If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. – John 7:17
My heart is breaking for the bride of Christ. Her Middle Eastern limbs are being decapitated. The church is being marked for destruction. Thank God for our eternal security in Jesus. Thank God for the staying power of the Spirit. And thank God for His promise that in the end we will be more than conquerors against His foes.
But there is another reason my heart breaks for the bride of Christ. A great portion of the church in the west, in America in particular, is lethargic, fat and out of shape. Here we are living in the last days of the Laodicean church. There is a large portion of “The Church” that is either dead or lukewarm. Jesus, His call and ministry in life has degenerated into a take it or leave it proposition. When the spiritual rubber meets the road of application many are leaving God’s word behind. People talk christianeze but they walk in the world at ease. Jesus is not the top priority in the lives of many in the church; He’s just something else to be fit into a busy schedule. Some of this is due to the compromise of scripture and lost vision of those leading the congregations. Pastor Millard Milk-toast and Pastor Worldly-Willie are in some pulpits. There’s something missing in the message to the flock of God. But pastors and church leaders are not the only ones to blame.
How is it that people can sit in churches where God’s word is taught and show little to no lasting fruit? How can people look you straight in the face and say, “Yes” to the word taught and then walk away living “No” to the word applied? Conversion means change; from darkness to light; from the power of Satan to God. God in His word speaks of accountability, responsibility, confession and repentance. The blessed effect of the gospel is a new creation and being transformed by the renewing of your mind. If that is true why are so many in the church so similar to those in the world? Why are so many in the church adopting the methods, mannerisms and immoralities of the world?
The answer to that question is that a “gospel” is being preached that is devoid of repentance. There is a doctrine of grace being taught that frees people to sin rather than frees them from having to sin. “Christians” are not growing in their faith. “Christians” are not challenged. “Christians” are bearing little to no fruit. “Christians” are not overcoming; they are not victorious. “Christians” are living in sin, with little to no conviction of their sin, and still settled and satisfied they are good “Christians.” To that the inspired words of Paul still resound, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!” (Romans 6:1).
In the Gospel of John Jesus stated to His religious opposition, “ Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. 17 If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. 18 He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him. 19 Did not Moses give you the law, yet none of you keeps the law?” (John 7:16-19). Jesus’ teaching was true to the teaching of the Father. Why didn’t His religious opponents see that? It was because of unwillingness to do so. Jesus said if a person is willing to do the will of God they will “know” that the doctrine is from God. In other words, receiving revelation is linked to obedient application of what has already been revealed. The problem with the religious leaders opposing Jesus was that their teaching was from themselves and was self-seeking. They focused on their traditions rather than the scriptures. They had drifted from the objective truth of scripture to the subjective “truth” of their human traditions. They didn’t seek the glory of God. They sought their own glory. They sought to establish their authority rather than God’s. They were caught up in religious culture rather than spiritual consecration. That too often is also true of religious leaders in our day.
Jesus indicted the religious leaders stating they had the Law of Moses and, “yet none of you keeps the law.” They hadn’t applied what they had been given. And if the shepherds didn’t apply God’s word how could the sheep be expected to do so? Sheep follow their shepherd. The condition of the sheep is in part an indictment of the work of the shepherds. Ouch!
But the condition of the sheep isn’t all on the shepherd’s shoulders. The individual sheep must bear responsibility. No matter who has let you down or misguided you, on judgment day, you will be held accountable. On that day if you are guilty of being lukewarm or nowhere with the Lord you will suffer the consequences. Jesus will ask you, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). You won’t be able to blame others for your deficiencies and delinquencies on that day. If we truly belong to Jesus then we have the Holy Spirit and He is all we need to walk in truth (John 16:13; 1 Cor. 2:9-14). There is no viable excuse for a lack of passion for the Christ of the cross of passion (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14-21). That is why it is so important to give priority to your personal relationship with Jesus. What are you doing with Jesus? Are you getting to know Him? Are you walking day by day with Jesus in His word in the Spirit?
The point Jesus was making is that obedience is a prerequisite to receiving the truth and revelation of God. The religious leaders were in reality living in rebellion to God’s word. They had a passion, but it was a passion to hold onto their position. They had long lost their passion for God. They had long lost their passion to please God. Their lack of passion for God and His word led to a stifling procrastination in obeying God. And it is that same lack of obedience that is the missing ingredient in Christianity today.
The righteous path to understanding the teaching of God is to seek His glory even if it means crucifying our flesh. If you are not obeying what God has shown you now, you shouldn’t expect to receive more revelation. Part of the reason the Jews didn’t receive Jesus or know His identity as the promised Messiah was because they had not obeyed the revelation of God in the writings of Moses they had already received. If you obey and apply what God reveals to you, you can expect Him to build you up with more revelation and understanding. If you don’t apply what He reveals to you it results in a watered down foundation that is too weak to build on. Application of revelation is a prerequisite for more revelation. Do you want to know more of God and His word and go deeper with Him? Apply in the Spirit what He has shown you already. Then He will give you more.
Application is a matter of obedience. That irritates the flesh. We don’t naturally want to obey. Our sinful nature is prone to rebel and disobey. But if we want to hear from the Lord and grow in our relationship with Him, we must obey. The lord reveals Himself and His word to those who are willing to submit in obedience to Him and His word. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). Why is this so? What does the Bible reveal to us about obedience?
First, obedience and faith go hand in hand. By faith we obey. And by obedience we demonstrate evidence of our faith. This is why those saved from their sins through faith in Christ are referred to as “obedient to the faith” – “Then the word of God spread, and the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7; Rom. 1:5). Obedience is something God requires throughout the Bible. It is something that irritates the fleshly sinful nature. You can tell the unsaved or self-oriented person by how they respond to obeying God’s word or instruction in general.
Second, obedience is the means God uses to establish us in the gospel and our faith. In Paul’s closing words to the Romans he states, “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 26 but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith— 27 to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:25-27). In his closing words Paul reminds the Roman Christians that God is able to establish them. The word “establish” comes from the Greek term steridzo from which we get the English word steroids. Steridzo means to set fast, to be resolute, strengthen, confirm. We need to pump some spiritual iron. And the way we do that is through obedience to God’s word.
Steroids enable a muscle to recover faster and bear greater weight. When we obey God’s word, we are infused with the ability to obey more and more. When we obey it strengthens us to lift heavier burdens in life and overcome bigger obstacles. In God’s gym we are established spiritual by obeying God’s instructions. God is our Personal Trainer and if we want to get in shape and improve our health we need to heed His instructions.
Obedience leads to strength. Disobedience leads to weakness. If you go to the gym but only look at the weights and never lift them, you’ll be weak. You have to lift to build muscle. This is the principle of sowing and reaping God has put in place (Gal. 6:7-9). Obedience is God’s means to strengthen and establish us in our faith.
Third, there is a battle test to obey fought in the mind. Keeping with the theme of training, your attitude determines your altitude; your determination determines your destination. Decision determines your destiny. This is why the LORD inspired Isaiah to write, “’Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the LORD, ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword’; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 1:19-20). God calls us to reason with Him. He associates willingness (which takes place in the heart as an act of our will) and obedience (which is a decision rooted in right thinking). Obedience is a decision we make. According to God’s words it is something we must decide to do. Obedience is the result of fulfilled accountability.
Spiritual warfare involves making a decision to obey. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled” (2 Cor. 10:4-6).
Satan is a liar and deceiver (John 8:43-44). He seeks to get people to disobey God by presenting them with alternatives to God’s truth. He tempted Eve with a lie that put her in a position to either trust God and obey Him or mistrust God and disobey Him. She chose to mistrust and disobey God (Gen. 3). Obedience therefore is a test of our faith (e.g. 2 Cor. 2:9).
Fourth, obedience determines your master. “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?” (Rom. 6:16). Obedience is enslaving. That can be good. That can be bad. If you obey God and His word you will become more and more likely to adhere to God and His word. When you flex your spiritual muscles in obedience it’s as though God releases holy spiritual endorphins of joy that motivate us to press on to more obedience. If you disobey God and His word you will become more and more likely to continue the downward spiral of sin. You will crash and burn. This is why obedience is so closely linked with faith. Obedience is evidence of genuine faith (e.g. Matthew 7:21; John 14:15, 21).
Fifth, God disciplines us to make us obedient. There are consequences to disobeying God and His word. These consequences serve to warn and move us away from that which will harm us and if persisted in kill us even to the point of eternal death. God’s word is the way of life (Prov. 6:23; 10:17; Jer. 21:8; Psalm 16:11). God loves us and wants what is best for us. When we deviate from His way we endanger ourselves and others and move away from His best. God disciplines us to return to His best and right obedient path.
Disobedience was the downfall of Israel (Deut. 8:20; Isaiah 42:24). Obedience is expected from the time we are children and throughout our lives. From our earliest existence we are warned to obey God and our parents – “The eye that mocks his father, and scorns obedience to his mother, the ravens of the valley will pick it out, and the young eagles will eat it” (Prov. 30:17). Obedience holds the family unit together. It’s important to learn to obey at an early age. Learning obedience early in life prepares us for success later in life. We need obedience training as soon as we can understand right from wrong.
God makes obedience the key that opens the doors of blessing. Now we need to clarify that even though obedience and blessing are connected, God’s blessing is not primarily contingent on our obedience. God’s blessing is contingent on God’s own nature of grace. God blesses us not because of who we are, but because of who He is. If God withholds blessing because of disobedience it is only to discipline us and move us toward greater blessing. God disciplines us “for our profit” (Hebrews 12:10). He disciplines the disobedient because He loves them. God’s objective in us is to move us further toward and deeper into holiness where we will experience and appreciate the richness of His blessed presence (cf. Hebrews 12:3-11).
Sixth, obedience is the product of the Holy Spirit’s holy work in us. Peter opened his inspired letter to persecuted Christians by referring to them as the, “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.” (1 Peter 1:2). Here we see obedience is directly associated with the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Further in this opening chapter Peter exhorts, “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-16). We are to be “as obedient children.” Obedience is the mark of a genuine Christian. Obedience is what distinguishes the saved from the unsaved. Are you more disobedient or more obedient? Examine yourself. Seek the Lord. Surrender to the Holy Spirit and His holy work in you.
Seventh, obedience produces a good testimony. Paul wrote of the Christians in Rome, “For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil” (Rom. 16:19). The wattage of our light for Jesus is in direct proportion to the degree of our obedience to Him. Let your light shine through obedience.
Eighth, obedience is an encouragement to other believers. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For if in anything I have boasted to him about you, I am not ashamed. But as we spoke all things to you in truth, even so our boasting to Titus was found true. 15 And his affections are greater for you as he remembers the obedience of you all, how with fear and trembling you received him. 16 Therefore I rejoice that I have confidence in you in everything.” (2 Cor. 7:14-16). It’s encouraging to see other believers obey the truth. When we obey we take our position alongside Jesus and other Christians who stand on the front lines of the spiritual battle.
Paul wrote to Philemon, “Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.” (Philemon 21). Paul’s mind was put at ease because he knew he could trust Philemon to do the right thing in regards to the slave Onesimus. It’s a great source of encouragement for church leaders to know those who serve in the church will do so obediently. Maybe Pastor Millard Mile-toast and Pastor World-Willie would repent and courageously teach, promote and live God’s word if the flocks they oversee were willing to eat that food. Maybe as the flock is a product in part of the shepherd, the shepherd is a product of the flock.
When our brothers and sisters who are in harm’s way see their brethren in other parts of the world taking a stand for righteousness with them it encourages them. But when one limb of the bride suffers and the other could care less, when one limb exercises faith while another lays lazily limp, it is very discouraging. Obey and encourage one another!
Ninth, obedience glorifies God. Disobedience discredits God. The sinful disobedience of those representing God is a negative testimony about the reality of God. When a Christian disobeys it communicates their unfaithfulness but it also reflects poorly on God (Titus 2:5). The world says, “If God is real, how come He makes so little difference in your life?” This is why King David’s sin with Bathsheba was so atrocious; it gave the enemies of God ammunition to accuse God of being less than God (2 Sam. 12:14). Glorify God; obey Him!
Paul wrote to the Corinthians about their obedience in giving to the needs of the ministry. He said, “For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God, 13 while, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men, “ (2 Cor. 9:12-13). Their obedience in giving resulted in God being glorified because by their sacrificial giving they were declaring their faith in God and God’s faithfulness to sustain them as they gave. Obedience, especially obedience in giving, glorifies God.
Tenth, obedience is Christlike. God’s prime objective for us is to be molded into the likeness of Jesus (Rom. 8:29; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6). Jesus obeyed. “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8; cf. also Heb. 5:8). Jesus is our model of obedience. If we are to realize God’s purpose for us we, like our Savior and Lord Jesus, must obey.
Finally, obey in the power of the love of the Spirit. When we speak about obedience the temptation is to slip into a works righteousness or self-reliant attitude. If we rely on ourselves to obey, obedience will be a heavy burden that will ultimately crush us. But Jesus says “My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). How can that be? Jesus enters our life and empowers us to obey. The fuel for our obedience is God’s love.
When we accept Jesus as Savior and Lord and He comes to reside within us by the indwelling Holy Spirit the love of God is poured out into our heart (Rom. 5:5). And it is that love of the Holy Spirit in us which brings the victory. God’s love “never fails” (1 Cor. 13:8). That is why John is inspired to write, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3). And then John says, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” (1 John 5:4). Do you see the connection? The love of the Holy Spirit in us is the motivating fuel for obedience. And that obedience is the product of the faith worked in us by the Spirit. Love, obedience, and faith; they all work together to bring great victory.
When you examine your life do you see an obedient follower of Jesus? Do you love Jesus enough to obey Him? Will you obey Jesus, no matter what? Would you stand with your brethren and give your life to obey Jesus the Lord? If the Holy Spirit is indeed residing within you, if you have indeed been born again and spiritually regenerated, you will be moving toward greater and greater obedience. If on the other hand you are living a lie, you won’t much care about obeying God and His word. Obedience is the evidence of our faith (cf. James 2).
Where do you stand with Jesus? Will you begin by obeying His call to repent of your sins and accept Him as Savior? If you have taken that first step of obedience will you continue more seriously with the Spirit’s work to help you live a life of obedience to God and His word? Will you be “obedient to the faith”?