By: Steve Brown on Monday November 9, 2015
I suspect you’ve probably tried to follow Jesus’ example for most of your Christian life with little success. After all, you aren’t Jesus and you can’t be expected to do what Jesus did. Right? Wrong. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father” (John 14:12).
I don’t know about you, but that frustrates me. We’ve tried so often and failed so miserably. There isn’t a Christian alive who doesn’t know that frustration–and I have felt it more than most.
Christians are frustrated in their obedience to Christ for two reasons. First, they are obedient to him for the wrong reasons, and second, they misunderstand God.
We try to be obedient to Christ in order to solicit God’s love.
I have a friend who owns a candle factory, and when I visited the factory I got an education in how candles are made. In this particular candle factory, the workers are paid on the basis of “piece work” That means they are paid according to how many units they turn out rather than how many hours they work. It was amazing to see how fast those folks could turn out the boxes of candles. They were moving so fast I could hardly see their hands.
Many of us think that piece work is the way we ought to relate to God. His love and blessings are meted out to us on the basis of our volume of production. Some Christians are moving about as fast as the workers in that candle factory. If we can turn out just one more prayer, one more evangelistic encounter, one more rally, one more dollar for the kingdom, one more loving act, then God will notice and “up the pay.”
Nothing, however, could be farther from the truth. In fact, that’s the direction to total frustration. Let me remind you of 1 John 4:10: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” In other words, God’s love is not dependent on anything except God. His love isn’t geared to our ability to earn it.
One of the great doctrines of the Bible is called “the perseverance of the saints.” The doctrine says that you don’t hold God but that he holds you, and when you belong to him you always will belong to him, no matter what. The truth of that doctrine was one of the most wonderful discoveries of my life. I really wanted to please God, but I knew my own sin, and it scared me. So I held onto God until my knuckles were white. One day I just couldn’t hold on any longer. I tried–I really tried, but I just couldn’t do it anymore; so I let go, thinking I would fall into the abyss. Do you know what happened? I didn’t fall at all. In fact, I didn’t even move. I found that he was holding onto me, and that was what really mattered. He told me, “I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29).
Paul was right: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other
created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35; 37-39).
We try to be obedient because we want to help God out with his world.
I’m tired of the feeling that everything depends on me. As a matter of fact, everything doesn’t depend on me; everything depends on God, and he is perfectly capable of running his universe.
“Thine, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Thine is the dominion, O Lord, and Thou dost exalt Thyself as head over all. Both riches and honor come from Thee, and Thou dost rule over all, and in Thy hand is power and might; and it lies in Thy hand to make great, and to strengthen every one. Now therefore, our God, we thank Thee, and praise Thy glorious name” (1 Chronicles 29:11-13).
Have you noticed the modem proclivity to have systems? No matter what you want to do, you can find a system that will enable you to do it. You can find a book on how to have a happy life, how to pull your own strings, how to be number one, how to intimidate, how to build a house, how to get rid of fat, and how to make a million without using any of your own money.
We have two gods. We talk about the God of love who sent his Son to die on a cross in our place, but we worship another god who demands that we sacrifice far more than what has already been sacrificed in Christ.
Christians suffer from the same proclivity. Someone has said that the chief end of man is to glorify God and to organize him forever. Implicit in the Christian systems–ten steps to knowing God’s will, four ways to save your marriage, God’s design for a better relationship with your children–is the idea that if we do them right, we will be helping God bring the world around to his way of thinking. Sometimes systems can be helpful to us, but when they become “helpful” to God, they smell like smoke and come from the pit of hell.
Listen! God doesn’t need any help.
We try to be obedient because God is some kind of monster who must be placated by our obedience. Of course, we would never say so, but we really feel it in our heart of hearts.
The point is this: We have two gods. We talk about the God of love who sent his Son to die on a cross in our place, but we worship another god who demands that we sacrifice far more than what has already been sacrificed in Christ. Our obedience comes from a need to placate the second god so he won’t be mad at us. We play Christian “games” in which we do a “bad” thing today and think that we’re okay because tomorrow we’ll do a “good” thing and the scales will be balanced. We are righteous and loving because if we aren’t, the second god we worship will strike us with a lightning bolt. Obedience given to satisfy a monster god is like a sacrifice offered to the sun so it will come up in the morning.
The Right Reason to Obey
So, why be obedient? Obedience is the response of a child who has been loved. Paul put it this way: “For the love of Christ controls us” (2 Corinthians 5:14a). Obedience is the natural response of the heart to the reality of love.
Have you ever noticed how you want to please those who love you? My wife and I worked one summer after college in a summer camp for children. We had a group of four-to six-year-old boys in our cabin, and let me tell you, it was a growing experience.
We learned lots of important lessons that summer (for example, don’t feed little boys watermelon just before they go to bed), but the best lesson we learned was how children respond to love. My method of discipline had always been to “beat up” on kids until they did what’s right. Instead, at the camp, we had to learn some ingenious methods of dealing with the children (as well as our own frustration).
My wife, Anna, was a natural. She just loved those little boys until they would do anything for her. One boy, the meanest five-year-old of the bunch, did everything in his power to test her love for eight weeks. I will never forget the last day of camp when he brought a bouquet of wild flowers to Anna. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he said, “Miss Anna, I don’t want to go home because nobody there loves me.”
Our obedience is nothing more or less than the bouquet of flowers we give to someone who has loved us and demonstrated that love to us. In our obedience to God, we know he would never ask us to do anything that would be ultimately harmful to us. Because he loves us, we can trust him with our obedience.
Time to Draw Away
Read 2 Corinthians 12:9 & Ephesians 2:8-10
How is your obedience? For all of us, it’s mostly “one step forward, two steps back.” That’s why it’s so important to remember that the only people who get better are those who know that even if they don’t get better, God will love them anyway. It’s all grace…our salvation and our growth. So rest and be secure in God’s grace. And you’ll be surprised at what happens as a result.