And being found in the appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Phil. 2:8 NKJV)
As I write this last blog of 2018, The Year of Obedience, I am ever mindful of why the Lord called us to this theme in the first place. Obedience is a dirty word in our culture, and even in the church. Despite the obvious and oft-repeated biblical calls to obedience—despite that fact that Jesus was obedient even to death on the cross—we humans bristle against obedience.
There are lots of reasons our flesh resists the concept and reality of obedience, but I would like to point out one of the more noble reasons: We have been taught, righty, to reject religious legalism in all its forms, and legalism and obedience are often confused as words and as concepts in the religious church world.
How can we tell the difference between religious legalism and relational obedience?
Legalism demands us to perform a certain way for the sake of our salvation. If we don’t wear the right clothes or follow the right rules, we are “in danger of hell-fire…”
Obedience calls us to obey the Lord’s directives as outlined in Scripture and spoken through His chosen authorities, BECAUSE we are saved, and because we trust Him to guide us to ever-greater heavenly FIRE!
Obedience flows from a deeply intimate relationship with the Lord AND His Body, calling us to a place of obedient freedom. Religiosity calls us to a place of rule-following bondage. Obedience=freedom. Religious legalism=bondage.
God Himself has called us as a congregation to be obedient in the areas of Word, Worship, and Life Groups. He called us to set up gracious guidelines to live this out together as a community. NONE of these guidelines have EVER been presented as legally binding or as a matter of earning salvation. ALL of them are strongly called for in Scripture. What are these guidelines?
WORD: That we read the Bible together, using the Life Journal as our guide, so that we are reading the same truth together, and so that we are learning how to hear the Word, Jesus, in the Bible, not just “do” a Bible Study.
WORSHIP: That we live a lifestyle of worship centered on the Lord and empowered by His Spirit and marked by regular meeting together as and belonging to the Family on Sunday mornings.
LIFE GROUPS: That we meet in an accountability/relationally-intimate small group weekly, led by those who have submitted to church authority and received appropriate training, so that the group does not devolve into a gossip, gripe, or groan group—into something religious—but rather remains a truly Life-giving group.
We call our entire congregation to live together in these simple spiritual disciplines because they are key to true spiritual growth and unity. I am convinced the Lord loves our obedience to Him in living together within these three disciplines.
We call ALL who desire to be leaders within the congregation to faithful obedience in these areas, based on the 1 Timothy and Titus qualifications for church leaders.
Can I share with you one of my greatest frustrations as your pastor? Weekly it seems, I am asked by one or more folks—people I love dearly and whom I consider brothers or sisters—to lead this or that in the life of the church, though they are not being obedient to the Lord in one or more of these three simple areas. Pastor I want to start… Pastor I want to lead… Pastor I want to form… I LOVE to throw gasoline on people’s fires; I love to encourage folks to SERVE… But when I discover that the people applying are not in a Life Group, or are only here once or twice a month, or refuse to read the Word daily…. My heart is grieved, and I must make tough decisions… PLEASE don’t put me in such a difficult situation!
Is THIS what the Year of Obedience has been about? NO! But since “judgment begins in the House of God” (1 Peter 4:17) Obedience within one’s own church family to the clear Biblical call of God is surely the right place to start!
Locally and globally, to love Jesus is to obey Him (Jn 15). I pray we have grown in love which IS obedience this year!