July 28, 2015

Obedience Matters

Today as I read this verse, I couldn't help but think about all that is left for me to do this summer. I imagined that by this point in the month of July, I would have all my assignments for my classes completed. I would have had most of my fall planning prepared, and I would be starting to read some of my books for my theology and philosophy classes. Instead, I am sitting here thinking about everything that is left undone. Yes, my to-do list is long, quite long, and it seems that as soon as I check off one item, another gets placed on it. Sigh!

More so, as I think about my to-do list and all that is still hanging over me, I cannot help but be thankful for the work I do -- teaching and school. In truth, I am thankful that I have good purposeful work to do every day, and that I have a career that fulfills me, provides for me, and gives me the opportunity to invest in the lives of others (namely, in young students). The Lord is good to me, and He has provided a way for me to spend the rest of my work life doing something practical, yet highly valuable. I am in a wonderful position, in such a good place, whereby I can see that my efforts, while not productive in the sense that I "produce" volumes of work, does indeed have merit. Yes, my work, the work I do each day as I teach students how to write essays, is good. It is good, practical work that enables me to live a comfortable life, with comfortable results, and a very comfortable outcome. I am blessed. I am so very blessed. Selah!

The Counsel of the Lord Remains

This is the word of the Lord to me today:

The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the thoughts of His heart through all generations.

Psalm 33:11 reminds me that the Lord knows what He is doing -- not just in my life -- but in all generations throughout the ages. Yes, the plans the Lord has, those that are in His heart, come to pass -- they will not be thwarted -- and therefore, His counsel stands (it will be proven true.)

I think about the Lord, His sovereignty today because in this world right now, everything seems so very tenuous, so very uncertain. Between the nuclear plan with Iran to the threat of ISIS and the variability of the stock market, the world trade centers, and the ups and downs in the economy, life in its outcome is vastly uncertain, vastly unknown, and vastly unforseen.

How can we know for certain that we are doing the THING the Lord has asked us to do for His Name and His Kingdom?

I am convinced that the Lord has an individual plan for each of His children. This plan is unique to their design, their calling, and their willingness to obey the Lord as He calls to them. Yes, obedience is always a large factor for it begs the question of how one can follow if they are not willing to obey the voice of the Lord?

"Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool. "If you consent and obey, You will eat the best of the land; "But if you refuse and rebel, You will be devoured by the sword." Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken (Isaiah 1:18-20).

It is a strange thing today to consider, but obedience is something the Lord has required of His children from the time of Israel right up through to those of us who live and call upon His Name today. We don't really like to think about obedience very much anymore, mostly because it smacks of legalism, and to the church, well, that is anathema. We are children of Grace (and rightly so), thus there is no need to discuss obedience anymore, right? Obedience went out the window with the Old Testament, therefore, we can simply live under grace, and not worry about obeying God.

I know that for most believers, reading that sentence would cause them to go into shock. In truth, we know we are to obey the Lord, to be obedient to His word, but we think that it is not up to us to obey, but rather that the Holy Spirit obeys for us. And while this is true in many aspects, the fact still remains that as God's sons and daughters we are called to a life of obedience. The Word, His Word, promises us great reward if we obey. We must remember that like any good parent, God gives rewards to His children based upon their behavior (words and deeds). Yes, God gives liberally in His blessings and in His rewards. Thus, it behooves us, those that call on His Name, to be obedient, to listen and to obey His commands. Yet, for many believers in Christ Jesus, this idea of obedience, well it just doesn't suit well. They like the idea that their Father is tolerant, is easy going, is forgiving because that gives them flex room to do their own thing without His condemnation. It is like this -- we want our Heavenly Father to be a cool Dad -- rather than the RIGHTEOUS, HOLY, AND SOVEREIGN KING that He is. Yes, we want a cool daddy to hang with when in reality we belong to an AWESOME (as in awe, reverent, and fearful) GOD.

What is it about obedience that causes most Christians to recoil?

Obedience means "compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another's authority" (Merriam-Webster). When we obey, we are willingly complying (acting, serving, following, respecting) to a particular command or law. We are choosing to respond in accordance with someone else's wish. We obey the laws of the road, the laws of the court, the laws of nature out of fear of penalty or punishment; yet, when it comes to the Laws of the Lord (God's Word), we hope that the JUDGE will gives us a pat on the back, a pass, a warning only for our habitual failure to comply.

I think that most Christians choose to disobey the Lord because it is in their nature to do so. I always struggle with these verses that say we are new creatures in Christ Jesus. You know, there is this idea that we are made new, born again, and that with it, all the old stuff, the old ways, have passed. Yet, we know that Paul struggled with the old way, old habits, and old thinking even after he was converted (Rom. 7). Thus, this idea that somehow we choose to obey naturally suggests that the Christian life is made perfect at the cross. And while this is true in part, we know that until we receive our new, resurrected bodies and no longer live in the presence of sin, we will continue to struggle with sin issues. We know that the power of sin has been broken in our life (Rom. 8:2). Yet, we still must deal with the presence of sin (in our world) until the day we are taken up to be with the Lord or we die and go home to be with Him forever.

In discussing the four-fold nature of salvation, Pink (1929) wrote, "Sin is yet to be completely eradicated from the believer’s being, so that he shall appear before God without any spot or blemish. True, this is his legal status even now, yet it has not become so in his state or experience." I love this explanation as I think it clearly addresses the point where most Christians seem confused. Christ's death on the cross provided salvation from sin in four distinct ways:
  1. Salvation from the pleasure and love of sin.
  2. Salvation from the penalty of sin.
  3. Salvation from the power of sin.
  4. Salvation from the presence of sin.
It is point four that trips most Christian's up. While we are saved from the pleasure, penalty and power of sin through Christ's sacrificial death, we must wait until a future time to experience salvation from the presence of sin.

Thus, while we recognize that once we become a Christian, the old ways pass away as we are conformed through His death, burial, and resurrection, we simply want to believe that we are also free from sin's effect now in this life. Therefore, we grasp the fact that with all true conversion experiences there is a change of heart, a new attitude, and a new way of thinking (2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 2:29). And, we know and recognize that through the Grace of God, we are able to see the truth of our sin and its consequences in our life. We turn from the old habits, and we begin to walk in a new way. Furthermore, we know that to experience ongoing freedom from the pleasure and love of sin, we must abide in Christ as He abides with us (John 15:1-11; Gal. 2:20).  Likewise, we know and we understand that Christ took the penalty for our sins when He bore them on the cross (Gal. 3:14; Acts 17:11). As a result, the power of sin (Rom. 6; 8:2) is broken for the life of the believer, and thanks to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, our Helper, we are able to remain free from it's dominion (Rom. 8:9; Gal. 4:6; Rev. 3:1). All that is left is to wait for the removal of sin's presence, which will not come until the Lord returns (Heb. 9:28; Rom. 13:11; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 John 3:2).

So then, where does obedience come into play?

I think that obedience becomes possible through two outflows of the process of salvation. First, when we abide in Christ as He abides in us, we learn obedience through His modeling, through His relationship with the Father (John 15:10). Then through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we learn to obey the Gospel of Christ (1 Peter 1:1-2). The problem, then, is that Christians who do not abide in the Lord, who are not actively being guided by the Holy Spirit, struggle the most with the pleasure and power of sin in their lives. The key, therefore, is to abide in Him, to remain connected to the True Vine (Jesus), and to live in obedience through the power of the Holy Spirit in order to overcome the temptations and the trials associated with sin in our life as well as in the world.

As I ponder this today, I am reminded that this obedience to the Lord is habitual. It is a daily sacrifice, a laying down of one's own life, their control, their wishes, their desires, in order to receive the power of grace to overcome any and all temptations.

How then must we live?

I believe we must live and walk in faithful obedience to the commands of the Lord, to the Word of God. John 15:1-11 NIV states,
"I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full."
In closing, my prayer today is to consider my faith walk from the standpoint of obedience to God's Word. I must ask myself if I am being faithful in my study of the Word, in my daily prayer life, and in seeking the Lord for all direction and spiritual understanding. If I say yes, then I should be filled with the joy of the Lord. If I say no, then I should know and recognize that the lack of peace I feel, the lack of joy, is a direct result of my relationship status.

Joy in the Lord only comes through the daily communion and faithful relationship between believer and the Lord Jesus Christ. May it be so in my life and in yours this good day. Selah!


References

Pink, A. W. (1929). A Fourfold Salvation. Retrieved from http://www.pbministries.org/books/pink/Four_Fold_Salvation/ffsalvation_preface.htm

No comments: