Last week we asked the question of if a believer could live any way they desired and still be confident of their salvation. It seemed, though, to precipitate this question: how does a Christian obey?
Personally, one of my biggest struggles is the crushing thought that I’m just simply not good enough. I know that Jesus died for me, and that my salvation is secure. Yet, when I wake up and sit at my desk, with a laptop in front of me and a Bible beside me, a war seems to break out in my heart. I think, “If I don’t read my Bible now and spend time praying, it won’t happen today”. Then I think, “Yeah, but I’m tired and I need some coffee, some news, and some sports before I really get into it”. Regardless of what I decide, when it comes time to turn the lights out on another day, the seizing thought hits again: “You weren’t good enough today. You didn’t pray enough. You didn’t read your Bible enough. Are you sure God still loves you? How can you call yourself a pastor when you’re such a fraud?”.
It’s frustrating, and I think we all feel that way more often than we’d care to admit. We often have a performance-based faith, wherein we can console ourselves with battles won, or beat ourselves up for opportunities lost. Too often I think, “The Christian life can’t be this confusing”, because in reality, which is better: to read your Bible slavishly? – Or to ignore it altogether with the consoling thoughts that redemption is ours? Certainly, neither contain much eternal worth.
I believe it’s there that the war is won and lost, not because of which route we choose, but rather with whom we decide to talk. The reality is this: it’s better to read your Bible than to leave it closed. It’s better to say no to temptation than to give in. It’s better to be proactive than reactive. It’s better to keep the law than to disregard it. Yet, are we saved and made holy through those things? – No. Those things cannot cleanse our conscience. Rather, it’s another fanciful trick of the devil to make the internal dialogue crown ourselves with our own accomplishments. That is, when I lay my head on my pillow and say, “No, I read my Bible. I’m good”, there’s little value in the day that passed. Instead, we need to be seeking God in all we do. If I go to bed and soothe my restless mind with what I did, then regardless of what I accomplished, I’ve missed the entire point of why I should have done those things in the first place.
Let me put it this way: in the Garden of Eden, the Lord planted a tree in the center, from which Adam and Eve could not eat. The reason was so that they would choose the Lord, and be reminded that He was God, and they were not. To eat from the tree (even knowing that the sending of Jesus was God’s response), was terribly wrong. To simply avoid eating of the tree through whichever methods was also of little value. Rather, the right path would have been to continually draw near to the Almighty, so that the tree served not as a temptation, but a reminder of how wonderful and lovely and brilliant and radiant God was and is.
That doesn’t mean that we should leave temptation in our lives, but it also means that we’re not to be applauded by simply avoiding them. Here’s another example: if I were an alcoholic, and I had beer in the house, what – as a Christian – should I do? To drink because I’m redeemed is to have no regard for God’s holiness, or Jesus’ sacrifice. To pour the drink down the drain is a great step, but does it do anything to satisfy my longing and take my heart from my addiction to Christ’s throne? – No. Instead, the right course of action would be to get rid of the beer, while holding fast to the Lord. After all, the point is not the avoidance of temptation; it’s the embrace of the Almighty! Why did eating a certain fruit for Adam and Eve matter? – Not because the fruit was poisonous (it had nothing to do with the fruit; God could have given any command!), but rather because it was meant to inspire love for the Lord.
So how are we to obey? – It is, of course, to do what the Bible commands: to flee sexual immorality, to avoid drunkenness, to keep the Sabbath holy, to honor our parents, to refuse temptation, etc. However, it is not of value if we pat ourselves on the back and stop there, but rather we must turn to the Lord and say, “I know you command that I do not give into these sins! – Teach me that you are better, and take away the desire to gratify my sinful nature’s unending thirst”.
Paul says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). In other words, “For those who believe in Jesus, neither outward obedience nor disobedience is of any value. It is all about faith expressing itself in love for others and for the Lord”. Of course, it must be said that while obedience and disobedience is not the focus of growth, that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. In that way, I have just one more thought on the matter:
When writing to Timothy, Paul tells the recipient to stay away from false doctrine (i.e. living any way we want and assuming our personal salvation, or assuming we are saved through our works), and to advance God’s Kingdom through faith. The goal of that command, he says, “is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience” (1 Timothy 1:3-5). The equation is that a pure heart (one that does not give into sin and temptation) produces a clean conscience before God, and both result in love, which is the ultimate culmination of the law: love for God and for others (Luke 10:27).
There are two things that appear as a clean conscience. The first is an actually cleansed conscience. The second is a dead conscience. The value of physical, outward obedience (such as getting rid of the beer when tempted, or spending time in God’s Word), is that it does not kill the internal voice of morality, but rather stirs it up (and of course, the Bible is of so much more worth than simply this). The child that is constantly exposed to violence becomes desensitized to it. The heart that justifies a life of sin because of Jesus’ sacrifice is the dead conscience masquerading as a living, active, guide, leading always to death. While we cannot take a victory lap for saying no to sin, living according to God’s Word and standard is the only path to a real, true, relationship with Him. Should we neglect His law and His Word – for whatever reason – we neglect Him.
So how do we obey? – Follow God’s commands, while always stirring up our relationship with Him, through prayer and His Word. “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey”.