It’s one thing to say you believe in Jesus Christ. It’s another thing entirely to obey Him. Even the demons believe in God (James 2:19); but they don’t obey Him. Just imagine, if these four men (Peter, Andrew, James, and John) had declined to obey Jesus’ call to discipleship, the early Church would have been without four of Jesus’ original called apostles. And our Bible would be missing the Gospel of John, his three epistles and the Book of Revelation, and Peter’s two epistles.
Our focus today is on the biblical
Sometimes I hear Christians say, “I love you, Jesus,” but the confession of their mouths does not match their lifestyle. Love for God and for His Son Jesus, defined biblically, is far more than words or emotions.
Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” There is a horrible error that I’ve heard spoken over the years by some Christians of my acquaintance. It is often said something like this: “I’m so glad we are not a ‘works’ mentality church!” Sadly, this is often a cop-out, a covering for conduct that does not follow the biblical standards and does not manifest love for Jesus. Because the true lover of God the Father and of Jesus Christ keeps and obeys their teachings.
In sum, Jesus said (above) that obeying His teachings versus not obeying His teachings will indicate if we truly love Him. Not our words, not our emotions, but our obedience. He never said, “If you love me, you’ll have strong emotions and will say so out loud,” although those are good things to have and to do. What He did say is, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” But sadly, this verse, coupled with the obedience it commands as proof of our love, is too seldom preached and taught from church pulpits today.
I’ve heard many sermons and have read various bible studies on Jesus’ Great Commission. They often, and rightly so, emphasize going forth and preaching the Gospel, baptizing converts, and making disciples. But far less often do we hear the final thing Jesus mentioned in His Commission — “…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
There are three key words there:
The people of God under the Old Covenant gave burnt offerings and sacrifices to God. These were part of their religious duties. However, the prophet Samuel pointedly declared that “to obey is better” than these things.
Under this wonderful New Covenant with God in which we live, we must remember this principle. We can do the visible things faithfully, such as attending church (a good thing). But fully obeying the Lord is an even “better” thing. It will include the good, visible things and even more. Most importantly, obedience will ensure that our hearts are aligned with God and His will.
I must interject something at this point in anticipation of a potential objection to this strong emphasis on obedience. Some might be thinking, “But that’s ‘doing,’ and I thought it was ‘all by grace’.” The apostle Paul clarifies our thinking on that. By the Holy Spirit he writes this Scripture, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age …  a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:11-14). Biblical grace is free and unmerited, and yes, it “offers salvation.” But it is not permissive! God’s grace teaches us to say “No!” to unholiness, it teaches us to live godly lives and to be a people of the Lord who are eager to do what is good. That’s what grace leads the believer to. So obedience to the Lord’s requirements for a holy, godly life submitted to His commands is a facet of His grace. Grace is not “do as you please.” It’s “do as God pleases.”
Jesus spoke of the wise and foolish builders (Matthew 7:24-27). Both the wise and the foolish heard the Lord’s words. But only the wise “put them into practice.” Churches are full of people who hear the Word from the pulpits. But churches are not full of people who hear God’s Word and also faithfully obey it by putting it into practice. Jesus pronounced His blessing upon “those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
We do well to read the Bible and to study it carefully. But more than being diligent Scripture students, we must aim to be diligent Scripture obeyers. Otherwise, we are foolish builders, and our lives are built on a weak, sandy foundation. The solid foundation Jesus spoke of is the Lord’s Word obeyed.
Are you seeking more of God? Seeking the fullness of His Spirit? Pressing for that Holy Spirit baptism that so greatly empowered the early Church? Then be an obedient seeker! For example, before He ascended back to heaven, Jesus had told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem “until they were clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49,53). And they did exactly that. They obeyed and waited, even though they did not know precisely what was coming next. They gathered together in Jerusalem in times of continual prayer (Acts 1:14). Then (Acts 2:1-4), while they were obediently waiting together in Jerusalem, as Jesus had commanded, “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (vs. 4). This happened on the first New Testament Day of Pentecost (2:1), when God’s timing was perfectly fulfilled. So we see in retrospect how important the disciples’ obedience was. It placed them in God’s perfect timing.
Now your experience of the baptism with the Spirit may not happen precisely like this. In fact, it may be quite different in the particulars. But the common theme then and now is that God gives the Holy Spirit “to those who obey him.” However and whatever God is doing in your life and asking of you, do it! He will reward your obedience with increasing measures of Holy Spirit’s manifestation in your life and ministry.
As I write this in the year 2016, our world is in much turmoil. That is surely true of my nation, the USA. It is certainly true of most other nations. Moral standards are disappearing, many nations’ economies are teetering on the brink of failure, terrorism is striking everywhere, and refugee counts are in the tens of millions and growing.
We must learn a lesson from the Bible about civilizations of past history. When nations followed the Lord and obeyed Him (think Israel), they prospered. When nations disobeyed the Lord, they were destroyed (again, think ancient Israel under the Assyrian and Babylonian Captivities).
What is the takeaway? Just this: the verses above, and many more in Scripture, tell us that if a nation obeys God laws, they will “live safely in the land.” If they disobey Him, they “will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God.” Wise men and women in every nation will take heed to this solemn warning from God.
A brief point here, but a big one! Prayers are answered “because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.” Failure to obey God can severely impair the effectiveness of your prayer life. For example, men, are you failing to honor your wife as God’s Word demands? If so, your prayers will be hindered — “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman … so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7, ESV).
The positive side of this verse is that “we receive from [God] whatever we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases Him.” It’s not simply prayerful people who receive answers from God. I prayed many times long before I was even saved! It is prayerful people who also are obedient to God and who “do what pleases him” who consistently receive answers to prayer.
I want to head off a common, erroneous reaction to this type of message. So often we hear people saying that if they fully follow the Lord’s Word, life will be no fun! That is a big mistake and far from the truth. And I suggest that it’s a mistake held by those who have not chosen to fully obey the Lord. They do not understand experientially the joy that comes from obedience to God.
Begin to look at the Scriptures as the writer of Psalm 119 did — “[Lord], your statutes are wonderful.” In these later years of a long and blessed life, I realize more and more the inherent blessings that are in God’s Word. Jesus said of His words that they “are full of the Spirit and life” (John 6:63). That helps us to understand the Psalmist’s cry that God’s “statutes are wonderful; therefore I obey them.”
We serve a glorious, risen Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He took upon Himself a human nature (along with His divine nature), and came to earth as a baby born to a virgin. He grew, matured, ministered, and during His life on earth “learned obedience from what he suffered.” Having died on the cross for our sins, He rose again the third day, conquering sin for all mankind. He now reigns in heaven at the right hand of God the Father and is “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
And the Lord Jesus invites you to be among those who obey Him and His Gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8) and enter eternal life through repentance and faith in Him. If the Lord is speaking to your heart today about coming to Him and becoming a child of God, please let me refer you in closing to evangelist Billy Graham’s simple steps to Find Peace With God. You will be eternally grateful to the Lord Jesus Christ for making you a born-again, heaven-bound child of God!
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©2016, James H. Feeney.
Pentecostal Sermons and Bible Studies
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.