Knowing Verses Obeying God’s Voice

image from citygatekeepers.org

In Christian circles these days we can get bogged down with the concept of knowing God’s voice when we hear it. I’ve even taught whole classes on discerning God’s voice from that of the enemy and our own subtle thoughts. In retrospect, I’m beginning to realize the problem with most Christians isn’t knowing God’s voice when we hear it, but rather, our problem is heeding His voice when it directs us toward obedience.

When speaking on this subject Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them” (John 10:27, emphasis mine). Even newer Christians who have spent little time in His Word have the ability to discern God’s voice on most subjects. Sitting under the preaching of a decent pastor and attending an occasional Bible study is sure to communicate some things to us concerning God’s voice, right?

For instance, when asked what the greatest of all the commandments were, Jesus responded, “Love the Lord God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind … and the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40). Even if we can’t quote this popular passage, most of us at least know it, right? I have to think even non-Christians know this passage. If not this one than we certainly know the portion of 1 John 4:8 that says “God is love.” So when asked the questions, “How should you love God?” or “How should you treat your neighbors?” most of us should be able to discern God’s voice on the matter. Knowing what God wants us to do isn’t the problem …

The problem is we don’t do it. 

When given the opportunity to put God first in our lives we consistently choose ourselves. When given the opportunity to love our neighbors as we love ourselves we make excuses and decline. When God tries to save our marriage we throw our hands up and do what we want to do anyway. When God says don’t have sex with that person or you shouldn’t be looking at that website or please don’t make that choice we boldly declare that we know what’s best and fail over and over and over to be obedient.

This kind of disobedience can be expected out a person who doesn’t know Jesus, but for us Christians it is inexcusable. We choose to disobey God’s voice and then claim ignorance when, in fact, we’re just selfish.

I fear that this kind of disobedience has become the norm in the Western Church rather than the exception. This disconnect between our knowledge and our actions is damaging the testimony of the Church. The non-Christians in our culture see that disconnect and dismiss Christ because of it. Our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ see that disconnect and choose to embrace it rather than change it. James wrote that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26) and I have to believe that works blossom from obedience to God’s voice.

Christians … it is time we stop just telling the world what we know and start showing them what we believe.

The Head and the Heart Are Miles Apart

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Ephesians 4:29).

Ephesians 4:29 is a simple little verse that is easily understood. There are some who may reduce it to a simple admonition not to cuss, but it really addresses more than that. As Christians, we should only speak words that build up others and benefit them. Additionally, we must avoid “unwholesome talk” which can be defined from the context of the verse as being and talk that does not build up others or serves to tear them down. When I read this verse a couple of weeks ago in preparation for a Bible study class in church, I experienced the familiar tugging of the Holy Spirit. It was a reminder from God that I have often allowed my mouth to speak in an “unwholesome” way. Too often, I am more than willing to tear others down with my speech. Because of the Holy Spirit’s conviction, I have dedicated myself since to praying and meditation on this verse … and even putting it into practice. To my surprise, it hasn’t been too difficult. Only on a couple of occasions have I found myself speaking before thinking. It has actually been a blessing to me that has prepared my heart to worship the Lord. I am thankful for the Holy Spirit’s conviction on the matter and am determined to continue moving in the right direction.

Despite all of this, Ephesians 4:29 isn’t what’s really on my mind this morning. More so, I have been contemplating the very act of putting God’s directives into practice in our daily lives. So often we can become consumed with “head knowledge.” In our quest to accumulate as many facts as we can and refute as much bad theology as possible we sometimes forget that God actually expects us to practice what He preaches. My experience with putting Ephesians 4:29 into practice has reminded me that there is a huge difference between embracing God’s Word in my mind as opposed to embracing it in my heart.

Do you believe the Bible? Do you believe it to the point that it actually changes the way you live? Have you ever made a conscience decision to do something different in light of something revealed to you within the pages of the Bible? If not than you may want to ask yourself if you really believe in your heart.

Paul writes in the book of Ephesians that we should role model the attitude of God. We should live our lives as Jesus would because our time is a precious gift from God that shouldn’t be wasted by living foolishly.

As Christians, we should practice what Christ preached before it’s too late.

I love Christ and I want Him to change me; yet far too often I have been happy to accept “head” knowledge in place of a changed heart. Many would say the same is true of the Church in general. We attend every Sunday with no intentions of walking out the doors changed in any way.

Ask God to change you. Ask Him what it is that you need to do differently. Pray, read the Bible, and listen for His response.

It may change your heart.

Letting God Out of the Box

In his book, What is Reformed Theology? Understanding the Basics, R.C. Sproul explains the difference between Religion and Theology. He explains that religion is the study of particular types of human behavior, while theology is the study of God. In other words, religion is man-centered while theology is God-centered. It has occurred to me slowly over the last few months that much of what we do as Christians has little to do with God. We seem intent on practicing a religion that is man-centered.

The desire of any Christian should be to focus his life on Christ. We should all be more interested in how God would want our faith to play out in our lives. Too often, we take our cues from our pastors, denominations, authors, small groups, and other areas of influence when we should be taking our cues from Christ.

Sometimes, I think we have created a faith that has little to do with the real living God.

I am beginning to lose interest in the faith we have created. In the faith we have created, we expect God to manifest Himself in a variety of ways. How many times have you heard someone say after a church or worship service, “Wow, I could really feel God’s presence in there,” or, “The spirit was really moving during that sermon.” Have you ever heard someone say that during a moment when you didn’t feel God at all? I know I have. It is in those moments that I feel like the worst Christian in the Kingdom. There’s been moments when I wondered why everyone else seemed to sense God’s presence when I couldn’t. I wondered what I was doing wrong. Then it ocurred to me … those people are lying.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that you can never feel God’s presence during church or feel the Spirit moving during a worship session; however, I am saying that we have created a church environment where you fall short as a Christian if you don’t feel God’s presence at the right moments. So much of what we do as a church and as Christians involves creating moments for God to reveal Himself. We create emotional sermons, passionate worship songs, tear-jerking service opportunities, and intimate small group discussions with the expectation that God will participate when and where we say so. There are even some denominations that expect the Holy Spirit to make you jump around, dance, and speak in tongues; and if it doesn’t happen, there is something wrong with you.

It is as if someone says, “Let God out of His box now so we can all feel better about ourselves … just be sure to put Him away when we’re done!”

I am nearly forty years old and I have been a Christian for going on ten years. While there have been several times in my life when I have felt God’s presence and even times when I felt as if Jesus were speaking right to me, I must admit that none of these moments occurred on demand. Rather, God has spoken to me in moments of His choosing. Do we really think that we can demand the Creator of the universe to speak to us because it is Sunday morning and expect to get a response?

When you study the life of Christ it is apparent that He never acted and responded to the people around Him in the way they expected. He changed all of the rules and all the expectations they had for their savior. He was a rebel that refused to be typecast. Shouldn’t we expect Him to be the same now. I fear that far too often, we attempt to turn the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit into our own personal puppet.

In his book, Real Church, Larry Crab attributes all of this to an addiction to ourselves. I couldn’t agree more. We create these moments for God to participate in our religion because we selfishly want to feel His presence on our schedules. We play worship music not because we feel He is worthy of our praise, but rather because it gets our adrenaline pumping and makes us feel better about ourselves. We create service opportunites not out of a desire to serve our fellow man, but rather because it makes us feel better about ourselves. We pick and choose our churches like we pick and choose our movies … we’re not interested in attending the church where God wants us because we are too busy trying to find the one that entertains us the most.

Our religion has become all about us when it is supposed to be all about God.

Study the life of any saint worth remembering and you will find they lived a life that was God-centered rather than man-centered. Mother Teresa’s life would have been impossible if she had been afflicted with this addiction to self. Rather than wasting her time creating opportunities for God to reveal Himself, Teresa went about the business of serving her fellow humans and waited patiently for God. By her own account, she went decades without feeling the presence of God … but yet continued to wait for Him.

God is not fast food. We can not have Him our way. We can only experience Him in His way and on His schedule. Larry Crabb teaches that this anticipation is more valuable at times than any experience we can have of God in this life. Jesus taught that this life is all about anticipation. Heaven is so close we can taste it. We should look forward to it like a little child does Christmas morning. There is no experience we can have in this life that will come close to the experience of being with Christ in Heaven … we should embrace this anticipation and quit trying to put the cart before the horse.

Church, sermons, worship songs, service, small groups …. these are all good things if they serve to increase our anticipation for God. He will reveal Himself to us on His schedule. The Spirit will move among us … not like a pay per view movie, but rather like the living, breathing God that He is. We should embrace those moments when we can’t feel God’s presence in this world because He has  promised we will live entirely in His presence someday.

Manipulating God into doing our bidding … creating moments that feel religious … these are the things that false religions are made of. These are the things I no longer have an interest in.

Father, my prayer is for you to speak to me and fill me with the Spirit as you see fit. I ask that you help me stop and take notice of You in the moments You are trying to speak to me. In the moments that I can’t feel Your presence, I ask that You fill me with anticipation. Father, I want to desire your presence like a child desires his Christmas present. Lord, lead me to worship, praise, study, and serve with the right motives. Help me to conquer my addiction to self and become more addicted to anticipating You.

Amen.

Further Reading:

Real Church by Larry Crabb
What is Reformed Theology by R.C. Sproul
Living in the Power of the Holy Spirit by Charles Stanley

Does it Matter What We Believe?

The Barna Group recently conducted a survey of self-described Christians and asked questions regarding their beliefs. The topics addressed their beliefs on the Holy Spirit, Satan, the Bible, other faiths, and the influence of faith on their lives. If the survey is to be trusted, than the results are disturbing because Christians seem to be in doubt concerning issues that are clearly addressed in Scripture. For example:

  • The survey revealed that the majority of Christians believe that the Holy Spirit and Satan are just symbols of good and evil forces rather than living creatures.
  • In addition, almost 30% of Christians seem to doubt that the Bible is accurate in the principles that it teaches.
  • Nearly 40% of Christians seem to think that Christ sinned while he walked among us.

The results listed above astound me because they clash with the core teachings of Christ and the Holy Scriptures. I can understand when Christians differ on some matters. For instance, some Christians feel you should only attend church wearing a jacket and tie while others prefer a more casual “come as you are” setting. Some Christians prefer traditional hymns while others like contemporary worship songs. Some Christians teach that one should never drink alcohol while others think there’s nothing wrong with taking an occasional nip. This kind of stuff doesn’t really matter to me because they are matters of opinion. I have no problem worshiping Christ alongside someone who has different opinions than I do. Heck, even the apostles occasionally disagreed with each other, but they didn’t let their differences cause them to stumble in their devotion to Jesus. I do not have to totally agree with someone in order to call them my brother or sister in Christ. The above statistics, however, hint that Christians are in doubt concerning core doctrinal beliefs that are clearly presented in the Bible. This is something entirely different than disagreeing with me … it is disagreeing with Christ!

I guess the question is, “Does it really matter?”

My answer would be an emphatic yes! Don’t get me wrong, I think Christians are often prone to drawing inflexible boundaries around issues that are of secondary importance to the Gospel. I hate to see Christians who are unable to set aside matters of opinion and worship Christ as brothers. For instance, I have heard one Christian recently (and repeatedly) tell the story of a heathen who dared enter a church wearing a hat in 1955. I mean really, get over it already! Disagreeing over matters of little importance distract us from Christ’s message and presents a poor front to the non-believers who are always watching us. Issues like those listed above are different. They strike at the very core of what Christ taught us. If we begin to doubt the principles presented in the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and the sinless [God] nature of Christ; we are doubting the very things that Christ confirmed in the lessons He taught us. When we begin to doubt things like this, we are telling Christ that we don’t really believe or trust Him. If that’s the case, why are we calling ourselves Christians when there are plenty of alternative faiths in the world to explore? The nature of Christ is really quite simple. As C.S. Lewis put it, Jesus is either God or he is diabolical. Only a diabolical and evil person would claim to be God and intentionally mislead millions of people. You either believe him, or you don’t. There is no comfortable in between.

I have attended several different churches in my life. I have seen worship conducted in a variety of manners. I am comfortable worshiping with people that disagree with me on a variety of issues. I believe Christians should be wary not to be inflexible when they draw doctrinal boundaries. There are; however, certain beliefs that I feel no Christian should waiver on; such as:

  • The Father, the Son, and The Holy Spirit
  • Jesus was both God and human
  • The inerrant nature of the Scriptures in the original form (I will soon write a post on this one)
  • Heaven and Hell as real and tangible places
  • The existence of an enemy that is opposed to the will of our Father

Perhaps I would add more to the above list if given time, but you get my point. There are certain beliefs that make us Christians. Without them, we are no different than anyone else.

The Importance of Knowing What You Believe

The above mentioned survey also revealed that Christians are deeply confused about their beliefs. For instance, half of the Christians who stated they didn’t believe in Satan also claim to believe that people could be under the influence of Demons. What? This is more than illogical, it is inane. Even more confounding is that one third of the Christians who claimed the Bible, Koran and Book of Mormon all teach the same truths also claim that the Bible is inerrant. This is hard to believe because even a passing knowledge of the listed texts reveal dramatic differences in their teachings. It really is astounding how confused and unlearned many Christians have become.

I profoundly believe that it is important for Christians to know what they believe in order to represent Christ well. Our faith is under attack continuously by those that don’t believe and it is important that we are able to defend it intelligently. I understand that people are wired differently. Some really enjoy digging into the Scriptures and studying them while others just have no interest or talent in that pursuit. This is where community becomes important. It is important that Christians get plugged into an environment with a knowledgeable pastor that can teach the truths that are revealed in Scripture. Even those of us that enjoy studying the Bible on our own should recognize the importance of maintaining a dialogue with other Bible scholars so that we aren’t led astray. Studying the Scriptures is much like a science in that not just anyone can do it. There is more to studying the word of God than just a daily devotional. If a Christian isn’t willing or able to put in  the time necessary to learn the principles of studying Scripture and then applying them, they should be willing to find a pastor who is. Pastors should then recognize the incredible responsibility and importance of the task in front of them. Our teaching pastors should be educated and disciplined in the science of studying and communicating Scriptures. I’m not trying to disrespect the volunteer pastors who feel they are called to evangelize and preach … there are many small congregations that rely on these volunteers, but whenever a congregation has the opportunity, they should turn to a professional and educated pastor to teach the Scriptures.

I guess I am calling on pastors everywhere to recognize how confused Christians are and to do their best to fix it. Meanwhile, I am calling on Christians to quit learning what they believe from the History Channel, the SciFi Channel, and Dan Brown books. Either study the Word of God or get in touch with someone who does!

It really does matter what we believe.