Chuck Swindoll writes:
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.” — (Improving Your Serve, by Charles Swindoll, p. 170-171 )
Unfortunately, this is what often happens to the church of Jesus Christ. We become ineffective, unproductive and unattractive because our faith is merely cerebral. We know the right stuff but it never touches our living. As important as solid Bible doctrine is, it is not the sum total of Biblical Christianity. Christian discipleship is not about how much you know . . . it is about who you follow. In our text Jesus drives home that point well, he says in verse 15: “If you love me you will obey what I command.” And in verse 23, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”
True Belief is Expressed Practically
When a couple says they love each other does that mean they do? Maybe. The test is how the individuals show their love. True faith is not about saying certain words in an attitude of prayer. True faith is practical.
Let me make an important clarification. I am not suggesting that the way to get to Heaven is to work really hard. The Bible is clear, we can never, be good enough to warrant eternal life. Even though some people seem to live pretty well, God requires perfection. Even though some people seem to be doing good things – God not only looks at WHAT we do but WHY we do what we do.
Jerry Bridges makes this point well,
Love for God, then, is the only acceptable motive for obedience to him. This love may express itself in a reverence for him and a desire to please him, but those expressions must spring from love. Without the motive of love my apparent obedience may be essentially self-serving. Negatively, I may fear God will punish me, or at least withhold his blessing from me, because of some disobedience. I may abstain from a particular sinful action out of fear I will be found out or because I don’t want to feel guilty afterward.
Positively, I may be seeking to earn God’s blessing through some pious actions. I may conform to a certain standard of conduct because I want to fit in with and be accepted by the Christian culture in which I live. I might even obey outwardly because I have a compliant temperament, and it is simply my ” nature ” to obey my parents, or my teacher, or civil authorities, or even God.
All of these motives-both negative and positive-may result in an outward form of obedience, but it is not obedience from the heart. Our behavior may appear outstanding to other people but not be acceptable to God because it does not spring from a motive of love to him. Only conduct that arises from love is worthy of the name of obedience. [The Discipline of Grace, Bridges p.118,119]
The fact is we are not called to obey so we can gain salvation . . . . we are called to obey because of our salvation.
Good works do not precede a changed heart . . . good works (obedience) result from a changed heart. When a person declares true faith in Christ (a true desire to repent of sin; to trust Christ’s sacrifice for their eternal salvation; and a willingness to begin following Christ as Lord), the Holy Spirit changes our heart. We become a new person. Paul said, “Therefore is anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” [2 Cor. 5:17]
The Bible is clear that true faith is active faith. The difference between a true disciple and a false pretender is that one is following Christ, the other is just talking about it!
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matt. 7:15-20)
“No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” (1 Jn. 3:6-8)
“Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.”(James 1:23-25)
Dr. Paul Ferris remembers as a boy in 1952 how he watched in fascination as Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England. Even on black-and-white TV, the ceremony in Westminster Abbey was colorful. One intriguing aspect of the whole process came right before they placed the crown on the new queen’s head. The Archbishop of Canterbury called out to the audience that was sitting north of the dais, “Sirs, I present to you the undoubted Queen of this realm. Are you willing to do her homage?” Their response was resounding. Then he turned around and faced the opposite direction and repeated the question. Again there came a hearty affirmative response. Only after he had done the same thing in all four directions did they put the crown on the head of Queen Elizabeth II.
The pomp and ceremony was indeed impressive, but that Queen, though she reigns over the United Kingdom, is merely a constitutional monarch. Parliament can pass whatever legislation it pleases. She can withhold her signature if she disagrees with it, but the bill becomes law nonetheless. Although she is “the undoubted Queen of the realm,” she rules in name only.
Isn’t that the way it is with lots of us in God’s kingdom. Without hesitation we affirm, “Jesus Christ is the undoubted King of the realm,” but when it comes to everyday life, we make our own rules. The New Testament refers to Jesus as Lord 618 times, but we continue to organize our lives not around His lordship, but around human authority–most typically our own. [Servant, Winter 1997. Page 2.]
Ferris is right, too many in the church today have a faith that is mere show. The true believer is the one who shows that they love the Lord in what they DO. Incidently, this is why our purpose statement as a church reads: “we want to train and encourage people to apply Christian truth in daily living.” Only when faith is applied . . . is it truly faith at all.
Obedience is the way to Increased Intimacy and Enjoyment of God
Jesus makes this promise to those who obey Him: “My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (V. 23). Jesus promises a new fellowship with the Father for those who obey.
This is not like a piece of candy that is offered as a bribe to entice a child to be well-behaved. This blessing is just common sense. When we obey we open doors to God’s blessing. When we disobey we close those doors. Vance Havner has it right – “You cannot break the laws of God — you break yourself against them. Might as well try to attack Gibraltar with a popgun as to go up against the laws of God. It will not work. You jump off a skyscraper and you do not break the law of gravitation. You break your neck, but not the law of gravitation.”
You’ve seen this experience in your own life, I’m sure. There is something you feel God wants you to do but it is inconvenient or difficult and you don’t want to do it. A battle goes on in your soul. Finally you decide to do what God wants because of your love for Him. How do you feel when you have completed the task? You feel terrific, close to the Father, glad you did what was right. That’s the principle in operation here.
Every time we disobey we cut ourselves off from fellowship with the Lord. We erect a barrier. This barrier hinders the warmth of His love, the enjoyment of His person. The goal of obedience is not material blessings as some would seem to indicate. The goal of obedience is an increased intimacy with the Father . . . . a much better motivation than any truckload of material things.
The story is told of a wealthy man who lost his wife when their only child was young. A housekeeper was hired to take care of the boy, who lived only into his teens. Heartbroken from this second loss, the father died a short time later. No will could be found; and since there were no relatives, it looked as if the state would get his fortune. The man’s personal belongings, including his mansion, were put up for sale. The old housekeeper had very little money, but there was one thing she wanted. It was a picture that had hung on a wall in the house–a photo of the boy she had loved and nurtured. When the items were sold, nobody else wanted the picture, so she bought it for just a few pennies. Taking it home, she began to clean it and polish the glass. As she took it apart, a paper fell out. It was the man’s will, and in it he stated that all his wealth should go to the one who loved his son enough to buy that picture.
The one who demonstrates love toward the Son (and the Father) is the one who gets the inheritance. Increasing obedience yields increased fellowship.
Now here is where we can apply this principle: do you feel far away from God? Are you finding it hard to enjoy your relationship with the Father? It so you might want to examine the way you are living your life. Are you trusting yourself rather than Him? Are you worrying more than resting? Are you harboring some other sin in your life? Remove the sin and you will remove the barrier.
I suspect that people will have one of two responses to what I have said thus far. It is possible that there are some who would say: I’M DOING ALRIGHT. There are some who feel they are doing a good job at their obedience. To those people I would say, “Make sure you are measuring your obedience by the Word of God and not by the conventions of men.” Let me remind you of some of the Lord’s directives:
- Matthew 5…..If you are offering your gift at the altar and remember someone has something against you….leave your gift and be reconciled to your brother. [Should you be somewhere else this morning?]
- “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Eph. 4:32) [Is there a grudge you are nursing?]
- “Love the Lord Your God with ALL your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength (Mt. 22:37) [How much of your heart love God?]
- Love your enemies . . . do good to those who spitefully use you (Mt. 5:34) [Revenge may be “sweet” but it is sinful.]
- Do nothing out of selfish ambition (Phil 2:3)
- Go into all the world and preach the Gospel (Mt. 28) [Have you gotten out of your house with the gospel yet?]
- Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9) [are you stingy with God?]
- Carry [not ignore, dread, or justify] each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2)
- Do everything for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31)
- Submit [give of yourself….not promote yourself] to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21)
- Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Eph. 4:29) [What do your words say about your love for the Lord?]
- Whatever happens conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel (Phil 1:27)
These are just a sampling of the commands of Scripture. If you feel you are doing a good job in your expression of love to the Savior . . . . you may not be listening.
The other response to this message might be I AM A PAGAN. You may wonder if you really love the Lord as you evaluate your life in light of today’s text. I have two possible responses to that feeling:
FIRST, it may be that you have just been talking about faith. It’s possible that you have never really given yourself to the Savior. If that’s the case, maybe now is the time to stop playing at faith and begin to really trust the Lord. If you are worried about your lack of love it is evident that the Holy Spirit is working in your life. Do you need to respond to Him today? Take a moment and declare you unreserved willingness to trust Him for life and eternity.
SECOND, you may have already expressed a true desire to follow him but what frustrates you is your inconsistency. Join the club. I think the testimony of every follower is: “I am not following in the way He deserves to have me follow”. What we need to remember is that the work of the Spirit in our life is a progressive work. It is a gradual work.
When I married my wife I declared my love for her. However, I am sorry to say that I do not always show that love in my behavior. But as I work at love I find that I’m making progress. I understand and practice love now more than when we were first married. And I’m finding that as a result I’m enjoying marriage more as well.
Today (May 25, 1997) is a special day for me. 29 years ago tonight I made my public declaration of faith to the Lord. He had been working in me and drawing me long before that but on this night I stopped fighting. On that night I said, “Lord, I believe now that you died for my sin. I receive that salvation and put my trust for eternity on what you did for me. I also declare that I am willing to follow you as Lord of my life.” At that moment my life was changed. I was not the same person I used to be. I was not only forgiven . . . I was made a new person.
Now 29 years later I still am not what I should be. BUT, I’m also not what I used to be. There is gradual progress toward holiness in my life. I wish I was moving faster . . . but thank God, I am moving. I find that sometimes now I actually do the right things simply because I love the Lord. I have found the Lord to be sweeter and more magnificent with every passing year.
And you will too if you are seeking to love Him in your life. True love is practical love. It’s more than reading the letters and talking about them . . . .it is doing something with the instructions He has given. True love yields rich fellowship with the Father. And the good news is this: As we continue to work at obeying His commands . . . . our fellowship with the Lord will just get sweeter and sweeter. You and I have not yet begun to understand or appreciate the greatness of our God.
Someday we will.