Interrelation of Faith and Obedience

Continued from here.

I’d like to circle back to something I said in my last blog entry, which I got from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book, Discipleship. I said that each time I step out in obedience, I am also stepping out in faith, trusting that God will provide what I need to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus. Bonhoeffer is the one who alerted me to the interrelation between faith and obedience, and I think it’s an important point for all Christians to understand. Bonhoeffer said:

Only the believers obey, and only the obedient believe.”

Sadly, many Christians try to do only one and ignore the other – either obedience or faith – but faith and obedience are interrelated and equally necessary to Christian discipleship. I cannot be Jesus’ disciple without obeying him: I must deny myself, take up my cross, and follow him. I also cannot be Jesus’ disciple without believing/having faith in him. Thus, I cannot have one without the other. If I only obey without believing, I become a legalistic. If I only believe without obeying, I am not walking with Jesus.

Because we know that faith/belief and obedience are intertwined, we can step out confidently in obedience, knowing we are stepping out into faith. I believe that’s how Peter knew it was safe to step out of the boat. He did not simply climb out: he first asked Jesus to tell him to come to him on the water. Only after Jesus told him to come did Peter step out onto the water. That step was obedience, which provided the opportunity to build his faith. He had faith that when he obeyed Jesus, God would take care of him. Oh that we, as the Body of Christ, would seek God’s will through His Word, step out in obedience, and grow our faith!

[Graphic: Cover of Discipleship. Courtesy Amazon.]



Discipleship and Sin

cloudContinued from here.

I ended my last blog entry by asking the question, “Does being a disciple of Jesus mean I never sin?” Of course not! In fact, I find that as I have grown in discipleship, I have become more acutely aware of my sin, especially in regards to my thoughts. From the outside, my behavior has grown much more aligned with Jesus’ instructions than I exhibited before March 2013. However, I am actually much more aware of my tendency toward sin as my behavior has improved … or to put this in biblical terms, as I have developed more fruit of the Spirit. I am much more aware of my tendency toward sin and my inability to live as Jesus tells me to live.

At the same time, I feel freed because this awareness has driven me into dependence upon God, keeping me more firmly attached to the Vine. Because I know I am incapable of living in the way Jesus commands without God’s intervention, I have let go of any illusions of being able to do this on my own. I know I can’t. I am 100% dependent upon God to provide me the self-control not to say something rude back to someone who is rude to me… to defer my preferences repeatedly for people who do not appear to appreciate that I am doing so … to spend time with and invest in people who, frankly, are not the easiest people to love… I can only do these things through God, so each time I step out in obedience, I am also stepping out in faith, trusting that God will provide what I need to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus.

Do I still sin? All the time! Here’s the difference, though – I no longer intentionally sin. As soon as I become aware that I have done something that violates God’s commands, I immediately repent and ask forgiveness, just as David did when Nathen called him on the carpet for his sins with Bathsheba and Uriah. David made no justifications for his actions: he took responsibility when he said, “I have sinned against the LORD.” I believe this is why God called David a man after his own heart despite his clearly committing heinous sins. When confronted with his sin, he made no excuses. Instead, he repented and sought forgiveness.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace peeking out of a cloud that is surrounding her. Courtesy Bitmoji.]


Disciples Only Say, “Yes, Lord”

Continued from here.

Henry Blackaby says in his book, Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God , that a disciple’s response to a command from God is always and only “Yes, Lord.” Hear his wise words:

…begin by saying with all your heart, ‘Lord, whatever I know to be Your will, I will do it. Regardless of the cost and regardless of the adjustment, I commit myself ahead of time to follow your will. Lord, no matter what that will looks like, I will do it!’

If you cannot say that when you begin to seek God’s will, you do not mean ‘Thy will be done’ (Matt. 6:10, KJV). Instead, you mean ‘Thy will be done as long as it does not conflict with my will.’ Two words in a Christian’s language cannot go together: ‘No, Lord.’ If you say no to God, He is not your Lord. If He really is your Lord, your answer must always be yes, Lord.”

I was guilty of saying “No, Lord” for most of my Christian life, which means I was not a disciple of Christ for most of my life. God’s way is simple:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” ~ Matt. 16:24

I complicated matters by coming up with multiple reasons not to obey God in my particular circumstances, but it all boiled down to saying, “No, Lord,” and those two words never go together for true disciples. The reason my walk with God – and my life, by extension – radically changed in March 2013 is because I stopped saying, “No, Lord” and started saying yes … yes to forgiving my child abusers … yes to humbling myself in my marriage … yes to obeying laws that I don’t like (such as obeying the speed limit). I did not want to do any of these things, but nowhere in Matthew 16:24 does Jesus say that the disciple has veto power. If I want to be his disciple, the only option is complete and immediate obedience. Any other response reveals that I am not really Jesus’ disciple.

Does this mean I never sin? I’ll discuss that in my next blog entry.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God. Courtesy Amazon.]


Complicating Commandments to Get Out of Doing Them

money_flying_awayContinued from here.

I then thought about situations that I have chosen to make complicated. For example, I was in a Bible study years ago through my workplace, and nobody in the Bible study attended the same church. I was astounded to learn that they all tithe, and they were surprised to learn that I did not. Until that moment, I did not believe that anyone actually gives 10% of his or her income to their church. That seemed like a lot of money to me.

I complicated the issue in a manner worthy of a New Testament Pharisee (I do have a law degree, after all!). Am I expected to give 10% of my gross or net income? Doesn’t having to pay income taxes remove this responsibility since the tithe went toward the temple, which served a “governmental” role in some respects? Didn’t this rule “go away” in the New Testament? I’ll never forget the response that drove me to my knees and led me to obey God and tithe. One member of the Bible study, with a big grin on his face, looked me in the eye and said, “Grace, you are making this too complicated. It’s really simple. Everything you have belongs to God.”

The Bible is very clear: it says to tithe. I was not making this command complicated because it was unclear. I put a lot of energy into complicating a simple command because I did not want to obey it. I was looking for a way out of obeying God: to be able to receive the benefits of being a Christian without having to pay the cost – in this case, 10% of my income. If we are honest with ourselves, every time we put energy into complicating any command of God, what we are really doing to seeking a loophole so we can feel good about continuing to disobey God. We don’t get to have it both ways: God is not going to give us the benefits of being a Christian in the areas of our lives in which we are unwilling to submit to His authority.

Disciples of Jesus don’t have the option of complicating God’s commands to look for loopholes so we can get out of having to do what God tells us to do. Either you are obeying God, or you are not. If you are not obeying God, then you are not Jesus’ disciple. It really is that simple … again, not easy, but simple.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace crying while thinking about her money flying away. Courtesy Bitmoji.]


Deciding for Ourselves Whether to Obey God in Each Situation

Continued from here.

As I shared in my last blog entry, I made the observation a long time ago that God’s ways are simple while the World’s ways are complex, but I did not know why this is the case. Knowing this distinction was helpful because I knew whenever my views became complex on a topic, I was probably moving away from God’s view, so I needed to redirect, review what God’s Word has to say on the topic, and return to simplicity. I did not understand why this was the case, only that following this principle helped me stay better aligned with God’s will.

I am reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Discipleship for my upcoming Discipleship class, which provided the “why.” Bonhoeffer pointed to the Garden of Eden, where Satan led Eve to question God’s simple command not to eat the fruit from a particular tree. The original sin causing the Fall of Man was Adam and Eve wanting to decide for themselves whether or not to eat the fruit instead of obeying God, and Satan tempted them to disobey God through complicating a simple instruction: Don’t eat this fruit. This pattern has continued throughout the history of mankind.

Why do we complicate God’s simple instructions? Bonhoeffer said it’s because we want to decide for ourselves whether or not to obey God in each particular situation. As an example, he pointed to the Good Samaritan parable, which began with an expert in the law asking how to inherit eternal life. Jesus directed him to God’s commands: Love God, and love your neighbor. Simple enough. The expert tried to complicate the issue by asking who his neighbor is, and Jesus’ response pointed him back to God’s simple commands.

Why did the expert try to complicate something as simple as “love your neighbor?” Because he didn’t want to obey God by loving everyone. He wanted to decide for himself whether to love each person he encountered rather than simply love because God said to do it. And don’t we do the same thing? If my child abusers are not my neighbors, then I’ve found a loophole around having to obey God by loving them. By adding complication, I seek to remove my responsibility to obey God in situations where I don’t want to do so.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of Discipleship. Courtesy Amazon.]


From the Complex to the Simple

math_equationsSeveral years ago, I noticed that God’s ways tend to be simple while the World’s ways are complex. For example, God’s position on sex is that it is reserved for marriage, which is simple (not necessarily easy, but simple): If you are married to the person, sex should happen. If you are not married to the person, sex is forbidden. This standard is very simple to keep because a Christian should only have sex with his or her spouse. There’s no ambiguity about sexual relations under God’s command: If you are not married to the person, do not have sex with him or her.

The World’s position on sex is much more complex, stating it’s all relative. For one person, sex is permissible after engagement … for another, when the parties are in love … for another, as long as they are two consenting adults. This leads to many layers of complication, from unplanned pregnancies to sexually transmitted to diseases to walks of shame … single parenthood … sexual harassment accusations … and even rape.

About a year ago, I read a news article about where to draw the line of consensual sex versus rape. A man and woman were engaging in consensual sex when the man became too “rough.” The woman tried to withdraw her consent at this point, which the man did not do, and she sought to file rape charges. The law in that state did not permit a withdrawal of consent that far into an up-until-that-point consensual sexual encounter, and this woman wanted to change the law, stating that what had happened to her was rape. As I read the article, I thought about how following God’s instruction to reserve sex for marriage prevents very complicated situations like this one from arising. While the World might see reserving sex for marriage as restrictive, it actually provides freedom from all of these complications.

While I made this observation about God’s ways being simple and the World’s ways being complex a long time ago, I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on why this is the case. Dietrich Bonhoeffer provided me the answer in his book, Discipleship, which I will share in my next blog entry.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace trying to do complicated math. Courtesy Bitmoji.]


Seeing the People Around You

are_you_okI previously shared that I recently started divinity school. One of the required classes is on evangelism. I felt heavily convicted by a teaching in the first week about paying attention to the people around you.

The Biblical text we discussed is about the woman at the well. The overall focus was that Jesus noticed her. He went somewhere that Jews didn’t go (Samaria) and talked to a woman who Jews didn’t talk with (a woman of ill repute). Not only did he talk to her, but he saw her. He looked her in the eye and even suggested they share the same cup, hence her comment about Jesus having nothing to draw water with – they would have had to share her bucket to share a drink. Meanwhile, the disciples were quite uncomfortable being in Samaria at all, much less the idea of talking with this woman.

The speaker then asked how many people we pass by as we go about our day that we do not notice. We are all in our own little worlds, focused on the busyness of our own lives without “seeing” the people around us – those we pass on the street, who are sitting next to us in restaurants, or even our neighbors as we check the mailbox. God notices all of them. Not only does He notice them, but He loves them!

When did we, as a Church, stop paying attention to the people around us? When did we start putting in our earbuds and blasting our Christian music while not even seeing the hurt on the faces of those we pass as we exercise?

Ever since I listened to that lecture, I have become more mindful of simply noticing the people around me – not necessarily doing anything differently … just noticing that they exist.

I admit that I am guilty of failing to see those around me when I go about my day. I lead a busy life – I work a full-time time, am earning a master’s degree in Christian Ministry, have a husband and special needs teenager, lead a Bible study, and write this blog. That does not leave me much time for anything else. However…God sees those around me who are hurting and need a smile, kind word, or other act of compassion. How can I join God in what He is doing around me if I don’t pay attention and look for His activity?

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking at you and asking, “Are you OK?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]