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.

Lessons from Genesis: Noah's Obedience and God's Instructions

image from wikipedia

As I was teaching from the Book of Genesis yesterday, I was struck by something that at first seemed odd to me. In Genesis chapter 6 God didn’t just tell Noah to build a boat; rather, God gave specific instructions on how the boat was to be built:

“Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it with pitch inside and outside.  This is how you are to make it: The ark will be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. You are to make a roof, finishing the sides of the ark to within 18 inches of the roof. You are to put a door in the side of the ark. Make it with lower, middle, and upper decks.” (Genesis 6:14-16, HCSB)

It seems odd that God would give Noah such specific instructions. Would it have really made a difference if the boat had been 451 feet long or if the sides were finished to within 17 inches of the roof? Certainly, the ark had to meet a certain function; God was preparing to it to hold a specific number of animals along with Noah and his family, but surely He could have worked that miracle even if the boat’s dimensions were a little off, right? It seems those specific instructions had more to do with Noah than with the ark.

Noah is described as being righteous, blameless, and walking with God (Gen 6:9); not perfect, not sinless, but blameless. Of all the people on the earth, Noah was the one guy who took his walk with God seriously. In fact, he took his walk with God so seriously that he began building a boat decades before it started raining – that’s radical obedience! Personally, I prefer to see evidence of God working in my life before I move! I want to know I’m not making a mistake. If God wants me to build a boat I demand at least some sprinkles of rain. But not Noah … Noah just went to work.

I can’t help but imagine the impact Noah’s obedience must of had on his three sons; Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Not only did they see their father go about building a boat, but they saw him agonizing over the exact dimensions and smallest of details, “Do it over son, that board is an inch too long! It’s got to meet God’s instructions exactly!” 

I believe I’m starting to figure out why God spared Noah and his family.

God gave Noah specific instructions on how to build a boat and Noah obeyed. Noah’s obedience was a direct result from, and evidence of, his close walk with God. God has left us with specific instructions as well. His Word spells out how we should be living our life. His Word specifically tells us what a life of repentance looks like and how it should impact believers. Yet, we don’t follow Noah’s example. Instead, we justify our disobedience. When we do find someone who takes obedience seriously we write them off as a fanatic and accuse them of legalism!

Noah was a fanatic and everyone around him surely thought he was a legalist. I can hear them now, “Come on Noah, did God literally mean the boat needed to be 450 feet long?” And I can hear Noah’s response, “Yeah. He did. And I’m going to obey.”

In his obedience, Noah showed his family and the whole, defiant world that he took his relationship with God seriously. He showed them that he didn’t just believe in word, but also in deed. James told us to “prove ourselves doers of the word and not just hearers” (James 1:22). Noah was a doer … and too often today, we’re just hearers.

God has given us specific instructions in His Word. If we want to get to heaven, it must be through His Son (John 14:6). We must repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near (Matthew 3:2, 4:17). His Word goes to great lengths to show us what a life of repentance looks like and how our lives should be shaped in response to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. We all would do well to take His Word seriously. When we make changes in our lives because of the instructions we find in God’s Word we are showing the world that we truly believe in the God of the Bible. They may think we’re fanatics or legalists, but by golly they at least know we’re serious.

Noah measured his boat carefully … just as we should measure our lives by the Word of God.

Other posts in this series: Lessons from Genesis

 

 

Lessons from Genesis: What's it Mean to "Walk with God"?

from newyorker.com
The generations that followed Adam and Eve became defined by sin. In fact, sin became so pervasive that God sent judgement by way of a flood. Yet, in the midst of that judgement, Noah stood out:

“9 These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. 10 Noah became the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” Genesis 6:9-10. 

That phrase, “walked with God”, has been the focus of my study today. Noah stood out in a world that was defined by sin as righteous and blameless; not sinless, but blameless. I found myself asking what it was that Noah did differently to stand out. What does it mean to walk with God? I ask the question because I want to be a Noah. Whatever it means to walk with God, I want to apply it to my life. I want to walk with God!

Noah is the second person in Genesis to be characterized as walking with God. Enoch, being the first, is described as being taken by God rather than dying (Genesis 5:24). Just as Noah escaped the flood, Enoch escaped death. God preserved them. God preserved Enoch and Noah because of their walk.

When the Bible speaks of walking in this manner, it is talking about the way we live our life. In his letter to the Ephesians the apostle Paul writes that when we are dead in our sins, we are walking “according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1-2). Like Noah and Enoch, we have a choice; we can live a life that is characterized by our walk with sin or by our walk with God.

Noah’s walk was exemplified by his obedience. When God told Noah to build the ark it wasn’t raining; yet Noah obeyed anyway. The writer of Hebrews wrote this:

By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebrews 11:7, emphasis mine).

Noah was obedient to God’s commands even though he couldn’t see the rain. It seems that “walking with God” is directly linked to our obedience. On some level, Noah chose to walk with God by being obedient to His commands. We make that same choice today; will we walk in obedience or will we walk according to the ways of this world?

Jesus tells us to repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near (Matthew 3:2, 4:17; Mark 1:15). That word “repent” sums up our choice. When we repent we change our mind. We choose to begin walking with God rather than the world and our choice inevitably impacts our actions and behaviors. When we repent our walk becomes defined by our relationship with God. It is a choice we make and will continue to make daily until Jesus calls us home. When we live in repentance we walk with God.

In His Son, God commands us to change our walk. We can continue to walk in the path that leads to destruction or we can choose to walk with God by accepting His Son as our Lord and Savior. The more I allow my life to be defined by my relationship with Christ the closer I will walk with God.

If we want to walk with God we must “2[fix] 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” (Hebrews 12:2).

My prayer is that my life would be defined by my relationship with God and the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. My prayer is not that I would be perfect, but that I would be blameless and that God would be glorified by my walk; that people would see me as a sinner, saved by grace, living in relationship with God Almighty through Jesus.

Noah’s obedience was an act of faith. That faith allowed him to live in relationship with God; righteous and upright. He walked with God and his walk stands as an example for the rest of us.

Obedience Paves the Path Between Legalism and Cheap Grace

Matthew7_24We’ve all encountered those Christians that place legalism of one sort or another above God’s grace in their spiritual walk. Often times, this involves a minor point of doctrine that is treated so dogmatically that it overshadows all else. Legalism is the practice of creating laws where none exists. Paul addressed such legalism in the Book of Colossians, “So, then, if with Christ you’ve put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it? “Don’t touch this! Don’t taste that! Don’t go near this!” Do you think things that are here today and gone tomorrow are worth that kind of attention? Such things sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice. They even give the illusion of being pious and humble and ascetic. But they’re just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important” (Colossians 2:20-23, Message).

On the flip side of that same coin, however, are those Christians that cry legalism anytime sin is exposed, explored, or preached. These Christians are so quick to charge others with legalism that practically all sorts of behaviors and practices are allowed. These Christians cite the ample grace of God as an excuse to do, say, and behave in any manner they choose. This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” It is the practice of offering grace without requiring repentance or discipleship.

These issues are even more confusing when you consider that Christians from both vantage points can often be well-intended. In their honest attempts to honor Scripture and glorify God they have drifted into fringe territory.

In such issues, there is one word that cuts through the fog much like a lighthouse … obedience. 

Too often, in our zeal to mimic the grace of God, Christians confuse obedience with legalism. To study Scripture is to explore a consistent invitation to be obedient to God’s Word. The Bible communicates to readers how best to live our lives. God calls us to be obedient. In fact, it is through obedience that we demonstrate our love for God (1 John 5:2-3). Scripture clearly denotes that we are blessed not for simply knowing God’s Word, but rather for doing what His Word says (John 13:17).

So is it wrong to call on Christians to obey God’s Word? Surely not. There is nothing legalistic about confronting God’s people with His Word and expecting changed lives as a result. However, we should expect people to fail at times. The Apostle Paul says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It’s for this reason we need a Savior! I am incapable of total and perfect obedience and it is by God’s grace alone that Jesus Christ bridges the gap between myself and God the Father.

But we should be careful not to use God’s grace as an excuse to continue sinning. In Romans Chapter 6, Paul asks, “Should we continue to sin so that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1). We don’t have to wait long for his answer, “May it never be!” (Romans 6:2).

Paul goes on to teach that our old selves have died with Christ so that we may be freed from our slavery to sin. To be a Christian is to embrace a newness of life that’s found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ so that we may sin no more. We are freed from our slavery to sin so we may become bond-servants of Jesus Christ. Surely this involves changed behaviors, attitudes, and lives!

However, when we fail to live up to the expectations of this new life … and we will … this is when we should gratefully and liberally partake in the grace of God that is found though faith in Jesus Christ! This is the sort of grace that we should then offer to our fellow Christians when they slip up.

Christians would do well to remember that obedience paves the path between legalism and cheap grace.