This message was shared on July 12, 2015 at Centerville UMC in Centerville, Indiana.
This morning, we’ll be talking about obedience. If you Google “definition of obedience”, you will find that obedience is “compliance with an order, request, or law…or submission to another’s authority. As Christians, when we talk about faithful obedience, we are talking about obediently complying and submitting to the way of Jesus.
One of my all-time favorite country artists is “the man in black”, Johnny Cash. This morning, as we explore the practice of faithful obedience, I’d like us to listen to Cash’s hit “I Walk the Line”.
“I keep a close watch on this heart of mine, I keep my eyes wide open all the time, I keep the ends out for the tie that binds, because you’re mine, I walk the line.”
Part of faithful Christian obedience is learning to walk the line between faith and action. It’s one thing to possess a great deal of Biblical knowledge. It’s another thing to demonstrate that Biblical knowledge through our actions.
We are called to be obedient That’s what Jesus is pointing out in Matthew 7. We don’t prove our connection with God through quoting a bunch of verses or attending multiple Bible studies during the week. That might be part of faithful obedience, but it’s a means to an end and the pursuit of knowledge isn’t the end in itself.
We show the evidence of our faith in the way we live. We demonstrate our obedience through our daily lives. In other words, the proof is in the pudding. We show that we get it when following Jesus transforms our priorities.
Just because our calendars are full of “church” related activities does not mean we are obedient. There are plenty of us who give the appearance of being spiritually mature because we check a great deal of “churchy” things off our religious duties checklist…we go to Sunday school, we go to worship, we attend two different mid-week Bible studies, we’re part of an accountability group, we do personal devotions, we know all the right things. And, this reflects a certain image…my non-Christian friends would say it’s the “holier-than-thou” image. Yet, if our “right faith” doesn’t produce “right actions”, we might not be as spiritually mature as we (or others) think we are.
Yesterday, at a district gathering, Mick Miller (our associate DS and pastor at College Corner) said, “There are plenty of students with perfect attendance who still fail.” In other words, showing up isn’t enough…transformation has to take place.
So, there may be times when we are more like modern-day Pharisees than obedient followers of Jesus.
When it comes to faithful obedience, what did Jesus say it looks like? Let’s take a look:
Our obedience is demonstrated, not only in how we love God, but also in how we love others. Are we loving, serving, and sharing our lives and our faith with the world around us?
Are we obedient followers of Jesus or are we modern-day Pharisees?
In Matthew 15, Jesus is addressing the Pharisees over their legalistic dedication to the law because they questioned him when his disciples didn’t wash their hands. Jesus used this opportunity to point out some of their errors in following the law and then in verse 8 quotes Isaiah 29:13 and says, “This people honors me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” They had the knowledge, but not necessarily the right knowledge. They had the practice, but not necessarily the right practice. (Orthodoxy and orthopraxy)
Jesus demonstrated to the Pharisees that, while they knew the law inside and out, they demonstrated in their extremely judgmental lifestyles that they did not understand. The Pharisee’s had learned how to talk the talk, but they did not understand how to walk the walk. And, this is the reason so many Christians are labeled as hypocrites…Many of us are really good at talking the talk…but when it comes to walking the walk, well, that gets a little tricky.
Sometimes we are like the Pharisees because we, in our prideful arrogance, have determined what it looks like to be a “true Christian”. So, we set these legalistic expectations of what it looks like to be a follower of Christ- don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew, don’t go with girls who do, don’t be gay, don’t be a democrat, don’t be a Cardinals fan, don’t be a whatever…and really, there’s very little, if any, Scriptural or doctrinal support for many of our legalistic rules and expectations we place on one another.
A good reminder to consider…are we walking what we’re talking?
(At this point, I shared some quotes/thoughts from the following article: “Don’t Be a Modern-Day Pharisee”)
So, are we obedient followers of Jesus or modern-day Pharisees?
We are not being faithfully obedient and are more like modern-day Pharisees when we choose:
- judgment and condemnation over love
- gossip and speculation over the truth
- backbiting and slander over Biblical conflict resolution (Matthew 18- one of the biggest ways to gauge obedience and spiritual maturity – do we talk to people or about them? Do we entertain conversations about others or redirect the disgruntled?)
- disdain and arrogance over compassion and empathy (in other words, “those people” get what they deserve)
- exclusivity over inclusivity (you have to fit our pre-determined mold/expectations before you can participate or belong)
- legalism over freedom
- Idolize our past rather than embracing what God desires to do here and now
- Expect others to become just like us, to fit our expectations, rather than simply love them and allow them to be who God has called them to be
“We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” ~Madeleine L’Engle
- Faithful obedience is about learning how to walk the line between faith and action.
- Faithful obedience is about learning how to walk the line of the tree of life, rather than by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
- Faithful obedience is about learning how to walk the line of loving God and our neighbor.
- Faithful obedience is about learning how to walk the line of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, providing shelter for the homeless, visiting the sick and imprisoned, caring for the least of these.
- Faithful obedience is about learning how to walk the line of sharing our faith with all those we come into contact.
How will you practice faithful obedience in the days, weeks, and years to come?