Friday, August 12, 2011

The Obedience that is Faith

The church that modern theology built has created a sharp dichotomy between obedience and faith. There appears to be a radical disconnect between western, Christian thought and Christian ethics, so much so that Christians pay little regard to how they order their lives in contemporary times. I remember hearing what I thought was a godly woman talk about how voting must be subjected to the Christian ethic. I agreed. But then this same woman divorced her husband within two years of that conversation without having biblical justification for doing so. She did not skip a beat in her “Christian” routines of church attendance and service. I continue to be amazed at the number of professing Christians that conveniently disregard Scripture in the name of grace, or a God who understands why they simply can’t submit to His lordship over their life. Christians feel entitled to manage their lives in a fashion just as autonomously as the unregenerate. One only needs to look at the controversy of John MacArthur’s views on “Lordship Salvation” to realize that something is terribly wrong in the mindset of many western Christians. A couple of questions come to mind as I think about this subject. First, can a person have genuine faith in Christ and knowingly, consciously, and continually reject His commandments? Does genuine faith always produce absolute submission to God’s commands where people clearly know such commands? Can one be a Christian and refuse to subject life decisions to the Christian ethic? Do genuine Christians actually believe they have the right to order their own life, even when that ordering severely contradicts God’s mandate for Christian living? What is the relationship of godly obedience to biblical faith?

There are millions upon millions of people that profess to know and love Christ. Every week you are in church with dozens, hundreds, and perhaps thousands of them. You shake their hands, fellowship with them, listen to them sing, watch them serve, and listen to them teach and preach. However, not all of them are what they claim to be. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter.” (Matt. 7:21) There is a vast difference between saying you have faith in Christ and actually having genuine faith in Christ. In this text, Jesus indelibly connects faith with obedience, faith with action, faith with doing! What is faith? Obedience seems simple enough, but faith is perhaps a little more complex.

Faith is not mentally assenting to the fact that Jesus is Lord. James says that faith alone, without the complement of works is dead. He says, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” (James 2:19) It is one thing to say that you truly believe in God, in Christ, in His word. But do you really possess a living vibrant justifying faith in Christ? So you attend Sunday School. You are in church every time they open the doors. You give above, and beyond what the average person does. You sing in the choir, teach during vacation bible school, and volunteer for short-term missions trips. None of these things demonstrates that your faith is genuine. What demonstrates genuine faith more than anything else is obedience. The demons believe but they do not obey. They know God is, without any doubt whatsoever. Evidently, that is not enough. Jesus said literally, “Not all the ones saying to me Lord…” The word kurei is in the vocative. This signifies that these people are addressing Christ as their Lord. It sounds pious to refer to Christ as your Lord and Master, you all in all. Indeed, to hear those words coming out of someone’s mouth is moving. Sadly, there are times when they are nothing more than empty syllables that carry no real meaning whatever.

Jesus readily acknowledged that these people would look, sound, feel, and act like the real deal in certain ways. Some of them would prophesy. Others would even exercise demons. Still others would perform miracles in His name. I don’t know about you, but that is simply amazing to me. It is true that these represent the claims of these people and the Lord neither validates them as true nor discounts them as false. Hence, one should be careful not to assume that these things were legitimately occurring. What we can say is that the people making the claims likely believed them to be true. After all, they are making them to the Lord they claimed was their Master. Yet Jesus responds by saying, “I never knew you, depart from me you who practice lawlessness.” (Matt. 7:23) Let’s summarize to this point. Frist, we have people that claim to know Christ as their Lord and Master. Second, these people are practicing outward routines that mimic genuine Christian faith to an extent. Third, in the daily lives, they are engaged in a continual pattern of lawless living. What does this mean? What is lawless living? Since people who live lawlessly and die in that pattern will face certain denial by Christ at the judgment, it is in our best interest to understand what Christ means by this statement. The Greek word “practice” in this case focuses not so much on how something is changed, but the fact that we have changed the state of the thing from this to that. What is the state they are changing to one may ask? They are moving to a state of lawlessness. That is to say, of living without regard for the law. What law? The law of God is what comes into view. Remember that Jesus said the one that does the will of His Father in heaven will enter the kingdom. This is true faith! Remember in Matt. 13:41 Jesus said He will send forth His angels and they will gather out of His kingdom all those who cause others to sin and those who practice lawlessness. These are false converts, hypocrites who pose as something they are not. Those who do the will of the Father in heaven are those who have been given the gift of genuine faith. Genuine faith from God produces real obedience and submission to the Father’s will. What does it look like to have false faith? Jesus said that everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.” (Matt. 7:26) Jesus has connected doing the will of the Father with acting on His word. In John 8:32 Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, then you are truly my disciples.” The word “continue” means to remain in one place over a period of time. I realize that some people think you can be saved without being a disciple of Christ. They hold that you can make Jesus your Savior without making Him your Lord. I find such teaching nonsensical and out of accord with Scripture. You don’t make Jesus your Lord or your Savior. He makes you His object of love, His sheep, His follower, and His disciple. BONK! John MacArthur is absolutely right in his view. Cheap grace and easy believism is a foul teaching that is contrary to everything Scripture teaches. Jesus goes on to say that everyone who is making sin is the slave of sin. (John 8:34)

James Sire writes, “Truth and spirituality are a piece: to know the truth is to do it.” [Sire, James W. Habits of the Mind. 11] This is what Jesus was getting at when He said, “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.” [John 8:47] The Greek word AKOUO has a wide range of meaning in the NT. Here, it means to understand and believe so as to act upon. Jesus said the reason people do not understand and act on God’s word is because they are not of God. He did not say that they are not of God because they do not understand and act on God’ word. The reason people look directly at a clear commandment of God and consciously decide not to obey it is because they are not of God. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)L.G. Borchert says, “Even in his first epistle the concept of obedience is rather generally defined in terms of rejecting sin as an attachment to the devil (1 John 3:4–10), loving and caring for the brethren/community in deed and not merely in words so as not to be like Cain the murderer (3:11–18), and believing and confessing that Jesus is the Christ (4:2; 5:1; etc.). Thus, obeying Jesus’ commands in effect means to copy the example of Jesus. ” [Borchert, L.G. NAC, John. 122]

Faith and obedience are one and the same. “Faith is life-dominating conviction that all God has for me through obedience is better by far than anything Satan can offer me through selfishness and sin.” [Hegg, David W. The Obedience Option. 28] There is no greater blessing for the Christian than to know they have obeyed Christ. John said, “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.” (III John 4) There is no greater joy for the believer than to know that they are walking in God’s way. However, we buy into cultural thinking when we pollute and corrupt our behavior with what we call “grey areas” and then proceed to excuse our actions. Church politics gets involved from the seminary to the local congregation and we end up engaging in practices and holding to doctrines that are antithetical to Christian truth. What is worse is that we have engaged in this practice for so long that walking in certain types of heresy or immorality no longer shock us. We view certain beliefs is tolerable even though they are rank heresy. I am reminded of the Sunday School teacher/deacon who taught that Jesus ceased to be God on the cross. His pastor, a man who held a doctorate from a prominent, reformed seminary in the south, refused to do anything to correct the situation. Moreover, how many broken marriages do we have to witness in the church before we finally say enough is enough? God is sovereign over marriage and simple obedience to His word is all that is required on the matter from both spouses. The best possible alternative, in fact, the only acceptable path is faith in Christ that is expressed in a passionate obedience to do all that God called us to do out of a love and commitment for Him that will never fail.

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