There will be no message next week (October 5) due to travel. The messages will resume on October 12.
This is the tenth message on worry and fretting. This week we continue our examination of obedience to Christ as the answer to worry.
It is human to equate activity with obedience. We believe with sin-distorted intuition that our worth depends on how busy we are. But activity, even religious activity, without God’s direction only distorts the truth and exhausts our energies. The prerequisite to obedience is to listen and heed. King Saul made the mistake of worshiping without obedience and the prophet Samuel confronted him on the key issue:
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is no less a sin than divination (witchcraft),
and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
he has also rejected you from being king (1 Sam. 15:22-23).
The rejection of Saul’s kingship by God cautions us to examine the motivations and purposes behind our actions. Are we responded in gratitude to God’s love or are we distracted from worship by our efforts to earn God’s approval?
God came to us in Jesus Christ and through Jesus gave us all things necessary for our eternal salvation (Jn. 3:16, Eph. 2:8-9). He accomplished this through his own obedience to the Divine plan for our salvation even to the point that he gave his own life to save ours (Phil. 2:5-11). “If, because of one man’s (Adam’s) trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17).
God’s gift of grace in Jesus Christ, embodied in his sacrificial death and resurrection, not only saves us but empowers us to live as God intends. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions and pleasures, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds” (Tit 2:11-14).
Salvation and the overcoming life by and through God’s grace is the inheritance of believers in Christ (Tit 3:3-8). But take it from this lawyer, an inheritance means nothing if the heir does not claim it as a right and possession but instead continues to live by his or her own means and cleverness. Jesus was explicit that it is necessary to pray and wait for guidance and empowerment from God even before spreading the good news of God to others (Lk 10:2; 24:49).
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians that we “work” out our salvation by submitting to God to have his way in us and through us. “[W]ork out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).
It is no exaggeration to say that those found guilty and without pardon by God in the final judgment will be those whose action or inaction was determined by their self-interest rather than their obedience to God (See, e.g., Mt 25:31-46; Lk 14:15-33; 18:18-30; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Rev 18; Rev 21:8, 27; Rev 22:15). “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to their faith in Jesus” (Rev 13:12).
Jesus said that even a life of powerful and helpful service in his name was not sufficient for entry into the kingdom of heaven if it was done for our own merit or self-aggrandizement rather than a desire for a loving intimacy with him (Mt 7:21-25). When his family called out to him to come away from the crowd and his teaching, Jesus said, “My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Mt 8:21).
There is a fondness in Christian trade for bumper stickers, refrigerator magnets, bookmarks, and stained-glass windows featuring Jesus’ words, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” But it is too easy to forget that the word “and” at the beginning of the clause is a bridge to the precondition for the promise. The full verse conveys the power behind spiritual truth and freedom which is more than mere mental assent: The road to freedom in Christ is obedience to the Word of God. “Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free” (Jn. 8:31)
Jesus was ruthless about the need for obedience to God as the path to blessing. When a woman in a crowd shouted out to him a fawning compliment to his mother, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” he shot back, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Lk. 11:27-28).
Am I far afield from my point last week about the stillness of the lake that is required for the mirror image and the preparation of the softened, yielding soil that is necessary before the good fruit may be grown? No, because it is the Master of the wind who quiets the lake and the Creator who prepares the soil, plants it and harvests it. Even so it is Christ who works his will on the surrendered human heart. The power of our obedience is Christ’s gift ministered through the Holy Spirit (Jn. 1:12-13; Rom. 7:21-8:11). The decision we must make is whether we will obey and that decision is the key to faithful living.
I find the writing of the great old Scot, George MacDonald, especially enlightening on the point that “obedience is the only faith.”
- Do you want to live by faith? Do you want to know Christ aright? Do you want to awake and arise and live, but you do not know how?
- I will tell you:
- Get up, and do something the Master tells you. The moment you do, you instantly make yourself his disciple.
- It is simply absurd to say you believe, or even want to believe in him, if you do not do anything he tells you. If you can think of nothing he ever said as having consciously influenced your doing or not doing, you have no ground to consider yourself his disciple. To such he says, “Why did you not do the things I told you? Depart from me. I do not know you!”
- Yet you can at once begin to be a disciple of the Living One–by obeying him in the first thing you can think of in which you are not obeying him.
- We must learn to obey him in everything, and so must begin somewhere. Let it be at once, and in the very next thing that lies at the door of our conscience!
- Oh, do not be as the fools who think of nothing but Christ as a theological person to be discussed, and do not set themselves to do his words! What will they have to answer for, such teachers who have turned the regard of their listeners away from the direct words of the Lord himself, which are spirit and life, to contemplate instead various plans of salvation that they twist out of the words of his apostles!
- There is but one plan of salvation, and that is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ! And that belief is no mere mental acknowledgment about him, but involves nothing more, nothing less than to take him for what he is–our Master, and to take his words as if he meant them–which he did.
- To do his words is to enter into vital relation with Jesus; to obey him is the only way to be one with him. The relationship between him and us is an absolute one; it can begin to live in no other way but in obedience: it is obedience. There can be no truth, no reality, in any initiation of at-one-ment with him, that is not obedience.
- It is eternally absurd to think of entering a relationship with God, the very first of which is not founded on doing what he says. I know what the father of lies whispers to those to whom such teaching as this is distasteful: “It is the doctrine of works!” But one word of the Lord humbly heard and received will suffice to send all the demons of false theology into the abyss. Jesus said that the man that does not do the things he tells him, builds his house to fall in utter ruin. Jesus instructs his messengers to go and baptize all nations, “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”
- Do you say that it is faith Jesus requires, not works?
- Heartily I agree! Is not faith the highest act of which the human mind is capable? But faith in what? Faith in what Jesus is, in what he says–a faith that can have no existence except in obedience–a faith which is obedience. To do what Jesus wishes is to put forth faith in him.
- But instead of this, human teaching has substituted this or that belief about Jesus, faith in this or that supposed design of his manifestation in the flesh. They make true faith in him and his Father secondary to the acceptance of the paltry contrivance of a juggling morality, which they attribute to God and his Christ, imagining it the atonement and the so-called plan of salvation.
- So I ask again: “Do you put your faith in Christ, or in human doctrines and commandments?” If it is in Christ, do you see that above all things and all thoughts, you are bound to obey him? Do you find it hard to trust him? Hard it will remain, while all the things he tells you to do, things you can do, you will not try. How will you grow capable of trusting him to do his part by you, as long as you do not do your part by him? True faith, true belief, is not possible where there is not a daily doing of the things he says. They are what make faith take root and spring to life.
- How else can you be made capable of trusting him? The very thing that makes you able to trust in him, and so receive all provision from him, is obedience to him. Neglecting the things he says, there is no soil in which your faith can grow.
- If we chance to do his will because it falls in with our own designs, that may be a good thing. But it is not obedience. Obedience comes when, as a conscious act, we lay aside the appetite, the desire, the inclination of our flesh, our self, the tendency in which our human soul would go if left to itself and instead do what he tells us, subduing our own will, mastering it, subjugating it, and bringing it into submission to his (George MacDonald, Michael Phillips, Ed., Knowing the Heart of God [Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1990], p. 30-32, emphasis in the original).
I am still learning, but this much I know: I am incapable of this kind of obedience. I have stopped praying, “Lord, give me strength” as if all I needed was more will-power and to be toughened up a bit. That is a useless prayer and I have proved it hundreds of times as I have stiffened my resolve and stepped-out in my augmented faith only to fall flat on my face, often knocking others down with me. I found the secret in 1 Corinthians 1:30 where Christ is revealed as our very life, “who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption.”
I have to stop fighting and go limp and let him carry me hidden within his sheltering presence (Col. 3:2-4). When I say,”go limp” there is nothing as limp as death–It is the ultimate letting go. I pray, “Lord, be my life, be my strength, and take me and my pride, ego, strength, fears, malice and desires, and dispose of them. Use me as you will and let your will, not mine, be done. Prince of Peace and Living Word, let your voice alone be heard by me and let it be true that it is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
There are those who say, “That’s too easy. You need to do your part, and then God will do his part.” Like bullies hanging around a small-town drive-in, they urge us on to greater and greater feats of strength and daring until we badly injure or destroy ourselves or someone else. They slander obedient surrender to God’s sovereign grace as “cheap” and “irresponsible.”
They are wimpy “second-guessers” who do not know for themselves the testing that comes when Christ is trusted in obedient waiting for his deliverance from the circumstances raging around us. The call to obedience is clear enough: “Do not envy the violent and do not choose any of their ways; for the perverse are an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 3:31-32). “Wait for the Lord, and keep to his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on the destruction of the wicked” (Ps. 37:34).
Too few of us know the gracious relief of Christ from our temptations because it is an extremely rare human who trusts him enough to find out; to risk the accusation of idleness to sit still and listen with what Thomas a’ Kempis called “ears that catch the pulses of the divine whisper.” Yet, unless we obey by such listening and taking faithful action on what we hear, whatever else we are, we cannot be called “friends of Jesus Christ” who said, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn. 15:9-14).
True obedience to God will always lead us to love and this is how we can discern the truth: If what we hear in our attentive listening in prayer and in reading God’s word leads us to love God and his children more in heart and action, it is from God. Whatever, we hear that leads us to a lesser devotion to God and hostility toward his children, we can be sure is not from God (1 Jn. 3:11-4:21). Grace is always more of God and less of us and that is the way to the stillness that mirrors his image in glory.
As a first step to obedience, I invite you, “O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps. 34:8).
The next message (October 12) will discuss where we find strength and wisdom to get us through times of unwanted change that demand from us more than we have to give.
Under the mercy of Christ,