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Posts Tagged ‘obedience’

I doubt any person has influenced my understanding of Christianity and preaching more than John MacArthur. A series of MacArthur’s audio cassette tapes loaned to me by a former missionary to Brazil opened my mind and heart and understanding to the concept that the glory of God is central to everything. That must have been about 1980, and I’ve followed Dr. MacArthur’s ministry since and am thankful to God for it.

Tim Chailles recently posted a two-part series entitled “10 Questions with John MacArthur.” I encourage you to read and think carefully through Dr. MacArthur’s responses. The first five questions are here, and the latter five are here.

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You better watch out / You better not cry / Better not pout / I’m telling you why / Santa Claus is coming to town
He’s making a list / And checking it twice / Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice / Santa Claus is coming to town
He sees you when you’re sleeping / He knows when you’re awake / He knows if you’ve been bad or good / So be good for goodness sake!

Probably all of us, or at least most of us, recall some time during our childhood when an adult repeated at least a portion of the words from “Santa Clause Is Coming to Town” during the weeks preceding Christmas. We were being less-than-nice and received the warning that if we did not do better, Santa wouldn’t bring us any gifts. It probably had an effect on us for a few minutes or perhaps a couple of hours.

My thinking about this Christmas song has nothing to do with parenting (I could go there, but I’ll resist!), but it does have something to do with obedience. Many folks, of course, view God the way many children in our culture are taught to view Santa. If you want to be blessed with a good job and a nice house, etc., you had better be good because God is watching. If you are “naughty,” you will forfeit these good things.

That is really a sad way to live. One learns to equate being “good” or “bad” with earning or forfeiting God’s favor. It degenerates into a view of salvation based upon works. If you are “good,” God rewards you with heaven. If you’re bad, God punishes you with hell.

Recognizing that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ, that our works do not earn God’s favor (Ephesians 2:8-9), we recognize that such an attitude towards obedience is an affront to a gracious and merciful God. And yet we are to obey God’s Word (Ephesians 2:10), though we do it because he has favored us, not in order to earn his favor.

One of the great lessons of the Christmas season is that of submission. When the angel Gabriel announced to the virgin Mary that she would miraculously conceive and give birth to the Messiah, she could have protested that her reputation would be ruined. She could have submitted to God in order to gain God’s favor or from fear of punishment.

Mary, though, had been told that she was God’s “favored one,” that “the Lord is with you,” that she had “found favor with God.” She had not earned God’s favor. God had granted it according to his good pleasure.

When told that she would miraculously conceive and bear a son, that his name would be Jesus, that “he will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High,” and that he would receive the throne of David and reign forever, she expressed confusion, seeking to understand how a virgin could bear a son. When the angel answered, she submitted to the will of God: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

For Mary, submitting to the will of God, regardless of the potential sacrifice and reproach, was the only thing that mattered. With heartfelt joy she praised God, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).

The happy Christian is the one who is surrendered to the will of God. When he finds a command in the Bible, he does not hedge or attempt to rationalize away its meaning. Even in the face of the loss of business, friends, or prestige, he joyfully obeys the Word of God. He realizes that the precepts of God are always for his good and for God’s glory, and he obeys out of gratitude for God’s grace.

May this season of celebrating the coming of Christ be an especially joyous one as we seek to be submissive to his Word.

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We Southern Baptists say that the Bible is without error, that it is God’s authority over our lives, and that it is sufficient for leading us to God and rightly ordering our lives. I wonder, though, if we really believe what we say we believe.

It seems that we have our belief system that we profess and we have our “but’s” that we live. We say we believe that God created all things, but it looks really dumb to believe he did it in six twenty-four-hour days. We say we believe that men should lovingly lead their wives and that wives should lovingly follow that lead, but we engage in the best (worst?) of the battle of the sexes when our partner is not treating us according to our satisfaction. We say we believe in the church government taught in the Scriptures but many of our churches have deacons acting as though they were elders or, even worse, a church council acting as an elder board. We claim that church membership is to be taken seriously, but Southern Baptist Convention churches have millions of members who rarely, if ever, attend corporate worship in the church where their name persists in being on the roll.

We say we believe a lot of things, but our actions reveal what we really believe. Maybe that’s the reason denominational leaders are constantly trying to devise new means to renew our churches. Perhaps a more effective strategy would be to repent of our sin of violating our professed beliefs with our unbiblical actions and really become submissive to the teaching of the Word of God.

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With his sights focused upon Christianity, noted 19th-century revolutionary Karl Marx famously railed that “religion is the opiate for the masses.” Psychologist Sigmund Freud contemptuously opined, “Religion is an attempt to get control over the sensory world, in which we are placed, by means of the wish-world which we have developed inside us as a result of biological and psychological necessities.” To Marx and Freud, Christianity is only wishful thinking. It merely serves to get people through life, helping them cope with their inability to overcome perplexities and problems too large for them to grasp.

Are Marx, Freud, and like-minded critics of Christianity right? I think they are, at least in the case of many professing Christians. Before you have an apoplectic reaction, please carefully consider the following. For too many, Christianity is simply wishful thinking, with its adherents living life as they choose while having their religion to support them in times of crisis or distress. In other words, their “Christianity” really has little to do with their daily living.

Consequently, they pay little attention to biblical commands which they find unpalatable. If they cannot get along with their spouse, they see divorce as the solution. After all, God wants them to be happy, doesn’t he? If the political candidate of their party favors abortion on demand, that’s not a problem. After all, he promises to take care of the poor and the middle class, and God wants them to be financially secure, doesn’t he? If a fellow church member is living in open sin, we must simply love that person and pray for him, mustn’t we? After all, if we confront him about his sin, he will leave the church and we will never reach him. Surely God doesn’t want that, does he? The Bible commands believers to worship together on the Lord’s Day, but it won’t hurt to miss on days when our son has a soccer game scheduled, will it? After all, we need to teach our son the importance of being committed to his team, don’t we?

Twentieth-century literary scholar C. S. Lewis observed,

Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.

Unfortunately, for too many professing Christians, their religion is only moderately important in their lives. While they may go to church on Sundays and proclaim their love for God, their faith plays little role in their work, their recreation, their home, and their politics. While claiming with their lips the infinite importance of Christianity, they proclaim with their lives that it is of no real importance.

What H. Richard Niebuhr wrote about Protestant liberalism could be applied to too much of twenty-first-century evangelicalism:

A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.

Theological liberalism reshapes the God of the Bible into an idol of its own imagination. If we justify our failure to obey biblical commands and principles, we do the same.

How important is the faith to you? Jesus cares nothing for our tepid discipleship:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. . . .  So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26-27, 33).

No one and no thing must come between the follower of Christ and his Lord. Christ is not merely added to one’s life; he becomes one’s life. While we will never be all we should be for God, let’s not join those whose Christianity is little more than a crutch to get them through the distresses of life.

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