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Pharisees, Karl Schmidt Rottluff

There are things we’d rather not know. For example it has been said: real mothers don’t want to know what the vacuum just sucked up. If we were honest we’d admit that sometimes we don’t want to know God’s will. One of the reasons we avoid Bible reading is because we know that reading the Bible makes us responsible to do His will. We want to be able to claim to be agnostic about God’s will–we want to be able to say we just didn’t know. Christians talk about God’s will and the faithful pray about it and carry on like it is an incomprehensible mystery. At times when we do know God’s will, we view it like a religious relic to be stored on a dusty shelf. Charles Dudley Warner said this about the weather: “Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.” Similarly it could be said about God’s will: Everybody talks about God’s will but few do anything about it. A preacher of a former generation observed: “Most people don’t want to know the will of God in order to do it; they want to know it in order to consider it.” (William L. Pettingill.)

This articles’ title: “How to Be Safe and Whole Without Obeying Jesus,” is based upon a big lie but it is a popularly held lie. It is the idea embraced by many American Christians. They believe that they can be spiritually whole and safe from spiritual threats while ignoring Jesus’ will and priorities. This view is unwittingly promoted by preachers, counselors and laymen alike. At times our preaching and counseling leads our listeners to the conclusion that obeying Jesus is optional. We must make the false assumption that a person can be made whole by schmoozing them with gentle words. We are self-deceived and believe falsely that through reason alone we can lift believers out of their spiritual malaise.

We are saved from our sins by faith in Christ alone (Sola Fide) but obeying Jesus is key in developing spiritual strength. However, by our failure to entreat people to obey the Lord we force them to conclude that a person can set aside Christ’s commands and still be set free from his or her addictions. The result is many American Christians leave the impression that they believe that they can be set free from their problems without obeying Jesus. The consequence is that many assume that significant healing and transformation in our lives can take place without lifting a finger to obey. The assumption is that: spiritual health and stability can be achieved apart from obedience. Let me state my thesis: obedience is an essential part in recovery and overcoming sinful addictions. There is a therapeutic effect that comes from obeying the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, we can only be safe and whole when we have learned to obey.

You may be wondering what I’m talking about when speaking of God’s will. When speaking of obedience I am not talking about complex theological concepts. I am talking about basic 101 Christianity. I am talking about the simple concepts, “love one another,” “love your neighbor,” and going with the gospel message—fulfilling the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. To be specific helping those who are helpless. We cannot be healthy spiritually if we ignore the clear commands of Scripture. Our spiritual health and development are impacted by our obedience. Matthew 25:37-41 is descriptive of the nature of a true and genuine faith. The passage declares: “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? ‘When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? ‘Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” You may object to my use of this passage and my short answer is one generation cannot be judged based upon obedience and another judged based upon its theological beliefs alone. It is obvious that the Lord expects His followers to help people who are hurting and vulnerable.

Notice ignorance of God’s law here is no excuse. Those who didn’t know what Jesus was talking about still faced judgment. The only simple way of understanding these verses is to recognize that they are descriptive of a true faith in Christ. A true faith in Christ imitates Jesus. Jesus helped the helpless and Christ’s true followers will help the helpless in our day. True faith will demonstrate itself in true obedience, and those who failed to obey showed their true colors through their disobedience.

As I stated above, there is a therapeutic effect that comes from obeying the Lord Jesus Christ. A person may experience deliverance from sin, but he must fill the vacuum that is left with the right things. The enemy’s immediate threat may be removed, but there is a void that must be filled. Unfortunately we have a skewed view of obedience and equate service with activities designed to perpetuate the church organization. I am claiming that imitating Christ by declaring the good news and helping the helpless produces spiritual health and strength. When we help others and tell them of God’s love, it transforms our thinking from a harmful worldly value system to a heavenly value system.

There is an old proverb, “To know right, and to do right, are different things” (C. H. Spurgeon). Many churchmen must believe that attending a church service once a week and listening to a good sermon is all that is necessary to develop spiritual vitality and strength. Some sit in church service after church service and listen to sermons on an endless number of topics. The sermons produce temporary comfort but do not produce action and change that leads to spiritual strength.

Charles Swindoll wrote about the negative aftermath of this situation: “There are many people cruising from church to church, from Bible conference to Bible conference, filling note book after notebook, wearing out Bible after Bible, who are still some of the crankiest, fussiest, most irresponsible people you meet. Why? Because they do not practice the things they hear.” (Charles Swindoll, Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back, p. 21.)

R. A. Torrey wrote about the importance of service in spiritual development: “One of the important conditions of growth and strength in the Christian life is work. No man can keep up his physical strength without exercise and no man can keep up his spiritual strength without spiritual exercise . . . [that is] without working for his Master.” (Ruben Archer Torrey, How to be a Successful Christian, page 82.) I must admit Torrey was speaking of service in the broadest sense, but I am asserting it is helping the helpless that has the greatest impact in transforming our thinking.

Some worship can also disguise a similar type of disobedience. Some participate in worship that produces powerful emotions and feelings. I fear that to some the worship experience has become an end unto itself where the worshiper receives a kind of spiritual high. Many contemporary American Christians must believe the lie that listening to sermons and singing praises is a substitute for obeying Christ. We have failed to learn the significance of Jesus’ words in relationship to our own lives: “‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.’” (Matthew 15:8.) We must ultimately admit to ourselves that fervent worship does not guarantee that we are pleasing God or doing little more than entertaining ourselves. We cannot be content with getting a kind of spiritual buzz on Sunday that does not produce results in how we live.

We make the false assumption that a person can talk his way to spiritual health through counseling. It is commonly believed that a person can be transformed by listening to a counselor sort and talk through his or her problems. It is assumed that a person can attend a recovery group, confess his problems and if this is done often enough over time he or she will become healthy. We ignore the need to substitute new behavior for old behavior and that a major step in our healing is to be found in obedience. Unfortunately, many embrace the false assumption that they can experience God’s healing in their lives without being diligent about following Christ.

It has been claimed that we remember 80 percent of what we do or experience, versus only 10 to 20 percent of what we hear. This fact brings into focus the truth that an active and obedient faith becomes more deeply rooted in our hearts and minds. Much contemporary American preaching and teaching often fails to look for any action in response to its message. For this reason we can conclude that it is only meant to entertain and amuse (take a person’s mind off of his or her problems for the length of the sermon—30 minutes or so). As is stated above, many Christians naively believe that their church attendance is all they need in order to be successful in their Christian walk. Counseling and accountability groups can leave the impression that our faith is going to work for us if we just talk about it once a week. But nothing could be further from the truth.

What promise or blessing from God was ever gained by just talking things out? God’s blessings and promises have been tied with obedience. Salvation is obtained through obedience to God’s command, “And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.” (1 John 3:23) While we are not saved by loving others, authentic faith will seek to bring relief to those who are suffering. The promise of the Holy Spirit’s power is also tied with obedience: “And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” (Acts 5:32) And yet we believe that we can talk another person into spiritual health. All he or she has to do is sit back and listen.

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