Tag Archives: obedience

Surrender: How Does God Define Saving Faith?

Hands UpWe want to study saving faith because there is a kind of faith which does not save. The simple word faith means to believe something is true. But James 2.19-20 challenges the concept of faith without works: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?”

You know God is able and willing to save you. You know He loves you very much. But you also know He commands allegiance and obedience solely to Him. God leaves no option for idols in our lives; He desires and demands everything we have: heart, soul, strength, and mind. He demands surrender.

Would you be Jesus’ disciple? Jesus challenges you: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” (Luke 9.23-24)

The Bible ties together the concepts of faith and obedience so closely together, sometimes it seems they are synonymous, as in Hebrews 3.16-19:

For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

PrayingFaith and obedience are not the same thing, but saving faith is evidenced by obedience from the heart. Obedience to God’s commands is the only test we have to see someone’s (even our own) faith. Faith must act before we can see it. Just as the heart turns in repentance and then the deeds follow, so a heart turns in faith and then bears fruit of righteousness. By their fruit you shall know them, Jesus said in Matthew 7.20.

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2.14-17)

Are you bearing fruit for the Lord? Does your life demonstrate joy, peace, forgiveness, mercy, thanksgiving, patience, kindness? Do you speak the word of God to people around you? Do you shine with God’s light? Do you work on killing sin in your life and producing works of righteousness? God has no use for barren fig trees (Luke 13.6-9; Mark 11.12-14).

Surrender your mind, body, and soul to Jesus. He will save you!

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Chosen for Obedience

Crown of ThornsFirst Peter 1.1-2 stands as our base text:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
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.

God chose us according to His foreknowledge. He chose us by sanctification of the Spirit. He chose us for the purpose of obedience!

Some suppose if they are chosen they don’t have to worry about living in obedience. Thus they prove they do not belong among the chosen. God’s chosen children render obedience to Jesus Christ–to this purpose we are born again.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slave to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (Rom. 6.15-18)

God freed us from sin in order that we might become slaves to righteousness! And a slave of righteousness is no longer under God’s condemnation and walks the paths of life. Lord, slap those chains of righteousness on me; I want to be Your slave!

Notice in our text we are elect “for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” To what blood sprinkling does Peter refer? Here we must think back through our Old Testament studies. When was blood sprinkled on the people?

In Exodus 24, Moses ratified the covenant between God and Israel by taking two basins of blood, sprinkling one of the basins on the altar and the other basin on the people. They sealed the covenant in blood on both sides: God and man. Notice the words as they agreed to the covenant:

Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient.” And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.” (Ex. 24.7-8)

Lamb of GodThe concept of sprinkling blood necessarily included obedience to the law of God.

We have been elect, brothers and sisters, into covenant with God. Just as God chose Israel and sealed His covenant with them with the blood of oxen, so He has chosen us and sealed us with the blood of His righteous Lamb, Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself said, as He passed around the cup on the night He was betrayed, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Mt. 26.28).

And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world…” (1 Pet. 1.17-20)

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Following God’s Commandments

Bible ReadingGod tells us many times in manifold ways to keep His commandments. Obedience brings blessing (Lev. 26.1ff) and disobedience brings terror and destruction (Lev. 26.14ff).

“…fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments…all the days of your life” (Deut. 6.2).

“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (1 Jn. 2.3)

“This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” (1 Jn. 3.23-24)

But we must be careful not to make commandments where God has not. Jesus fought the Pharisees on this point so many times! He told them, “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men” (Mk. 7.8) and “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition” (Mk. 7.9). Over years of debates, these religious leaders had constructed a system of tradition which eventually superseded God’s commandments! It became difficult to discern between what was God’s law and what was the traditions of the elders.

Friends, we have the same trouble today, and we must look to Jesus for the antidote. Jesus showed Himself able to discern between what was actually God’s commandment and what was man’s reasoning and interpretation. Jesus always went back to the word and took it at its word, and we must follow His footsteps. If we cannot clearly show someone that what we say is God’s will and not our own, we should tread lightly and probably back off.

On the other side of things, we should understand that God’s commandments do not necessarily rule out other things.

Consider David’s Transporting of the Ark

God instructed the Israelites on exactly how to transport the tabernacle and the Ark of the Testimony (Ex. 25.14-15; Deut. 10.8; Num. 4.4-15).

Not Following what Was Commanded

David did not follow those instructions, but he placed the Ark in a new cart drawn by oxen (1 Chr. 13.7), and all were rejoicing until Uzzah put out a well-meaning hand to steady the precious furniture when the oxen stumbled…and the Lord killed him immediately. The rejoicing turned to mourning. Later, David realized “that no one by the Levites may carry the ark of God, for the LORD had chosen them to carry the ark of the LORD” (1 Chr. 15.2). He also admitted, “we did not seek him [God] according to the rule” (1 Chr. 15.13).

Following what Was Commanded…Plus

So the second time ’round, David brought the Ark into Jerusalem with much noise and celebration and with the Levites carrying the Ark “as Moses had commanded according to the word of the LORD” (1 Chr. 15.15). But David also added his own heart-felt actions to the celebration which God had not specifically commanded. It is written they sacrificed seven bulls and seven rams, and David danced before the LORD in a fine linen robe.

Ark of the CovenantWhat Can We Learn?

We see the terror in not following God’s commandments exactly has He has commanded them. But, on the other hand, we also see freedom in our expressions of worship before the Lord. Just because God has commanded something specific does not rule out other or additional activities of praise and worship to Him. God desires the free worship of His people. Yes, there are some things which are specifically required and commanded, but that does not mean we are limited to those specific things. I means we should take care to observe all He has commanded and continue to think of ways in which we can best express our adoration for our perfect God.

If David had observed the “law of silence” as some teach today, he would not have danced because God had given specific instructions on how to transport the Ark and dancing was not part of the prescription.

Apparently, what David did was not adding to what God had commanded (Deut.4.2).

By the way, this is not remotely the only example like this in Scripture. Can you think of others?

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Trust Christ, Not Your Baptism

Animal Sacrifice
Animal Sacrifice

A friend of mine, Ken Craig, wrote an exciting little book called The Big Picture of the Bible, in which he lays out some common threads running through the Old and New Testaments. In Chapter 8, he makes this point:

“What made animal sacrifice work? It derived its power from the faith of the believers. The followers of God understood His instructions and they believed that killing the animal would remove their sins. So they acted and performed the animal sacrifice according to the instructions God had given them. One couldn’t just believe in animal sacrifice (Heb 9.22) any more than merely believing in medicine will make one well! The origin of true faith is, and always has been, by the instruction of God. Romans 10.17 emphasizes this point: ‘Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.’

Trust in Christ
Trust in Christ

Ken then goes on to parallel the faith-inspired act of animal sacrifice and the New Testament faith-inspired act of baptism, which is, I think, a Biblical parallel.

So, his major point: You must (1) Believe the action will result in forgiveness, and (2) Perform the action! You can’t receive forgiveness by saying, “Oh I believe I should offer a sacrifice in order to receive the forgiveness of sins (the word is ‘atonement’ in the Old Testament),” and not actually performing the sacrifice. Likewise, you can’t just perform the sacrifice without the faith behind the action and expect forgiveness.

True faith always acts. True faith always obeys as far as is possible. Read Hebrews 11 for a beautiful series of faithful, obedient actions.

And always remember – it was never the actual act of sacrifice, never the animal itself or even its blood, that forgave the sins. God forgave the sins based on the person’s faith. They may not have understood that at the time, but that’s what the New Testament teaches.

But Christ’s blood actually does atone for sin! Baptism is that way in which we call on His name (Acts 22:16). It’s that way in which we identify with His death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:1-7; Colossians 2:11-12). Always remember, though, it’s not the actual act of baptism, not the water itself, not the purity of the one doing the baptism, not the depth to which your are plunged or anything else about that physical act, that forgives our sins. God forgives our sins based on our faith!

It’s important to remember it’s God who forgives sins because when we start thinking the power is in the water we start putting our faith in our works. Our confidence then lies in what we have done. And sometimes we doubt what we have done. Was every part of our body submerged? Did I understand everything exactly like I should have (after all, I have grown tremendously in my understanding since the day of my baptism)? Was I in the right church building?

Now it may very well be that you did put your faith in the baptism itself and not in God. If that is true, perhaps you have now come to faith in Him. My question would be, “Were you baptized in the name of Jesus Christ?” That’s what seems to really count in Scripture – read Acts 19:1-10 to see Paul baptizing some folks in Jesus’ name because they had only been baptized in John the Baptist’s baptism. You don’t have to understand everything about baptism when you are first baptized. In fact, you probably will never understand all about it! Put your faith in the God who told you to be baptized. Put your faith in Christ, the One you swore to follow. Don’t trust in yourself. Don’t trust in the perfection of your sacrifice. Trust in Christ, the perfect sacrifice, God’s sacrifice for you!

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Obedience and Not Sacrifice

Don't WalkGod told King Saul to kill all the Amalekites. Not most of them. All of them. God spoke clearly through the prophet Samuel. Saul could not complain of a hazy or garbled message. Samuel said, “Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” (1 Samuel 15:3).

So what did Saul do? He decided to spare Agag, king of Amalek, and best of the sheep, oxen, fatlings, lambs, and all that was good. In other words, Saul destroyed exactly what he thought ought to be destroyed and kept what he wanted. Isn’t that the way we often roll?

My kids say to me all the time, “Daddy, it’s just so hard to obey.” What they mean is, “It’s hard to obey when it’s something I don’t want to do.” I get it. I understand. Obedience is pretty easy when it’s something we want, too. But it gets hard when it’s something we don’t like or enjoy. We obey the laws of the land as long as we see why the law is there and why it’s good for us, right? But then there are a few pesky laws which just don’t set well with us, so we break them. The Bible says if we break one part of the law, we are guilty of the whole thing. We are law-breakers if we decide to run a red light!

King Saul decided to break God’s law. I’m sure he didn’t think, “I think I’ll do exactly what God told me not to do.” I’m sure he made excuses for himself and the people. One of his personal excuses was, “The people made me do it.” Another excuse was, “We saved the best so we could sacrifice them to the Lord” (1 Samuel 15, 21).

Samuel explained to Saul:

Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
As in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
He has also rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23)

Samuel did not say that sacrifices were meaningless. He said sacrifices without obedience were meaningless! You can offer up to God your time, your job, your money, your family…but what God desires is your heart. He wants dedication, commitment, obedience. Many will say to Jesus on the judgment day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And Jesus will say, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:22-23) Here are folks who say many things and do many things “in Jesus name,” but their lack of obedience shows their real heart. They do those things they want to do. They don’t go all the way. They do not make Jesus Lord and King of their lives.

“If I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3).

How do you stand with Jesus? Have you given everything to Him? You must first give Him yourself, your heart, your desires, your passions. Allow Him to lead in every path of life.

Do sacrifice, but with an obedient and willing heart!

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What Does God Require of You?

The Sacrifice
The Sacrifice

What does God require? Sacrifice and religious observance, right? In the Old Testament God wanted Jews to slaughter and burn animals to compensate for their sins. He expected them to follow all the rules of the temple exactly. That was how they were to be holy…right?

And in the New Testament, God expects us to get the details straight, or He won’t be happy. We must learn how to worship right. We must figure out the right rituals, because those are our sacrifices today…right?

Actually.

Not.

Think through these passages in the Old Testament. What did God really want from His people? I love Micah 6:7-8:

Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams,
In ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?

And to Saul, God said in 1 Samuel 15:22-23:

“Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
As in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry.”

And David wrote in Psalm 51:15-17:

“O Lord, open my lips,
That my mouth may declare Your praise.
For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”

Moses told the Israelites from the beginning in Deuteronomy 6:4-5:

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

God wants the sacrifice of our hearts. Paul praised the Thessalonian givers because “they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God” (2 Corinthians 8:5). God doesn’t care about our money or our things. He cares about us. He wants us. “Present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1).

If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his won heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:26-27)

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It’s Not a Contest to “Be the Best” but It IS a Race

Are You Running?Nathan Dial roomed with me at Florida College in the fall of 1997. We grew to be close friends, and I regard his mind, character, and heart with great respect. This is something he wrote, and I asked him if I could share it with you. What I especially liked is in the second paragraph. Let me know what you think.


It’s Not a Contest to “Be the Best” but It IS a Race

It’s not a contest against other Christians (or unbelievers) who are all trying to be “first in heaven” but it is a race we must run with endurance, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, (who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.)

We are not saved by our own behavior and we never could be. And I am aware that some Christians really do see it as some sort of “be-good game” with a mentality not much more advanced than my 3-year-old daughter. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s wonderful that at such a tender age she is beginning to recognize right and wrong, modest and immodest, sharing and not-sharing, and to care about things like attendance and lack thereof or things in the Bible and not in the Bible. But to her child’s mind it is still just playing a game and I deeply hope that as she matures she grows beyond that to a genuine understanding of what the Gospel really means. As I noted earlier, some Christians have failed to progress beyond such a childish perception of righteousness.

Crossing the Finish LineBut while recognizing that faith is not a game of “who is best at following the rules” we also must know that faith cannot be separated from obedience. It’s not about who’s being the “MOST modest,” certainly. But we don’t respond to that by being as close to immodest as we can get, do we?

We don’t “win the game” by going to all the church services, but we certainly don’t strive for the prize by going to as few as possible do we?

We certainly shouldn’t say “thank you that I’m not the tax collector” but … that is because we are the tax collector. We are the unworthy one, who without God’s grace would be lost and condemned with no recourse. If I recall, his attitude was not to assert “It’s not a contest” but rather to acknowledge his own failings and penitently plead for mercy.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

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Why Obey Jesus?

Bow Before HimJohn said, “After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. I baptize you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:7-8)

God said to Jesus at His baptism, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).

When Jesus said, Follow Me,” John and James “left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him” (Mark 1:17-20).

The people “were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22). “They were all amazed [when He cast out an unclean spirit], so that they debated among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.'” (Mark 1:27)

“‘But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins‘–[Jesus] said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.'” (Mark 2:10-11)

Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28)

“Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, ‘You are the Son of God!‘” (Mark 3:11)

“And He appointed twelve…to have authority to cast out the demons” (Mark 3:14-15).

His disciples even became afraid when He stilled the storm, saying, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (Mark 4:41)

What is this? He has authority over all things, yet He calls us to obey. He commands, but He does not force. The winds, seas, and unclean spirits obey Him. He is Lord of the Sabbath and has authority over sins. He is the Son of God!

So why do we not obey Him?

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Growth Formula #5: All of the Above

Growing Together
Growing Together

The question: What Growth Formula do you follow?

Suggestion #1 was: Read, Study, Obey.
Suggestion #2 was: Pray without Ceasing.
Suggestion #3 was: Let Go and Let God.
Suggestion #4 was: Seek Godly Counsel.

Here is suggestion #5.

All of the Above

If we truly want to grow, we must employ all the tools God has given us.

Amy is a photographer. She is a student of that particular discipline. I wonder how she became so good at what she does? I might ask her the following questions:

  • Did you read and study information on the topic?
  • Did you ask for help? Did you reach out to other photographers?
  • Did you take lessons from mature photographers?
  • Did you practice, fail, and fine-tune your techniques?
  • Did you study not only about the field of photography but also about your specific camera?
  • Do you continue to read, study, and go deeper?

Bring me a student of any discipline, and I will show you a person who knows how to grow. Disciples employ many different avenues of learning and experiencing. If they want to be GOOD at what they do, they do whatever it takes.

God has given us a bunch of growth tools. Perhaps we are only using one or two. Perhaps we don’t use ANY of them very well. Perhaps we need to grow in the use of the tools He has given us :-).

Do you want to grow? What’s your growth formula?

“…solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”
Hebrews 5:14

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Growth Formula #1: Read, Study, Obey

Good Formula!
Good Formula!

Last week, we introduced the question: What Growth Formula do you follow?

If you want to grow spiritually or emotionally or any other way, what is your basic plan? Here is suggestion #1.

Read and Study and Then Obey

You may recognize these words from the child’s song “The B-I-B-L-E.” This is the basic formula on which I was raised. Jesus said, “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24). James wrote, “Putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:21-22).

Growth Formula: Listen and Obey. Simple. So how has that been working for you? If you know the right thing to do, do you always do it? If you know what is wrong, do you always avoid it?

Questions:

  1. Is this a good formula for growth?
  2. Is it a scriptural formula?
  3. If it is good and scriptural, am I implementing it in my life?
  4. Is it the ONLY formula I should be using? Is it a complete formula?

 

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