Obedience is Not Optional

“To God’s elect … who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with His blood…” (1 Peter 1:1-2 NIV emphasis mine).

mo9vkbg5csg-ben-whiteThe above passage is rich with theological implications. It contains trigger words that light the Bible student’s heart on fire such as ‘elect’ and ‘foreknowledge’. It also mentions each member of the Trinity; Father, Son, and Spirit. However, when I read it this morning three other words grabbed my attention …

“… to be obedient …”

Why were God’s elect chosen according to the foreknowledge of God? To be obedient. Too often, Christians see obedience to God’s Word as optional. We tend to pick and choose the passages we’ll respond to. I’m not talking about the things we rule out after careful study and exegesis. It’s a truth of Scripture that not all commands within its pages apply to Christians today (hint: think shellfish!). What I’m talking about are the no-brainers — commands to worship God with all our heart, soul, and strength; to love others, worship together, and to be holy in all our conduct. We tend to pay attention to commands such as this when it’s convenient to do so, but the moment things get rough or difficult we abandon them.

When reading 1 Peter this morning I wrote the following words in the margins of my Bible:

Obedience is not optional. 

That phrase — obedience is not optional, is my new mantra. I will repeat it when things get rough. I will repeat it on the days I don’t feel God’s presence in my life. I will repeat it on those days I’m not feeling particularly Godly. Obedience is not optional!

It’s hard to justify disobedience when God’s Word says we were chosen to be obedient!

 

 

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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.

Commentary on Proverbs 6:16-19

“16 There are six things which the Lord hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: 17 Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, 18 A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, 19 A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers” (Proverbs 6:16-19 NASB)

Introduction: Proverbs 6:16-19 is presented amid a section of Proverbs intended by Solomon to provide examples of prudence (Constable 25). According to Constable, “A prudent person can foresee the consequences of possible actions and behaves accordingly” (Constable 25). There is little doubt that this passage connects the inward condition of one’s heart to their outward behavior. For the original audience, it would have been clear according to the context that to foster and nurture a soiled heart results in “sins that displease the Lord” (Steveson 77). Of course, the modern reader is privy to the full revelation of Jesus Christ and understands that even the worst heart can be washed clean by the blood of Christ.

Verse 16: Dr. Thomas Constable writes, “The phrase ‘six … yes, seven’ implies that this list is not exhaustive of what God hates, though it is explicit” (Constable 26). Verse 16 is an example of what Longman refers to as numerical parallelism as it follows an x, x+1 pattern. Longman writes, “Such a device is a way of saying there are a number of different examples of the phenomenon, only a few of which are given” (Longman 45). For the original hearer of this Proverb, as well as the modern reader, it must be understood that there are more things than just the seven items on the following list that are an abomination to God. However, each item on this list must be taken seriously. According to Strong’s dictionary, these “abominations” are things that are particularly disgusting and abhorrent in the sight of God (Strong). As such, the reader will do well to avoid each of the following items.

 

Verse 17: The first three items on the list are presented in this verse: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood. It does not seem to be a coincidence that these three items each represent an action that is first birthed in the heart and then acted upon with a part of the body: eyes, tongue, and hands. Steveson writes, “… the eyes serve as a mirror of the soul” (84). The outward actions of pride, lying, and even murder reflect an inward condition of sin. In his commentary, Matthew Henry writes, “These things which God hates, we must hate in ourselves; it is nothing to hate them in others (Henry). The disciple of Christ must learn to recognize these inward sins before they are birthed into action. Inward sin left unaddressed will inevitably spill over into our actions.

 

Verse 18: Verse 18 echoes the sentiment of verse 17. “A heart that devises wicked schemes” and “feet that run rapidly to evil”. Again, these two concepts do not seem to be mutually exclusive. The astute reader cannot help but notice the parallelism present in this verse. In reference to parallelism, Longman writes, “… the second part [of the verse] sharpens and intensifies the thought of the first part” (Longman 39). This is certainly the case in this verse. It is evitable that a man whose heart devises wicked schemes will eventually run rapidly to evil. This is in direct contradiction to the admonition Paul gave Timothy, “But flee from these things [godlessness and depravity], you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11 NASB emphasis mine). A person who allows his or her heart to remain sinful and to devise wicked schemes will ultimately run into sinful acts if given the opportunity. Our actions will inevitably mirror our inward condition. We may wonder at times how a man is capable of heinous sin. According to this passage, the answer is clear – he has practiced it many times over in his heart.

 

Verse 19:  Again, the astute reader will notice the parallelism present in this verse. Solomon offers two suggestions of how a sinful heart may spill over to impact those closest to us. A sinful person may utter lies and those lies will inevitably spread strife among brothers. The modern reader will inevitably read the New Testament back into this passage and understand that lies will cause strife in the local church. Brothers will turn on brothers and chaos will result. More than one local church has split because of such conditions.  

 

Conclusions: Certainly, a prudent man will learn how to recognize the sin in his heart before it spills over into actions. A wise person will understand the ramifications of their actions before they commit to them. Constable writes that this passage speaks to our “attitude, thought, speech, actions, and influence” (Constable 26). In other words, they speak to the totality of our being. Our heart as well as the actions of our tongues, eyes, and hands. The person who desires to gain control over his or her sinful actions will begin with the sinful nature of his or her heart.

 

Sources

 

Constable, Thomas. “Notes on Proverbs.” SonicLight.com. Retrieved from http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/proverbs.pdf. Web. 24 May 2013.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary. ChristNotes,org. Retrieved from http://www.christnotes.org/commentary.php?com=mhc&b=20&c=6. Web. 12 June 2013.

Longman, Trempor. How to Read the Proverbs. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2002.

Steveson, Peter. A Commentary on the Book of Proverbs. Greenville, South Carolina: Bob Jones University Press, 2001.

Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance with Greek and Hebrew Definitions. Electronic source included in the E-Sword Bible software. Downloaded from http://www.e-sword.net