emerge victorious. He can accomplish anything through anyone. In fact, He is far more likely to use the weak and unqualified to achieve the remarkable and miraculous, then He is to use the powerful and competent to accomplish the ordinary.

We must remember that God often assigns endeavors that appear impossible, sends us on journeys that look perilous, and instructs us to pursue objectives that seem overwhelming. And He does so for several reasons. First, it forces us to rely entirely on Him. It is only in the crucible of total helplessness that our trust in God truly flourishes. After all, if we can accomplish God’s will on our own strength than we learn only self-reliance not God-reliance.

Second, it refines and matures our relationship with Christ. In situations where our focus must remain on God constantly, our understanding of Him and His character develops and deepens. We come to know Him more intimately, and we become more like Him in every detail.

Finally, it prepares us for a new mission. As we respond obediently to God’s direction today, He equips and prepares us for our next assignment tomorrow. In time our baby-steps of faith grow into giant leaps of faith.

Take some time today to ask God for an assignment that strengthens your faith, fuels your trust, and draws you closer to Him. And make that a prayer habit moving forward.

Too Busy for God.

I wonder how many of us fail to follow God’s plan for our lives because we convince ourselves that in the absence of egregious sin, any morally neutral activity or ambition enjoys God’s approval. As long as our pursuits don’t violate explicit biblical commands we assume God allows us enough latitude to do what we want. This thinking drives many of us to spend our days enjoying hobbies and chasing pleasures that do not directly contravene God’s Word.

However, avoiding obvious disobedience does not necessarily indicate actual obedience. Often the reasonable and adequate diverge as much from God’s plan as the scandalous and perverse. The Parable of the Great Supper illuminates this truth. In it those invited to enjoy the great supper (a metaphor for heaven) decline to attend.

One guest explains, “I have bought a piece of ground and must go and see it.” Another says, “I have bought five oxen and am going to test them.” A third excuses himself with good news. “I have married a wife and therefore cannot come.”

Most of us would agree that these explanations are reasonable. There is nothing morally defective about surveying your investments or validating the value of a purchase. And wanting to spend time with your new bride seems rather admirable. Yet on hearing their excuses the host proclaims that none of those invited would enjoy the feast. Why? Because they prioritized reasonable and admirable activities over something of greater importance: fellowship with the host.

So it is with us. When we allow good and practical pursuits to consume us then they become distractions from our primary purpose in life: developing a vibrant relationship with Christ. A lifetime neglecting that purpose (or just giving it lip service) jeopardizes our seat at the table of the marriage supper of the Lamb. We simply won’t recognize Christ when He returns. Worse, He won’t recognize us.

That theme emerges again when Jesus chastises a pair of potential disciples for delaying their obedience to His call, despite legitimate motives: one wants to bury his deceased father and the other wants to say goodbye to his family. No rational person would consider those explanations unreasonable. Yet Christ does. Not because those things are bad or inappropriate, but because they preempted faithfulness to Christ’s call. The men prioritized family commitments above immediate obedience to the Lord.

Take time this week to read these passages from the ninth and fourteenth chapters of Luke. Ask God to reveal their application in your life and reveal what good or practical pursuit you’ve allowed to displace your relationship with Christ, and what reasonable activity or ambition has distracted you from immediate obedience to the Lord. Then take steps to put those disruptive undertakings in their proper place.

Ordinary Believers – Extraordinary Faith.

Throughout Scripture God places His people in situations that require them to put their faith into action. Often these tests lead in a direction society considers irrational and may seem illogical to those around us. But when we trust God in these circumstances and obey His will, our faith matures. With each act of obedience we learn more about God’s faithfulness and understand more clearly His ways.

Most of these Bible stories involve ordinary people like you and me, not spiritual giants with extraordinary spiritual gifts. In fact, the only thing preventing many of us from experiencing God in similarly powerful and dramatic ways is a single step of faith. When we act on our trust in Him, amazing things happen in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

Let’s explore a couple of these ‘faith in action’ stories. Our first story takes place in Zarephath, where God has just sent the prophet Elijah. As he arrives in the city he encounters a widow with whom he has this interesting exchange.

Please bring me a little water in a cup, that I may drink.” And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, “Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” Then she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.’ So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and he and her household ate for many days. The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke by Elijah” (1 Kings 17:10b-16, NKJV).

What a remarkable story. Despite her desperate circumstances, the woman agrees to this radical (some might say ‘ridiculous’) proposal from the prophet. He asks her to prioritize his needs above her and her son’s; that she extend his life (a stranger) at the (potential) expense of their lives. As if their deaths weren’t imminent enough, Elijah’s request would seal their fate more quickly – unless of course his assertion were true that God would prevent the flour and oil from running out.

Using hindsight, we may be tempted to conclude the widow did nothing special. After all, we might argue, what did she have to lose? She was going to die anyway, so why not take a risk and agree to the prophet’s offer? But that ignores several critical facts.

First, the woman was not a Jew and did not share Elijah’s faith in the God of Israel. She knew nothing of the Lord and had no basis to trust Him or His messenger.

Second, as any parent will tell you, the idea of sacrificing your child’s life to save the life of a stranger runs counter to every parental instinct. Good parents do everything they can to protect and care for their children, not put their lives at risk to help others, no matter how noble the cause.

Third, the content of Elijah’s proposal is absolutely preposterous from the world’s perspective. It defies logic. The widow must exchange common sense for an embrace of God’s supernatural power – a God she never believed in until that moment.

In our second story, God sends Gideon to save Israel from the Midianites, a people who were “as numerous as locusts.” Against such an overwhelming force you might imagine the need for Israel to send an army of comparable size. If Israel were unable to muster such a military presence, then you would expect them to have a superior arsenal of weapons. Without one or the other, an Israeli victory would seem impossible.

Yet God ignores military convention and tells Gideon that the thirty-two thousand men he has assembled for battle are too numerous in number, “lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘my own hand has saved me.’” So God uses several methods to whittle that number down to three hundred men. He then informs Gideon, “By these three hundred men I will save Israel, and deliver the Midianites into your hand.”

You need not have attended West Point to understand the lunacy of this military strategy. Reducing an already inadequate force down to several hundred men is illogical when confronting an indomitable opponent. Yet that is precisely what God calls Gideon and the people of Israel to do. For it is in that act of seeming madness that they will demonstrate their trust and faith in God and He will reveal Himself to them.

As if that insanity weren’t enough, however, God then declares that instead of using weapons of war to win the battle He wants Gideon and his men to blow trumpets instead. In doing so God makes an already impossible victory beyond hopeless. The men must have wondered if their commander had lost his mind since his strategy was void of all rational military science. Surely Gideon was leading them to a massacre, like lambs led to slaughter.

But an astounding thing happens when Gideon and his men reject sound military strategy in favor of obedience to God. They win! The opposition turns on each other and is handily defeated. In perhaps the greatest military victory of all time, God uses a small squadron of men to conquer an overpowering adversary – with trumpets no less. Not because they executed a superior strategy, fought harder, or employed more advanced weaponry, but rather because they trusted and obeyed God.

Once again, hindsight may lead us to conclude that trusting God in that situation was a no-brainer for Gideon and the Israelites. Despite the irrationality of God’s plan, it was obvious He would liberate His people and ensure victory. They could embrace with certainty His promise because God always delivers on His commitments.

And yet, how many of us hesitate to follow God down an equally preposterous path in our own lives? We delay obedience and resist His call on our lives because the direction He is leading makes no sense. From a societal perspective, it is sheer madness. Only a crazy person would follow God down a road as irrational as the one He is calling us to pursue. If you are among those struggling to obey God because His plan seems illogical, recall God’s reasoning to Gideon for using such circumstances. Difficult challenges and overwhelming odds ensure that only He gets the glory.

How is God calling you to boldly demonstrate your faith today? What act has He asked of you that defies common sense and will earn the derision of those around you? Is God leading you down a path that seems irrational from the world’s perspective? If so, find inspiration from the Zarephath widow and Gideon’s army of three hundred.

God often puts us in circumstances that stretch and mature our faith. Resist the temptation to follow the easy path of rational thought and common sense when the Spirit is leading you elsewhere. Maybe it’s time to trust the Lord with that radical decision you’ve been postponing for too long. As you take that step of faith, you will experience God in an amazing and fresh way.