Monday, December 21, 2009

Obedience to Jesus Is Not Optional

*From the series, "Top 10 Things Every Christian Should Know (But Probably Doesn't)"

"If you love me, you will obey what I command."
- Jesus (John 14:15)

Somehow we have allowed the idea that someone can be a follower of Jesus without actually obeying Jesus' teaching or becoming a disciple. What we have in modern American Christianity is a brand of religion that says to its founder, "I'd like a little of your blood to cover my sins, but I don't care to follow you or take your teachings seriously. If you would please excuse me, I’ll get on with my life. See you in heaven." Dallas Willard calls those kinds of people “Vampire Christians” because all they want is some of Jesus’ blood, but none of His leadership.

"You are my friends if you do what I command"- Jesus (John 15:14)

"Easy Grace" is the short answer. The long answer is that, in an effort to streamline evangelism and create a sound-byte version of the Gospel we've reduced the message to "Pray this prayer if you don't want to go to hell when you die". This makes the ninety-second evangelist happy, but the full message of the Gospel is lost in the process.

Gone is the idea that Jesus calls people to follow Him. A decision to become a Christian is a decision to give up your personal rights to call the shots in your life. It means submitting to God, to the teachings of Jesus and the authority of the Word of God as the one and only source of how to live.

"Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me." - Jesus (John 14:21)

Remnants of this more complete Gospel are still part of our Christian-ese language. People still say things like; "I gave my life to Christ" or "When I surrendered my life to Jesus" as part of their church talk, but many don't literally mean that they've done this, or that they are still doing this today.

The decision to obey Jesus, to submit to Him is a daily decision. We must bend the knee and whisper the prayer of surrender to Christ each day. It is not a one-time thing. This is why Jesus urges His disciples to ask for daily bread when they pray and to make their obedience to Him an act of daily taking up our
cross to die to ourselves. This is also why God's mercies are new every morning. We have short memories and God knows we need to surrender to him afresh with every breath.

Some of us still sing "I Surrender All" and we still have a "Jesus is Lord" bumper sticker on our car, but many in the modern American Church have forgotten the meaning of those words. Jesus is not really the Lord because we're not actually surrendering all to Him.

"If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching."
- Jesus (John 14:23)

What is most striking to me as I study the clear teachings of Jesus on the issue of obedience is the tight connection He makes between our obedience to His teaching and our love for Him. It is impossible to separate our devotion to Jesus from our submission to Him as our Lord.

This gives new meaning to the passage that says, "If anyone says, 'I love God' yet hates his brother he is a liar."- (1 John 4:20). If we say we love God but we disobey His clear teachings to love others, He knows we don't really mean the words we say. Jesus commanded His disciples to love one another, and to love our enemies as ourselves. If we say we love Jesus but we fail to obey His teaching to love others, we are liars and the love of God is
not in us. This is also why Jesus said that they would know we are His disciples by our love. Because we have obeyed His command to love others it will be clear that we love Him above all.

"If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love.."
- Jesus (John 15:10)

I believe we have to start by changing the way we do evangelism. We have to stop inviting people to pray a one-time prayer in order to get the license to Heaven. We have to invite people who are tired of doing life their own way to surrender their life to Jesus and learn to follow Him and His teachings every day.

As Todd Hunter says, we need to ask people who have an interest in Jesus, "Who will you follow and how will you live your life?" instead of asking them, "If you died tonight do you know you'd go to Heaven tomorrow?"

We need a Gospel for life, not a Gospel for death. The Gospel that Jesus came and gave His life to communicate was that the Kingdom of God had come and that we could begin to live under His reign and rule today, right now. Not after we die.

Most importantly, we ourselves need to re-think our concept of what it means to be a Christian. It's not about attending a church service. It's not about where we shop. It's not about the bumper stickers on our car. Being a Christian is the way we live our lives. We are followers of Jesus. Daily we have to take up our own cross and obey the words of the Lord we love.

Obedience to Jesus is not an option. For a Christian, it's a necessity.

"He who does not love me will not obey my teaching."
- Jesus (John 14:24)

For further study:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven"- Jesus (Matthew 7:21).

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."
- Jesus (Matthew 28: 19- 20).

"Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask, because we obey His commands and do what pleases Him." - 1 John 3:21-22

"Those who obey His commands live in Him and He in them."
- 1 John 3:24

"This is love for God: to obey His commands." - 1 John 5:3

"And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands."
- 2 John 1:6

Also: Revelation 12:17; Revelation 14:12; John 13:17; Psalm 103:18

"There is absolutely nothing in what Jesus himself or his early followers taught that suggests you can decide just to enjoy forgiveness at Jesus'expense and have nothing more to do with him."
- Dallas Willard ("The Divine Conspiracy")

"A notable heresy has come into being throughout evangelical Christian circles; the widely—accepted concept that we humans can choose to accept Christ only because we need Him as Savior and that we have the right to postpone our obedience to Him as Lord as long as we want to...salvation apart from obedience is unknown in the sacred scriptures."
- A.W. Tozer ("I Call It Heresy")

1 comment:

Tracey Alan Sheneman said...

Thanks for this post, Keith.

I was thinking very similar thoughts aloud to myself this morning. "To be a Christian is to be a follower of Jesus; being a follower of Jesus means I obey his commands. I must shoulder my burden, deny myself, and submit to his will."