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Archive for October, 2010

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’ve been wrestling with the ideas of holiness and obedience.  Again and again, in my recent devotionals; in many sermons, books, articles — I’m exhorted and encouraged to obey God.
Again and again, in the Old Testament, God the Father calls for His people to obey His commands.  The result, we are told, is blessing (see, for example, Deuteronomy 6:3 and 11:26-28).
But more and more, as I continue to study His word, pray and meditate on this, I believe I have things backwards and the wrong idea of obedience.  It’s not a “this for that” bargain with God — such as: if I obey, He’s under an obligation to grant me my various wishes.
In the past, I have repeatedly striven to obey — and again and again, I have found myself back in a habit of disobedience — not “great sins” per se — but in a general failure to put God first and my neighbor ahead of myself (see Philippians 2:3-5).
Why is this, I ask myself — usually under a cloud of depression and guilt.  Why can’t I obey God?  Why don’t I consistently want to obey God?  Doesn’t Jesus say, “if you love me, you will obey what I command?”  (John 14:15)
And there it is — right there in that verse.  It’s not in my own strength that I will find willing and consistent obedience.  No, the key is my desire for relationship — I’m back to that subject from many weeks ago — leaving my first love and benign neglect.
It’s as I consciously love God, consciously choose Him, strive after Him that obedience results.  It is the relationship, the faith from which obedience will result!
This is what Samuel was talking about when he told Saul, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”  (1 Samuel 15:22).
The rote obedience of religion (burnt offerings and sacrifices) is not what God is looking for.  It is the love, the relationship — the delight in seeking Him, hearing His voice, and as a result, obeying.
God wants our hearts!  He desires relationship with us.  When Jesus talked of the greatest commandments being “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:35), this is what he was talking about.
Thus it can be said, “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to His commands.”  (2 John 1:6a)
It is an obedience that comes from faith — from a love for and intimate relationship with God.
I hope this makes sense.  It is this realization that frees one from the “grim drudgery” of obedience, to the new life that Paul speaks of in Romans 6:4; 7:6 and 2 Corinthians 5:17.
I close with the prayer I prayed at the end of my quiet time as I thought through this writing:
Lord,  It is so easy to forget You and place myself first.  Forgive me for the tendency to return to self — for that being my first love.  My I become a child who longs to have relationship with You, and as a result, strives to please You as the norm of my life.
“… for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts.  Consider now, for the Lord has chosen you …. Be strong and do the work.”  (1 Chronicles 28:9b, 10)
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holier-than-thouWhat comes to mind when you hear the word ‘holy?’  Or when you hear the exhortation that Christians should ‘be holy?’

If you’re like me, it conjures up images of rules, regulations, somberness, a removal of myself from the world’s activities.  Judgement/judgmental. Puritanical. Pharisaical.

But is this what being holy is all about?  Certainly, we are to be holy (see Hebrews 12:14). But is it really all about rules, regulations, and judgement?  Man, what a turnoff!?

But maybe, just maybe, that’s the totally wrong way of looking at holiness.  Take a look at these verses (in which Jesus is speaking):

Luke 2:49b (KJV) – ‘Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?’ John 10:37 (KJV) – ‘If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not.’       Matthew 26:39 (NIV) – ‘My Father, …, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.’

From beginning to end, Jesus was focused on the one thing — doing the will of his Father.  The center of his life was this obedient relationship.

This, indeed is what holiness is about.  Matthew 6:33a puts it — “Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness…”

This may be hard for us to understand because in today’s culture obedience has negative connotations.  It implies an oppressive authority figure imposing their will against our desires — taking our freedom — hard tasks done under threat of punishment.

But that is NOT what Jesus’ holiness was about.  It was a total commitment to his LOVING Father.

When we begin to understand this about holiness, then we will begin to see how to be ‘in the world, but not of the world.’  We will also begin to see and live in such a way that the many things in our life should (and can) be rooted in the one thing — listening to the loving Father, seeking His kingdom, participating in the divine nature (2 Peter 2:3).

It is then that Jesus’ prayer in John 17:15-18, 21b becomes reality:  “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.  Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. … so that the world may believe ….

As believers in Christ, as God’s beloved children, may we indeed be holy!

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