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« Behind Your Back: The Things People Say about You | Main | Your Word Relationship: Jesus as the Light »

The Word of God Requires Obedience

(This is the final segment of the chapter on Your Word Relationship: Jesus as the Light).

The Word of God Requires Obedience 

While the Bible evokes admiration by its wise advice, rhythmic verse, fascinating stories and profound concepts—traits which it shares with many other works of literature—none of them alone compel us to change our lives.  Its greatest feature is the expectation of obedience.  This constitutes the major difference between the Word of God and all other writings.  We cannot just read it for our enjoyment; it must alter the course of our lives.  Unless it is obeyed, we read it in vain.  This is the critical juncture that every person must negotiate.  Obedience is a relationship concept, thus, we need to understand it to a greater degree. 

Obedience is required.  The Old Testament often mentions the need for obedience.  Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you today. Deuteronomy 11:26-27. If you fear the LORD and serve Him and obey His voice, and do not rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then both you and the king who reigns over you will continue following the LORD your God. 1 Samuel 12:14. These commandments were under the law, and so obedience was expected. 

But some argue that New Testament believers are free from the mandate of the law and, therefore, are not compelled to obey.  The opposite view, in fact, may be seen throughout the New Testament.  Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? Romans 6:16. And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. 2 Thessalonians 3:14. Even further, Paul tells the Romans that obedience leads to salvation.  This does not contradict Ephesians 2:8-9 which says “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast,” rather, it qualifies faith by imposing upon it the standard of obedience.  Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began, but now has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith. Romans 16:25-26.  In other words, it is clear that the faith that saves is the faith that obeys! 

As a way to illustrate saving faith, an old evangelist used to tell the story of an aerial artist who had a wire strung over a canyon and ran a wheelbarrow on the line from one side to the other.  He then asked his audience, “How many of you believe I can do this again?”  They all raised their hands.  “Well,” he challenged them, “who is willing to get in the wheelbarrow and let me take you across?”  Not surprisingly, no one raised a hand!  They had faith in the artist, but were not willing to qualify it.  In salvation, if God’s Word instructs us to get into the wheelbarrow, only the faith that obeys will get across.  As the Apostle James puts it, “But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” James 2:18. 

Obedience validates submission.  The true test of submission is not when you are asked to do something that you were inclined to do already; rather, you show your submissive spirit when you obey a command with which you disagree.  For example, Naaman, the famous leper in the Old Testament, felt insulted by Elisha’s instruction to dip seven times in the muddy Jordan River.  After a vigorous protest, he finally submitted to the command and was healed of his leprosy. 

The Apostle James appeals to the church to submit to God.  But He gives more grace. Therefore, He says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” James 4:6. If obedience is a relationship concept, submission is the basis for obedience to happen.  

In your walk with God, you will encounter opposition from your flesh on a daily, if not hourly, basis.  You will come face to face with commands from God that rub you the wrong way.  A seasoned saint of God used to tell me, “If your cat gets rubbed the wrong way, turn the cat around!”  Many of God’s orders are distasteful to the human will.  Adjust your thinking to the fact that both God and His written Word are right, and neither are going to change.  Only one option remains: your submission!  The good news, however, is this.  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  James 4:7-8.

Obedience activates God’s promises.  Obedience does not mean that God is an egotistical tyrant who forces people to submit to him to prove His superiority.  It does mean that God, in His holiness, understands what is best for us and He rewards obedience by fulfilling His promises to those who perform His will.  He also opens their ear to instruction, and commands that they turn from iniquity. If they obey and serve Him, they shall spend their days in prosperity, and their years in pleasures. Job 36:10-11. 

We often think of the patriarch Abraham as the poster child of faith.  We call him the “father of the faithful.”  We could just as easily say, however, that he exemplified obedience as well as faith.  By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. Hebrews 11:8. The result of Abraham’s faith, proven genuine by his obedience, was spelled out by the Apostle Paul.  That the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Galatians 3:14. Obedience to the commands of God enjoys confirmation by the promises of God.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is one of these promises that come as a result of obedience.  Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit Whom God has given to those who obey Him. Acts 5:31-32. 

Disobedience is unacceptable.  If obedience is required by God, it would seem logical that He will not tolerate disobedience.  Yet, some insist that God treats those who disobey Him as unruly children.  Disobedience, in their view, does not represent a serious infraction of His law.  He forgives them and loves them anyway.  The Bible, however, includes disobedience in with egregious and condemned behavior.  To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled.  They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work. Titus 1:15-16. 

The Apostle Peter calls the salvation of disobedient people into question.  For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now “If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?” 1 Peter 4:17-18. Paul issues a similar warning to the Thessalonians.  And to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8. 

The Word of God Is Our Blueprint for Life 

In an earlier essay on relationships that I posted on my blog, I wrote:

“How much do your relationships affect you? All of us understand the reality and need for relationships in our lives, but few of us understand the impact they make on us. Maybe an illustration from the world of physics will help us grasp this idea. We know that the gravitational force on Earth pulls everything toward the ground. This concept was formulated by Sir Isaac Newton, the renowned scientist of the 1600’s, who observed an apple falling from a tree and began to wonder why. He determined that a universal attraction affects all masses of matter through the force of gravity. This is called the Theory of Universal Gravitation. He posited that not only does the Earth propel the apple toward it by the force of gravity, but the apple also pulls the Earth toward it by that same force. In the same way, every person in one’s circle of family, friends and acquaintances affects that person. Conversely, that same person also has an effect on every other person in his or her universe. This creates an enormous and complex network of interdependent people, all of them connected to each other in some way, whether directly or indirectly. The things we hear, see and feel in other people in our network exerts either a positive or negative force on us. 

“There are many ways you can test this concept. You can start with the impact your parents had on you. Your physical appearance, behavior and personality were directly produced by your mother and father through your DNA. The primary way that babies and toddlers learn is by imitating others. Your accent is the product of the speech brogue in the locale in which you were raised. Your loyalties and preferences are most likely shaped by the people, groups and institutions in your same city or state. Social scientists have coined terms like acculturation and socialization to describe how people come to hold views espoused within the norms of their particular culture. Famed criminologist Edwin H. Sutherland formulated the theory of differential association based on his findings that people develop criminal minds through associating with other people of similar backgrounds and experiences. Groupthink, gangs, peer groups, classes, schools, cadres, political parties, clubs, factions, denominations and wings all testify strongly to the behavior of people in groups.

The old saying, “birds of a feather flock together,” refers to the fact that people tend to stick with those who most likely resemble themselves. The Bible says, “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Based on the realities of social development outlined above, we can readily see the powerful truth contained in this scripture. A person who does not think in evil ways can grow to be evil through the company he or she keeps. A pure mind and heart can be corrupted by associating with people who have evil hearts. This means that a person’s life is not merely a function of his or her own internal thought processes. We often make huge decisions, not by intellectual musing, education or thoughtful analysis, but by the innate desire that we possess to conform to our group. Moreover, this pressure can be exerted upon us by even one significant person in our lives.” ( net.) 

For believers, our relationship with the Word of God means that the Bible exerts enormous influence on the way we live our lives. It shapes our belief system, our doctrinal positions, the historical record of the Bible, and much, much more.  Personally, we will also reflect the values of the Word of God in our habits, our attire, our language, our human relationships, our behaviors—in short, everything about our lives will be a function of Bible teachings.  

We Will Be Judged by the Word of God 

A solemn verse appears in Revelation. Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. Revelation 20:11-12.  This verse constitutes fair warning to all.  If we are to be judged by the things written in the books, then we are apprised of this criteria beforehand so that God is justified when He judges.  Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight—that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge. Psalm 51:4. 

Actually, the Word of God judges us today, long before there will ever be a Great White Throne judgment.  For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. Hebrews 4:12-13.  If you allow yourself to come under the scrutiny of the Word of God today, you will never have to worry about a future judgment.

Eat This Book 

The Prophet Ezekiel writes some shocking words.  Moreover, He said to me, “Son of man, eat what you find; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat that scroll. And He said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly, and fill your stomach with this scroll that I give you.” So I ate, and it was in my mouth like honey in sweetness. Ezekiel 3:1-3.  The scroll referred to the Old Testaments parchments, or the Word of God written to the Hebrew nation.  The Bible Exposition Commentary explains the meaning of this unusual metaphor: 

“A hand stretched out and handed Ezekiel a scroll that didn’t have any good news written on it, because it was filled on both sides with “words of lament and mourning and woe” (Ezekiel 2:10 NIV). Perhaps it contained the messages that are recorded in chapters four through thirty-two, God’s judgments on Jerusalem and the Gentile nations. God commanded him to eat the scroll and it tasted sweet like honey (Psalms. 19:10; 119:103), although later he tasted bitterness (Ezekiel 3:14), not unlike the Apostle John (Revelation 10:8-11). It’s a great honor to be a spokesperson for the Lord, but we must be able to handle both the bitter and the sweet.”  Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series). 

The picture created here tells us that the Word of God is food for the soul.  It must be consumed, ingested, digested and used for nourishment and strength for the people.  It represents a powerful illustration for the relationship we must forge with God’s Word.  We cannot master its precepts unless we internalize its message.  The permeation of the Word of God into our minds must replace our thoughts with God’s thoughts.  The Bible has to become “second nature” to us so that it represents our default position in the way we live our lives. 

The life of God’s Word brings a singular dynamic to the world unmatched by any other literature. No Plato classic, no Clancy or Grisham thriller, no Catton history or even any Shakespearean drama, despite their considerable wit and brilliance, dispenses life to its readers. The Word does exactly that. It breathes, moves and inspires. It interacts with our thinking, both consciously and sub-consciously, and essentially creates a new person within us. Its energy puts it on par with the very presence of Jesus, as we see in 1 John 1:1. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life.” (NIV).  The Psalmist David explains the value of the engrafted Word of God.  “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You!” Psalm 119:9-11. 

Love the Word.  Cherish it.  Respect it.  Let it wash through you.  Memorize it.  Meditate on it.  Study it.  Search out its hidden meanings.  Sprinkle your conversation with its verses.  Emulate its characters of faith.  Trust it.  Act on it.  Pray the Word.  Sing the Word.  Make it your standard of belief. Let it shape your opinions.  Make it the filter through which you strain all your decisions.  Qualify the issues of life through its pronouncements.  You must understand that your relationship with Jesus Christ will be a function of His Word in your life.  You, alone, will be the arbiter of that involvement. 

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