The Christian Lifestyle

Part 3: Obedience


"Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life"
Deuteronomy 4:9

"Then shall I bow in humble adoration, and there proclaim my God how great Thou art."


In the continuing effort to write a series of articles on the attributes of the Christian lifestyle, it shall be the design of this article to treat the subject of Christian obedience. For the most part, many today think that their profession of faith automatically guarantees that they are conformed to the image of Christ. This is so, but only from a positional standpoint and not from an experiential. Many may live their entire Christian life and fail to grasp the difference between the two. Our positional standing with God is accomplished in the doctrine of election and all that it entails. Yet, our experiential standing with God is that which constitutes our sanctified walk with Him in Christ or our daily experience with Him as we grow in the Lord.

There is little, if any, examination or scrutiny placed on the Christian by today’s church regarding the manner in which one is expected to walk. The pinnacle of the Christian experience for many is realized in their evangelical decision and consummated by their baptism. This leads to a void of old fashioned piety or practical godliness. Much of what is defined by the church as Christian piety can be seen in the emphasis on church programs that are doctrinally weak if not altogether meaningless. Therefore, for the average church member there is little conformity to the holy image of Christ because there is spiritual apathy or laxity and no self-denial of the personal comforts that attained to the previous lifestyle; there is no "Closer Walk" with God. There is a better chance for the Christian to have their family dog develop an intelligent response to a specific command than it is for them to develop an intelligent response to a command given by the authority of Scripture or the demands of a righteous God. The dog once trained understands the demands of their master and responds correctly to given stimuli. But the Christian acts out of untrained ignorance and responds to God based on precepts that are unbiblical. Why? Because they have "God in a box" and do not know the God of the Bible…they know the god of the church. But "when the eyes of our hearts are open to see something of God’s sovereign majesty, infinite dignity, supernal glory, and we begin to rightly esteem Him, then we perceive how thoroughly right and just it is that such an One should be held in the utmost reverence, and esteemed far above all others and exalted" (A.W. Pink).

Scripture tells us that, "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken better than the fat of rams" (1 Sam. 15:22). Here we can see plainly that if we would have obeyed there would have been no need for sacrifice. In other words, had we obeyed God with a correct heart, a correct mind, and a diligence in seeking His will for our lives, there would have been no need for sacrifice. However, as a result of seeking our own pleasure through sin, there was the need for the Father to sacrifice His only begotten Son that we might have an opportunity to reestablish our relationship with Him due to His obedience.

With this in mind, let us proceed to examine the problem of a walk of obedience. "One may call himself Christian, and be impulsive and impetuous, and drive furiously in the work of the Lord, but have an improper heart or no heart to the service of Jehovah God. A person may not possess a mind that is yielded reverently and obediently to the worship of God, neither does he come to know His mind and law. This type of person is merely a hired servant of the Most High and the fear of the Lord does not reign utmost in his heart. He does God’s work as did the Lion who slew the wicked prophet, but remained a lion" (C.H. Spurgeon). The Christian is first to "obey" the commands and precepts of God; he must adhere flawlessly and constantly to the conformity of the revealed will of God, which is His right to insist upon and His just do. The chief aim of the Christian is to serve God, that is, to be in subjection to Him. How is this possible unless he be obedient to the commands of God? "The great God could never be imposed upon or satisfied with mere external performances from His creatures" (A.W.P.).

However, this is no easy task, as some might think easy. Yet our Lord Himself assures us that if we take upon His yoke we will not find the burden to be a task that is unaccomplishable. The Christian lifestyle does require obedience and as such it is our duty to understand how such obedience might be obtained. Therefore this article will examine Christian obedience in the following areas:

It is Motivated by Love:

Second Corinthians 5:14-15 says, "14 For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: 15 And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again." The Greek word for "constraineth" denotes the idea of "to urge on," "to compel," and "to hold together." The idea is not one of urging or driving, but shutting-up to one line and purpose, as in traveling a narrow path. In other words, we are to be myopic. We are to be totally involved with our relationship with the Father through the Son; we are like the horse with blinders, we see only that which is directly in front of us and we move in a narrow path looking straight forward to the goal of living for Christ. John Gill uses the analogy of the solider that does his duty and that he does so out of allegiance to the banner under which he fights to protect and that which he has obligated himself to.

All such obedience to duty is motivated by the love of Christ that He displayed by example in the redemption of His sheep. "Christ ‘became obedient unto death’ in order that His people might be recovered to obedience unto God, that they might be made personally holy, that they might be conformed to God’s Law, both in heart and life" (A. W. P.). The Lord Jesus affirmed that the full requirements of the Law from us are summed up in, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind; thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matt. 22:37, 39). But how is one recovered unto God? By a knowledge of God Himself; by having our affections set wholly upon Him. "If our apprehensions of God be wrong, if they agree not with the Scriptures, then it is obvious that we have but a false image of Him framed by our own fancy" (A. W. P.). For many, their motivation comes from a sense of church duty or a theoretical notion of Him rather that a spiritual knowledge of Him. As Christ demonstrated his own love towards us and died in our stead, so are we to be totally controlled and completely dominated by His example that we die to self and live a life ruled by our love for Him. As Christ died for our sins and brought us into subjection to Him, so we are to die to our old Adamic lifestyle. We are to die to the old way of doing things and rise to walk in the newness of life that is found in none other but Christ. This new life is one that is dominated by the very idea of serving Him that has served us; the suffering Servant. His love for us should motivate us; we are no longer our own masters; we must renounce ourselves, and live because of Christ. Why? Because Christ first loved us, and died for us, that we may have life and life more abundantly. Again, Why then are we to be obedient? Because Christ was obedient to His Father’s will which He came to do, therefore, so must we do the will of Him that purchased and sent us to be witnesses of His life, death, and resurrection. In short, "we owe to Christ our life and death, because he has wholly bound us to Himself" (J. Calvin). "Nothing less than this would or could meet the requirements of the Divine government, satisfy God’s own nature, or glorify the redeemer by a triumphant issue of His costly work" (A.W.P.).

It is Progressive:

At the outset, it is important for the reader to understand that by progressive obedience, I am speaking of progressive sanctification from an experiential standpoint. This writer holds very firmly to the belief that sanctification is both positional and experiential. One being the complete, unwarranted, act of election in God, the other being the working out of that which has been wrought in us by the power of God. "At their justification, believers obtain a relative or judicial sanctification, which provides them a perfect standing before God, by which they receive proof of their covenant relationship with Him, that they are His peculiar people, His ‘treasure,’ His ‘portion’" (A. W. P.). Yet the old nature is not expelled, eradicated, nor made good. This is what must progressively be brought under subjection. The soul has been imparted light. It is the duty of the believer to let that light so shine forth that all may recognize it for what it is. But be not surprise if your light shines in the darkness and the darkness recognizes it not. Yet "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shinned in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). Therefore we are to grow in the knowledge of God and thus manifest that inward light resulting in an obedient walk with Him.

In 2 Corinthians 10:5 Scripture says, "Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;" The Greek word used for "high thing" means those things that have been lifted up on high or exalted as the towering of self-conceit. This verse speaks of exalting one’s self through self-justification against the very knowledge of God. In other words, the liberty of the mind has not been restrained or bridled, that it may be wise in the doctrine of Jesus Christ. The mind continues to dominate the actions of the man whereby he has elevated himself above accepting the knowledge of God. The carnal reasonings of the old nature, which seem wiser than the commands of God, must be destroyed. The mind, intellect, the thought processes, must be brought into subjection with the knowledge of God by which Christ alone is obeyed. "Such an enlightened soul looks to Him alone for life and salvation, ventures on Him, and relies on Him, and is desirous and willing to be saved by Him in his own way; he receives and embraces all His truths and doctrines with faith and love, and obeys them from the heart, and cheerfully and willingly submits to all His commands and ordinances. . .and all his strong holds, reasonings, and high thoughts are demolished by the power of God . . .and he himself is carried captive, yet not against, but with his will, to be a voluntary subject of Christ…" (J. Gill).

Again we read in Philippians 2:12, "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." The Greek word used for "you always obeyed," denotes the idea of "to obey as a result of listening," "to be obedient as to answer." Here a picture is painted as hearing and responding in a positive manner to that which was heard. If an metaphor might be given it would be like answering a door when hearing a knock from the opposite side. An immediate response to a given stimuli. This word also carries the idea of "willful submission" and works with the Greek word for "work out." Therefore, we are to submissively "work out" our salvation until the process is complete; we are to work on to the finish; we are to work out that which has been worked in us with a solicitude and reverential awe of Him that began a good work in us.

Romans 15:18 states, "For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed." Here I would like to focus on the word "wrought." This may be understood as "work out" and may be better defined as something that is refined by constant use where it gradually takes on the sense of a simple accomplishment. In other words, what Paul had accomplished in the making of the Gentiles obedient, Christ had accomplished through a gradual process through his teaching and preaching. Christ made the disobedient obedient. When one is submissive to Christ’s teachings and commands it is because he has been made submissive to the will of God.

It is accordance with God’s revealed will:

Let us now look at Ephesians 6:5-7; "5 Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; 6 Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; 7 With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men:" In these verses we see an example given to us through Christian servants. Such servants are required to comply to the commands of their employers: they are diligent in their work and to discharge their duties with the same conscientious deliberation when their master is absent as when his eye is upon them. What a great example! We can learn from this example in that we are to remain busy with our Master’s work while He tarries. How much busier do you think the Christian might be if he were in the company of the Lord? How much different would our worship be if Christ were visibly sitting within the congregation? How much more would we be willing to be involved in the ministry of the church if Christ was a member of our congregation? As for these three seemingly stupid presumptuous questions, we are continually in the presence of Christ.

We are exhorted to obey in all things according to the dictates of our Master. Yet how can we do this if we do not understand and then accept the will of God for our lives. Many of us fail to grasp God’s will for our lives. This may or may not be as difficult as many make it out to be. We are to serve our God! There is to be an uninterrupted obedience to our Christian obligation in which we please the Lord both with our actions towards others and our love for the brethren.

Thomas Watson gives four points on how we are enabled to do God's will aright:

It is set forth in His divinely inspired Word.

While the Scriptures do not give a precise formula for discovering God’s will in intensely personal circumstances, they do plainly tell us that we have a Guide, Jesus Christ, who will lead us in the right direction and help us make fundamentally sound choices in major and minor decisions. It can not be our expectation of what Christ would have us do, we must have such a knowledge of His Word that our life decisions have a good foundation.

We are enjoined by God to rationally seek His will for our lives (our part), but ultimately we must depend upon Him for sure and certain guidance (His part). We do not have all the details, but we do have an all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful Guide, Jesus Christ, who promises guidance to His followers (His part).

Nevertheless, sin attacks us on every side. Even when we purpose to obey the Word. Even when we purpose to avoid every evil way. Temptations entice us all around. Shall we close our eyes, plug our ears and blank our minds? Shall we sit in a dark closet all day, listening to taped messages and Scripture readings? Shall we go live by ourselves in some remote corner of the planet? Psalm 119:11 has a better approach – "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee." Do you have verses handy when covetousness attacks? Do you have some Biblical antidotes for lust, envy, pride, anger, bitterness, partiality and impatience? Therein lies the key to spiritual survival and success. Take notice of the following Scripture passages:

James 1:22 says, "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." It is not enough to be mere hearers of the Word of God, we must practice what we hear, we must preserve what we hear through life changing application. Mere hearers of the Word are self-deceivers, they argue with themselves and such sophisticated arguments are at the root carnal and depraved. Such reasonings are deceitful; when one discharges his obligation he lies under the false presumption that filling his head with mere knowledge or notion is sufficient though his heart be empty of godly affection and resolutions to live a fruit filled life. Freedom from the submission to the Word of God is a freedom demanded by the world. It is an expression of its rights and any submission on the part of the world to the Word of God would be bondage. Submission and obedience to the Word of God is that which constitutes happiness in the Christian life and a walk in liberty seeking the precepts of God (Ps. 119:45).

"Since God's Word is of such blessing and benefit to us, why do we find it so difficult to live with and live by? Why is Bible reading, study, meditation and memorization such a chore for us? Why do we so readily neglect and forget it? Why does it not hold a more prominent and important place in our experience? What a frustration! Well, I think these all have a very simple answer: spiritual warfare. Our flesh wars against our spirit. The devil wars against us. The world distracts us. It’s a war...and we aren’t always on a war footing! So let’s do what everybody is supposed to do in a war -- fight! And in this daily fight, remember to lean heavily on the Lord: ‘With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments’ (Psalm 119:10)" [F. Nymeyer].

Conclusion:

It is hoped that this article has in a small part outlined the importance of Christian obedience. At the outset of the Christian walk it is of utmost importance for the believer to realize the importance of obedience. Yet, all to often there is a failure on the part of the church to properly instruct each believer of their duties and responsibilities to the Lord. Many new members, as well as old, view their responsibilities to the church equal to their responsibilities to the Lord. But it is not the responsibility of the church to read your Bible, pray your prayers, and walk your walk. It is the responsibility of the church to tell you for your obligations, to minister in such a way that it fosters spiritual growth, and ensure that all is done for the glory of God.

Although much can be improved from the church’s standpoint, it is the individual believer that will give an account of himself/herself before the Lord. It is part of the growth process that we first realize what our responsibilities are concerning submissiveness and obedience to the Lord. We must have an idea where the beginning is that we might take the first step in a lifelong journey. We must first deny ourselves and accept the duties that accompany Christian obedience. "And thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."


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Revised: May 24, 2010

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