This week’s post was supposed to be a cherry clafoutis recipe, but my French friends told me the clafoutis was not all that great, which is no less than I thought myself, so instead I’m writing a post on spiritual obedience. Next week I’ll post a recipe for this delicious, naturally gluten-free, fudgy chocolate cake that my mother-in-law gave me, and which I’ve been meaning to post about for years.
I’ve studied the Bible with many people over the course of the past 2 decades. After I was converted, I learned to teach by sitting in on studies led by others, and before long I started teaching, myself. Let me tell you something, teaching the Bible to people who come from all backgrounds is a refining experience. No two people are alike and each presents different arguments, questions, and sticking points that force you to dig deep into the Bible in order to answer in a way that is scripturally true. This post comes out of my wrestling with the scriptures, and if you find you’re not in the mood today for teaching / exhortation (which I totally understand – it’s such a personal thing, isn’t it?) well then, come back for the cake!
One of these arguments / sticking points I often come across is variations in understanding the concept of obedience, or what it really means to make Jesus Lord. Biblically, this happens when we first become a Christian and repent, dying to our old lives. This is like the levitical sacrifice of a young bull for the burnt offering – we offer up our entire selves as we shed the obvious acts of the sinful nature (Galatians 5:19-20) and replace them with obedience to Christ. What follows for the rest of our lives is akin to the levitical fellowship offering. We strive to make Jesus Lord in all the areas of our lives on a daily basis. We’ve already offered ourselves up once and for all. But every day we must wake up and decide to obey.
One day, I want to talk about my own daily walk with God and how I’ve grown (and still need to grow) in obedience and in making Jesus Lord. It’s exciting, really, because it feels like an adventure with God even though most of the growing pains are … painful. But for the purpose of length, I’ve decided just to focus on the call to obedience when we first become a Christian and save my story for another time.
From the variety of studies I’ve participated in, I can see that not everyone views obedience the same way. As I address the issue, I want to make it clear that it’s not intended to pass judgment. In spiritual disagreements, I cling to Philippians 3:12-16 (condensed here).
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
Instead, I hope to offer some points to consider regarding obedience if, on some things, you think differently. In the end, it’s God who makes it clear.
One of the problems I see with conversion by – what is often referred to as – “The Sinner’s Prayer” (or praying Jesus into your heart, or conversion by alter call), is that you’re not taught to be a disciple first. And therefore you’re not taught how to obey before you make the life-altering decision. I don’t downplay the sincerity of a person calling out to Jesus in this moment of his or her life, or its life-changing possibilities. I certainly don’t deny the fact that God is working in a person’s life in that moment to bring them to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. It’s just that I’ve observed, after the fact, that with many, the conversion is incomplete.
In my interactions with people who’ve been converted this way, they often describe it as “when I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior”. And the two terms are lumped together as one. While that’s true – He is both Lord and Savior, viewing them as as a joint-description can water down the lordship part. Also, when you think about it, you can’t really accept a lord, any more than you can accept a king. Either you choose a lord – you make him lord because of your love and respect for him, and out of undying fealty. Or he becomes your lord by force. (As in how the scriptures say, one day every knee will bow to Jesus).
I love Timothy Keller’s podcasts, and yesterday I was listening to one called “Spiritual Warfare”. In it, he talked about temptation and accusation, both of which are tools Satan uses to distract us and pull us away from God. Temptation is when we downplay God’s holiness and exaggerate our own consequence. This causes us to sin with reasoning like:
I’m only human and it’s God’s job to forgive us anyway (ex: so I’ll sleep with my fiancé – we’ve already committed to being together anyway. Not yet being married is just a technicality)
or – you don’t know how hard I work. I deserve this (ex: why politicians have affairs, or … to be perfectly honest … why I eat too much sugar when I’m entertaining – I am really working on this)
or – it’s not a big deal in the scheme of things. I basically follow the Ten Commandments so I’m a good person (everyone streams TV shows illegally – it doesn’t hurt anyone)
It’s what causes a mafia guy to think he’s right with God. Does he not loves and honour his mother? So what if he kills a few people? That example might be laughable (though true), but this is what causes us to practice things like tax evasion (I probably won’t get caught, and the government takes out too much anyway). Or … I can probably have another drink. Sure, sometimes I don’t remember what happened the next day, but most of the time I can stop. Or … I’ll just watch this one porn video. It’s not my fault it popped up on my screen. Or .. so what if I curse. It’s cute coming from a holy person like me.
In giving in to temptation, (and this is sort of a dangerous thing to say because God IS love and he DOES love us), but in giving in, we play up God’s love for us. We convince ourselves that God loving us means he’ll turn a blind eye to our sin. In any case, that’s what Jesus died for, we tell ourselves.
Accusation, says Keller, is when we downplay the worth we have in God’s sight and exaggerate his judgement. This leads to guilt, which has no place in our relationship with God unless it’s in those few moments when we’re convinced we’ve sinned and follow it up with radical repentance. I won’t spend too much on this because this doesn’t generally deceive us regarding obedience.
Lordship, discipleship, obedience … seeing temptation for what it is … these don’t come easily. That’s why Jesus says in Matthew 28:18 that we need to go into all nations and MAKE disciples. People need to be taught how to make Jesus Lord before they can decide to make him Lord. They need to count the costs on whether they can see it through to the end (Lk 14:28). You can usually tell how much a person has made Jesus Lord by how teachable (or how defensive) they are. Those who receive Jesus’ Word like a child are usually the ones who have made him Lord.
God didn’t design conversion to be an individual thing, yet so many people teach it like that. If you look at all the conversion stories in the book of Acts (the early church) it always started with disciples teaching a person, then baptising them after they understood that Jesus was Lord. Coming back to Matthew 28, this is the plan Jesus laid out. After making disciples, he says, we are to baptise them in the trinity, then stay in their lives to teach them how to obey.
Obedience is important to Jesus. We can’t make him Lord unless we obey. Consider Jesus’ own obedience (in Philippians 2:8-11):
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
He obeyed by dying. And though he usually doesn’t ask that of us, can we not obey by giving up something that’s inconvenient to give up?
Consider the things Jesus said about obedience:
“In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” Luke 14:33
Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.” John 14:33
“If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” John 15:10
“You are my friends if you do what I command.” John 15:14
I know this is hard-core faith stuff for a little lifestyle blogger like me. If I wanted a bigger following I should just stick to chocolate cake recipes and pictures of the Eiffel Tower, right? But sometimes things like this bubble up inside me until they find expression because they’re so important. A person can miss out on true life-change, or potentially even salvation because of inaccurate or incomplete teaching on spiritual obedience.
If you’ve found that this strums a cord in you – if there are areas of your life where you know the good you ought to do and you’re not doing it, or where you know Jesus is not Lord over a certain thing, and you must make the decision to obey – let me encourage you with Hebrews 1 to throw off everything that hinders, and the sin that so easily entangles. After all, the best way we can show our love for Jesus is to obey his teaching.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross,scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.