The Challenge of Obedience

"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV)

Any new insights from your time with the Lord lately?  I hope you've been pressing on, even if you haven't understood everything you're reading.  You'll remember I talked about that in my last post.  You're still digging for those nuggets of gold God desires to point out to you each day!

But what happens when you come across one that looks a whole lot like fool's gold?  God says something that you hope He doesn't really mean!  That's when we have to be careful that our fear of following Christ doesn't derail our walk with Him.  You see, obedience can be a scary thing!

You cannot read very far in God's word before He says something that really throws you for a loop.  We know full well what He is saying, but Heaven help us if we have to do it!  That shouldn't surprise us:  God's thoughts are not ours, neither are our ways His ways (Isaiah 55:8)!  His goal is that we be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29), and if we're honest, we know we're pretty far from the target (Romans 3:10-18).  But He's given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3-11), not the least of which are His Spirit dwelling in us and the literacy that allows us to read His Word for ourselves!

When we hit those passages and our heart begins to pound, the thing to do isn't to run—run to the next verse or to our friends, even our teachers, for assurance that those passages don't apply to us.  To understand how a passage applies to our life, we don't want to look at the Christians around us to see if they're following these instructions; instead we need to look to the pages of Scripture and see how the disciples of that day applied those words.  Again, we need to see the broader context of the Word.  We need to read a few more chapters to see how the Christians of the New Testament responded to the teaching.  When Jesus said that if our eye or hand caused us to sin, we should pluck it out or cut it off, did the Twelve immediately go out and do so?  That would be rude:  Jesus was in the middle of a lecture!  So did they wait till He was done to go out and find an ax?  Of course not.  Reading on just a few more pages, and it's clear Jesus isn't leading around a bunch of blind, handless disciples, which means Jesus was simply using a rhetorical device to make a serious point.  He did not intend for us to pluck out our eyes or cut off our hands.

Does that mean all those passages that set our pulse pounding can likewise be disregarded?  Unfortunately, no.  The Lord has a lot of conforming work to do on us.  And it doesn't always come easy.  But it's also true that it doesn't take a Bible degree to sort through the ones that are illustrative as opposed to instructive.  It takes a familiarity with the Lord, who has revealed Himself on every page of the Bible, and with the revelation He has given us, the Scriptures.  If we don't know the Word of God, we won't know the God of the Word.  And if we don't know the Lord, we won't understand what He requires of us.  And since our heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure (Jeremiah 17:9), we'll more often than not find ourselves working at cross purposes with Him in His conforming of us to Christ.

As we read the whole word of God, especially those passages we don't particularly like, we have to ask ourselves again and again what is it we really believe about God.  Is He really all-wise?  Is He really all good?  Can I really trust Him?  Does He truly love me?  Does He really want what's best for me?  Can I trust Him to lead me in the way I really should go?  Is He really trustworthy, even when following His directives will lead me into trials and tribulation, even shame and humiliation?  Like He did with His Son?  Am I really willing to follow Him no matter where He leads?  Remember that at one point a number of His disciples turned back and stopped following Him.  Why?  Because He was saying things that were hard to accept (John 6:60-66)

It's at times like these when our willingness to follow, to obey Christ is truly challenged.  And it's precisely at times like these when our faith has a chance to grow.  May we always respond to the Lord as Peter did, "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6:68-69).  We too have believed that Jesus is the Holy One of God, but have we come to know that He is the Holy One of God?  That is tested and proved out by our response to those hard instructions, to those unpleasant teachings, where we must give up our pleasures and desires, our ways of doing things, in order to be conformed to the likeness of God's Holy One.