Obedience is the twin sister of discipleship. Jesus calls us to take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow Him in obedience. The great German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said that grace without repentance, grace without obedience is nothing more than cheap grace. The great preacher, Charles Spurgeon said, “Faith and obedience are bound up in the same bundle. He that obeys God, trusts God; and he that trusts God, obeys God.” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon 1834-1892)
In our study for today the wise, weathered disciple tells us that we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we know God by the level of our obedience to His commands. This statement troubles many of us today because we are so keenly aware of our lack of obedience, our inconsistency in walking in Jesus’ steps. As I look at my own life, if I were to come up with a phrase to describe my walk with God it would have to be “stumbling in His steps.” I do not think that I am alone. Louis Cassels speaks of the difficulty we face in dying to self in order for us to be obedient to God. He writes,
Obey … take up your cross … deny yourself … it all sounds very hard. It is hard. Anyone who tells you differently is peddling spiritual soothing syrup, not real Christianity. And yet, in a strangely paradoxical way, it is also easy. With every cross that we lift in obedience to Christ comes the strength to carry it. It is always a package deal. (Louis Cassels)
There is a tendency for the followers of Jesus to swing the pendulum of faith to one extreme or the other. On the one hand we are tempted to swing the pendulum to the side of “works.” I can prove that my faith is real, that my walk is right, if I do the right things, say the right words, and think the right thoughts. I can gauge the validity of my faith by comparing it to yours. If my actions are more moral than yours and my life appears to be more godly than yours then my faith must be strong. If my actions do not appear to be as pure as yours and my words are not as saintly, then my faith must be weak. Some use these gauges to estimate where they stand with God and they are quite content with pursuing God based upon how they add up to those around them. After all, James said, 18But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-and shudder. (James 2:18-19 NIV)
On the other hand there are those who say that our actions really don’t matter. Much like the Gnostics, they dismiss the call of God to live a morally pure life and cling to their beliefs. What we believe, preserving the purity of our doctrine, is the only thing that matters. What really matters is the sufficiency of God’s grace to forgive every sin imaginable. How I live doesn’t matter – what God has done through Jesus is what truly counts. After all, Paul wrote to the believers in Rome and said, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24 NIV)
As we come to our study for today we have an opportunity to learn from the heart of God what walking in the light consists of for us today. What God desires for you and me is for us to walk in the light of His love, to allow the illuminating light of God’s Truth to so illuminate our lives that our walk reflects His majestic light. Take a look at 1 John 2:3-11 as we begin our study.
3We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. 7 Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. 9Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. 10Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. 11But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him. 12 I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. 13I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father. 14 I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one. (1 John 2:3-14 NIV)
In this important lesson from John we can learn that obedience is vital evidence of life for the follower of Jesus. Obedience does not impart life, Jesus is the only One who can impart life, abundant and eternal, but obedience to God is vital evidence of life for the man or woman of God.
When an accident occurs and paramedics arrive on the scene they rush to take the “vitals” of the victims of the accident. If there is no movement and the victim is unconscious then they want to try and determine if the victim is alive or dead. They check to see if the victim is breathing. They want to see if they can find a pulse. They put a cuff on the victim to check their blood pressure. Each of these “tests” if you will, is vital for the paramedics to determine if the person is alive or dead.
Just as these tests are essential for determining whether the accident victim is alive or dead the test of “obedience” is vital for determining whether or not we are alive in Christ or not. In verse 3, John writes, 3 “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.” In this verse John uses a very important Greek word. The word literally means, “To have known.” It implies a past experience that brings about continuing effects. When we come to know Jesus our experience and knowledge of Him continues to effect our lives throughout our days. A. T. Robertson translates the phrase, “Know that we have come to know and still know him.” John uses this phrase over and over again because he is convinced that once we come to know Jesus — His love, grace and holiness will change the course of our lives forever.
In verses 4-5, John restates what he has already shared with us earlier. John says, 4The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him:
Simply giving lip service to God and not allegiance will never suffice. God knows our hearts through and through. In Isaiah’s day, God rebuked the people because of their lip service and their unwillingness to submit their lives to His will. God said, 13 …”These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. (Isaiah 29:13 NIV)
In his book, “Improving Your Serve,” Chuck Swindoll gives a great example of the predicament we are facing as followers of Jesus who frequent church buildings, read God’s Word, and even participate in small groups, but fail to follow Jesus in obedience. Chuck says,
Let’s pretend that you work for me. In fact, you are my executive assistant in a company that is growing rapidly. I’m the owner and I’m interested in expanding overseas. To pull this off, I make plans to travel abroad and stay there until the new branch office gets established. I make all the arrangements to take my family in the move to Europe for six to eight months, and I leave you in charge of the busy stateside organization. I tell you that I will write you regularly and give you direction and instructions. I leave and you stay. Months pass. A flow of letters are mailed from Europe and received by you at the national headquarters. I spell out all my expectations. Finally, I return. Soon after my arrival I drive down to the office. I am stunned! Grass and weeds have grown up high. A few windows along the street are broken. I walk into the receptionist’s room and she is doing her nails, chewing gum, and listening to her favorite disco station. I look around and notice the waste baskets are overflowing, the carpet hasn’t been vacuumed for weeks, and nobody seems concerned that the owner has returned. I ask about your whereabouts and someone in the crowded lounge area points down the hall and yells, “I think he’s down there.” Disturbed, I move in that direction and bump into you as you are finishing a chess game with our sales manager. I ask you to step into my office (which has been temporarily turned into a television room for watching afternoon soap operas). “What in the world is going on, man?” “What do ya’ mean, Chuck?” “Well, look at this place! Didn’t you get any of my letters?” “Letters? Oh, yeah — sure, got every one of them. As a matter of fact, Chuck, we have had letter study every Friday night since you left. We have even divided all the personnel into small groups and discussed many of the things you wrote. Some of those things were really interesting. You’ll be pleased to know that a few of us have actually committed to memory some of your sentences and paragraphs. One or two memorized an entire letter or two! Great stuff in those letters!” “Okay, okay — you got my letters, you studied them and meditated on them, discussed and even memorized them. But what did you do about them?” “Do? Uh — we didn’t do anything about them.” (Charles Swindoll, Improving Your Serve, p. 170-171)
Obedience is essential if we are to walk in the light. We can’t read God’s Truth communicated to us through His Word and merely appreciate it as a fine literary work. God’s Word is given to us to change us, to bring us out of the dark and into His glorious light.
In verse 5, John writes, 5 “But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him.” The phrase could be translated, “If anyone truly continues to keep God’s Word, then God’s love is made perfect in him.” Walking in the light of God’s Truth is not a one-time decision, rather we must continue to walk in the light. It is of eternal importance that each one of us makes a decision to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, but our walk only begins there. We must continually decide to walk in the light.
How do we know what to do to remain in the light? Great question. John says, “This is how we know we are in him: 6Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” Somebody is thinking, “Oh man! There is no way! Heal the sick, raise the dead, feed 5000. I can barely feed my family. I can’t do that!” Precisely. You and I have absolutely no chance of doing what Jesus did…apart from Him. This is exactly why John continues to call us into the light. When we walk in the light then we can raise our voices with Paul’s and say, “I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13 NIV) Jesus can do through us what we can never do of our own accord. We can walk as Jesus walked, talk as Jesus talked, and others will see Him as we go about living our lives from day-to-day.
To some of the folks in the churches where John was ministering this was a new teaching that they weren’t so sure about. We church folks are funny people. We want things to remain the same as they have always been. We love familiarity. I know church folks who are still upset that the harvest gold shag carpet and the avocado counter tops were replaced. We love familiarity. We are no different than the people of John’s day who had been use to worshipping in the Temple and believing things in a certain way. John confronts them and challenges their propensity to cling to what is comfortable for them by saying,
7 Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.
How is this command both “old” and “new” at the same time? The commandment is “old” in that from the beginning God has called us to love Him with all of our hearts and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. In Leviticus 19:18 we read, 18″‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18 NIV)
Jesus repeated over and over again, through His life and His teaching, the most fundamental of God’s truths. When He was asked which was the greatest of all commandments Jesus said, 36″Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40 NIV)
This was not a new commandment in that God has called us to a life of love from the beginning. On the other hand, it was a new commandment in that the truth was now visible in the life of Jesus. No longer is this call a theory to be written on blackboards and memorized – now it has been made visible through the life of Jesus and the lives of His followers.
Jesus is the Light of the World. The darkness cannot survive in His presence. When we allow the light of Jesus to shine through our lives then the darkness will be driven away every time. There is desperate darkness in our land today. You and I run into it every day. We have experienced it in our own lives. I was reading on Thursday morning an article titled, “Fatal epidemic: Suicide rate tops homicide in U.S.” In the article we find evidence of the darkness around us. Did you know that today there are more people who will kill themselves than will be killed by someone else? What an odd fact. Let me share an excerpt from the article with you.
Somewhere, right now, someone’s grandfather, husband, wife or teen-ager has decided that a welcome death at their own hands is more attractive than life. Whether from prolonged physical pain or inescapable, crushing internal anguish, someone will commit suicide in the next 17 minutes. Every 17 minutes that act will be repeated. And each death will leave an estimated half-dozen stunned family members, co-workers and acquaintances asking “Why?” and chiding themselves “If only I had …” Figures compiled from 1997 national vital statistics indicate 30,535 people committed suicide that year, at a rate of about 83 a day, according to the American Association for Suicidology. (Edmond Evening Sun, Wednesday, September 1, 1999)
There is a great need for the followers of Jesus to pull back the curtain and allow the light to invade the darkness, to drive the darkness out of our hearts, souls, and minds. There is a need for us, who are walking in the light, to shine the light of Jesus’ love and truth into the lives of our friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
It is not enough for me to be out of the dark. If, while stumbling in the darkness, the light of God’s Truth breaks through to me and I simply rejoice in the fact that I have been delivered from the darkness then that is the epitome of self-centeredness. It is like driving down the Broadway Extension and seeing an accident happen and, while having a chance to get out an help, merely driving by and saying, “Thank you Jesus that it wasn’t me.” It is like seeing someone who is hungry and saying, “I’ll pray for you.” You don’t need to pray to know that he or she needs some food – feed them. Serve them. Love them with the love of Jesus. John writes 9Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. 10Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. 11But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.
John says that we can talk about how much we love Jesus until the cows come home, but if we don’t love His people then we are walking around in the dark. “Knowing Jesus” is a verb. It requires action. It necessitates activity. It requires involvement. Paul said in Philippians,
5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11 NIV)
In John 13, Jesus gathered with His disciples for His last meal with them. Upon arriving at the house Jesus assumed the responsibility of washing the nasty, grimy, grungy feet of His followers. After Jesus finished washing their feet He said, 12When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13″You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. (John 13:12-15 NIV)
Jesus has called us to shine the light of His love into our communities, homes, offices, and all of the world by stooping to serve those around us. Whatever the need – meet it. Whatever the hurt – heal it. Whatever the burden – lift it. Whatever the heartache – comfort it. Jesus has called us to be servants and He has set the standard for us.
As we close our study for today we read John’s intimate words to the people of the churches. John writes to encourage the people of God by saying,
12 I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. 13I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father. 14 I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
John’s call to obedience is always tempered with grace. Obedience is the twin sister of discipleship. The world will continue to scoff and mock the followers of Jesus until we decide that we are going to relinquish control of our lives in order that God can use us to accomplish His mission of shining His light into all of the world.
A few centuries before Christ a man named Alexander conquered almost all of the known world using military strength, cleverness and a bit of diplomacy. The story is told that Alexander and a small company of soldiers approached a strongly fortified walled city. Alexander, standing outside the walls, raised his voice and demanded to see the king. When the king arrived, Alexander insisted that the king surrender the city and its inhabitants to Alexander and his little band of fighting men.
The king laughed, “Why should I surrender to you? You can’t do us any harm!” But Alexander offered to give the king a demonstration. He ordered his men to line up single file and start marching. He marched them straight toward a sheer cliff. The townspeople gathered on the wall and watched in shocked silence as, one by one, Alexander’s soldiers marched without hesitation right off the cliff to their deaths! After ten soldiers died, Alexander ordered the rest of the men to return to his side. The townspeople and the king immediately surrendered to Alexander the Great. They realized that if a few men were actually willing to commit suicide at the command of this dynamic leader, then nothing could stop his eventual victory.
Are you willing to be as obedient to the ruler of the universe, Jesus Christ, as those soldiers were to Alexander? Are you as dedicated and committed? Think how much power Christ could have in our area with just a portion of such commitment. (James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) pp. 102-103.)
Jesus does not desire to march us over a cliff – His desire is for us to march into the light of His love and by doing so to touch the world with the Good News of His salvation. Won’t you invite Him into your heart today?