The front side (recto) of Papyrus 1, a New Testament manuscript of the Gospel of Matthew. Most likely originated in Egypt. Also part of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri (P. oxy. 2) Currently housed in: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It has taken me a long time to get this basic Christian teaching past my overly active, comfort seeking, rationalizing mind: obedience lies at the very core of the Christian walk of faith. It should be easy enough to see this fundamental reality but the fact is, no matter how many pious platitudes we may utter or how much lip service we may give to the importance of obedience, the church has a major blind spot when it comes to actually following the teachings of the Master.
I don’t know about you, but when I first became seriously aware of what obedience to Christ really entailed, I wanted to run for the nearest exit. It wasn’t so much that I saw the requirements as too restrictive. Instead, my desire to head for the hills flowed out of my honest self-assessment, which screamed: Ain’t no way I can pull this off.
And it was precisely at this juncture that I needed a solid, gifted mentor in Christ who, exuding wisdom, confidence, and agape love, would have informed me that this was the most amazing aspect of the whole gospel package: I didn’t have to pull it off. Christ was going to place a new spirit in me, and, in fact, he was going to take up residence in me and in so doing, he was going to empower me to live as he wanted me to live.
Unfortunately, no such mentor appeared. Instead, I was left with an incomplete understanding of the gospel message and how it applied to my life. Yes, I understood who Jesus was, at least marginally, and I understood that through his death on the cross my sins were forgiven. I had no inkling, however, of how Christ and the Holy Spirit were going to help transform me into new order of being.
Over the years I have come to see that the spiritual quagmire that I found myself in was not unusual. In fact, it seems to be the norm. The church has been woefully inadequate in preaching and teaching the full gospel message. Further, there appears to be a marked shortage of teaching on the role obedience plays in bringing about the godly lifestyle described in scripture. In an attempt to make the Christian life appealing to contemporary Americans, many church leaders, pastors, and teachers (far too many) have jettisoned the message of obedience in favor of a gospel of comfort, convenience, and cash flow. The result has been the creation of a Christian faith that is a superficial replica of what the Master intended.
For countless people who identify themselves as Christians, Christ is seen as their Savior but certainly not as Lord. As stated, this shallow sort of Christianity is not what Jesus intends when he issues the call, “Follow me.” Time and time again, scripture reveals that much of our inheritance as Christians hinges upon our obedience to the teachings laid down to us by the Master. Unfortunately, the whole “grace vs. works” issue has clouded this reality to the point that the vast majority of Protestant believers have little understanding of the necessity of obedience in the Christian walk of faith. If you have any confusion on this issue, I suggest you prayerfully and with reflection spend time with the closing section of the Sermon on the Mount, specifically Matthew 7:21-27.
In his latest book, Follow Me, David Platt takes up the practical implications of what it means to walk the Christian path as a disciple, as opposed to a cultural or non-committed “believer.” Platt makes the point, and I have long said the same thing, that “making a decision” for Christ, or “taking Jesus as your personal savior,” or “inviting Jesus into your heart,” are all woefully inadequate in becoming a true follower of Christ. Only one thing will guarantee that you are indeed an authentic Christian: obedience.
Christ repeats this time and time again, along with his call to repentance and his teachings on the necessity of “taking up one’s cross,” which basically means to die to self. It is apparent, however, that we as a church have found all manner of clever strategies for watering down these teachings or worse, ignoring them completely. Platt laments:
With good intentions and sincere desires to reach as many people as possible for Jesus, we have subtly and deceptively minimized the magnitude of what it means to follow him. We’ve replaced challenging words from Christ with trite phrases in the church. We’ve taken the lifeblood out of Christianity and put Kool-Aid in its place so that it tastes better to the crowds, and the consequences are catastrophic. Multitudes of men and women at this moment think that they are saved from their sins when they are not. Scores of people around the world culturally think that they are Christians when biblically they are not.
Earlier in the book, Platt describes how “belief,” although important and even essential, is far from the whole enchilada when it comes to treading the Christian path. The church has perpetrated a glaring disservice to “converts” by stressing the need for belief without a concomitant commitment to obedience to Christ. After all, scripture openly tells us that even the demons believe (James 2:19). Platt goes on to say:
Clearly, people who claim to believe in Jesus are not assured of eternity in heaven. On the contrary, only those who obey Jesus will enter his Kingdom. As soon as I write that, you may perk up and ask, “David, did you just say that works are involved in our salvation?” In response to that question, I want to be clear: that is not what I am saying…….Instead, it’s what Jesus is saying.
Platt goes on to make the clear point that Jesus is not saying that our works are the basis of our salvation. The Master, and later Paul, makes it quite clear that only grace is the basis of our salvation. I think the point Platt is trying to make, and it is the same point I have made on numerous occasions in this blog, is that the church has put so much emphasis and stress on God’s unmerited grace, that our part in the overall Christian walk of faith has been minimized and, in some cases, completely ignored. The result has been a Christianity that is quite frankly, a shallow farce which lacks transformative power. Worse, it has deceived far too many “believers” into thinking they are authentically Christian when, in fact, they are not. Referring to Jesus words at the end of Matthew 7, Platt continues:
…….in our rush to defend grace, we cannot overlook the obvious in what Jesus is saying here (and in many other places as well): only those who are obedient to the words of Christ will enter the Kingdom of Christ. If our lives do not reflect the fruit of following Jesus, then we are foolish to think that we are actually followers of Jesus in the first place.
Rather than following a knee-jerk reaction to those words, spend some time prayerfully reflecting on what Platt just said, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to you just where you stand in relation to this issue. To what extent are you obedient to the teachings of the Master? Granted, no one is perfect, but how consistent are you in putting your faith, as defined by Jesus, into daily practice? Does your life indeed reflect the fruit of following Jesus?
Only you can answer these questions with any degree of honesty. If you ask the Holy Spirit, he will give you the discernment you need to make an honest, self-assessment. I know when I spent time reflecting on these themes, it was a real eye-opener that resulted in one of those life-changing, epiphany-like moments. And I hope it can become the same for you.
© L.D. Turner 2013/All Rights Reserved