Anyone who loves Me will obey My teaching. |John 14:23|
The title of this post could suggest that beliefs and obedience aren’t both incredibly important or that you have to choose between them. But that’s not the case at all. Beliefs and obedience should go hand in hand, but I want to talk about how in the western church, we often place a larger emphasis on beliefs, which can have disastrous results.
One of my biggest struggles as a Christian is that I tend to become so obsessed with beliefs that I fail to actually grow my relationship with God and obey Jesus’ commands. It’s so easy to believe this alternative gospel that says that if you have all the right beliefs, you’re good, and you’re not saved if you get too many things wrong.
Beliefs actually mean very little without action and obedience. You can believe all the right things yet live a life that contradicts those beliefs. I know this from experience.
None of us will ever get everything right. That doesn’t mean we should be careless about our theology and what we believe, but it means we should give ourselves grace.
What matters more than getting everything right is bearing fruit. When you obsess over beliefs, you can become prideful because you can think that you have it right and everyone else has it wrong. And that can cause a lot of cynicism, which can be very destructive.
You can become so fixated on your theology and what you believe about certain topics that you totally forget your relationship with Christ and completely fail to obey the Holy Spirit.
I have way more things correct now than I did when I first gave my life to Christ three years ago. I’ve grown and I’ve learnt, and I’m much less naive than I was then. I had a ton of things wrong when I was a baby Christian. But you know what? I’ve kind of lost something that I had then, and I want to get that back.
When I was a brand new believer, I had tons of things wrong, yet I had this childlike faith in God. I truly believed that He loved me and that He could totally transform me. And because of that, I had an incredible joy and peace and I actually bore fruit.
Lately I’ve become so obsessed with getting everything right that I’ve confused correct beliefs with fruit. But Jesus didn’t say, If you remain in Me you will get everything right. He said if we remain in Him, we will bear much fruit (John 15:5).
Instead of frantically trying to find all the answers in our own intellect or from other fallible humans, we need to remain in Christ and let the Holy Spirit guide us into all the truth.
We can have a lot of stuff right, but what is it all worth if we’re prideful and cynical and we don’t bear any fruit? I’ve found that when I put all my hope in my intellect and my theology and beliefs, I feel heavy and weighed down because I’m relying on myself and not God. No one can be free when they live like that.
I think we need to give grace to ourselves and to others when it comes to our beliefs. We need to allow ourselves to make mistakes and get things wrong, because it’s not our perfect theology that changes people’s lives.
If we have 99% correct beliefs but don’t have the power of the Holy Spirit, we’re going to be ineffective. If God can speak through a donkey, He can definitely speak through people who don’t have everything right.
Honestly, this post isn’t really about something that I realized ages ago and have now overcome. It’s about something I’m currently in the process of overcoming. I know a blog should probably be a place where you write about things you’ve already dealt with, but for me it’s often a place where I preach to myself. I often realize what I truly believe and what God is telling me by writing stuff out.
Right now I know that I don’t live out about 70% of my beliefs. I’m good at avoiding certain things and not doing certain things that are explicitly prohibited in the Bible, but I suck at actually obeying the Holy Spirit’s personal conviction and following Jesus in my day-to-day life.
It’s easy to believe that when you become a Christian, you don’t have to make any effort because God makes you perfect just like that. There are a lot of Christians who teach that. But this teaching is so damaging, because when you mess up and see your own weakness and vulnerability, you question if you’re even saved because you think, Man, shouldn’t I act perfect by now? Why can’t I get my crap together?
But in reality, being a Christian is a lot harder and a lot uglier. It involves picking up your cross and making difficult decisions and sacrifices every day. We get so obsessed with the big picture that we fail to obey God in each and every moment. We try to shirk responsibility, but the majority of our walk is just about doing what’s difficult, which is obeying God.
We see holiness as a destination in the future, when it should be something God has already won for us and something that we foster by staying in constant communion with God and actually obeying Him.
Being a Christian is a lot about making good decisions and developing good habits. A lot of the things that we think nothing of or that we don’t think make much of a difference actually add up and contribute to the bigger picture in a profound way.
It’s easy to read the Bible and to develop a solid theology, but it’s difficult to read Jesus’ commandments and obey them, and to listen to His input about even the seemingly small things. Yet that’s what He emphasized the most: obedience. Merely believing things doesn’t cut it with God.
In the church we’ve convinced ourselves that we can merely have beliefs but never take action. We’ve been taught that our theology matters more than our everyday actions, and that’s why there are so many supposed Christians walking around who don’t look much like Christ at all.
I’ve been stuck in the belief trap for so long. I eventually became so blinded by an obsession with theoretical beliefs that I stopped actually obeying Jesus in my everyday life. But I’ve finally seen that merely having good theology won’t cut it.
I want to live things out. I want to bear fruit. I don’t want to just try really hard to be a good person in my own estimations. I don’t want to take any of Jesus’ commands lightly. And in Matthew 5:19, He warned us not to:
Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
I really don’t want to take any of Jesus’ words lightly. I don’t want to obey Him or not obey Him in accordance with my preferences. I want to obey even His more challenging commandments. We can’t pick and choose.
Sometimes it’s useful to just go through the Bible and write down the commandments. We need to first and foremost focus on obeying Jesus’ words, but the apostles’ instructions are often an elaboration of Jesus’ commands and are also extremely valuable to read every day. And let’s not forget the value the Old Testament still has. Recently I’ve felt compelled to read through the Proverbs and pay attention to what they have to say about holding your tongue (as I have a big mouth and little self-control with my words).
I think the most important thing to do if we want to actually obey Jesus is to read the Bible every day. How can we actually live things out if we’re not constantly reminding ourselves of the truth? We underestimate our own forgetfulness. Spiritual amnesia is all too real, and we need to stop expecting ourselves to be able to live off of reading scripture once in a blue moon.
James 1:22-25 speaks of this spiritual amnesia and the importance of remembering to obey scripture:
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
It seems so very pointless to memorize scripture yet fail to live it out, yet that’s what so many of us do. There’s this great video of Francis Chan talking about this futile habit the Church has unfortunately developed.
How different the Church would look if we actually took Jesus’ commands literally and simply did what He asks us to do.
It’s startling to hear Jesus’ statement in John 14:23-24:
Anyone who loves Me will obey My teaching. My Father will love them, and and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love Me will not obey My teaching.
This is sobering. If we don’t even listen to Jesus and obey His commands, don’t we have to question our love for Him? We can feel all warm and fuzzy inside during worship or when we think God has blessed us, but we can see most clearly whether or not we really love Him by our everyday obedience (or lack thereof).
If I claim to love Jesus but don’t do anything He says, I’m a hypocrite, and I clearly don’t love Him as much as I say I do.
In Luke 6:46, Jesus also says,
Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?
We don’t realize how contradictory it is so say we love Jesus yet disregard the majority of what He asks of us in our everyday lives.
As for everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears My words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete. |Luke 6:47-49|
How many of those of us who call ourselves Christians are like the man who built his house upon the rock? We often wonder why so few Christians really live like true followers of Christ, and the reason is often simply a complete lack of obedience. I’m speaking for myself as much as anyone else.
I don’t know about you, but I want to have a foundation. It’s interesting, because we often think of our beliefs as the foundation. But when you read this verse, it becomes clear that maybe obedience is the true foundation. Maybe the more we put our faith in Jesus and trust Him enough to do what He says, the more the Holy Spirit will guide us into the truth.
I want to make it clear that I am in no way saying beliefs and theology don’t matter, because they really do. Our beliefs and theology are extremely important because our actions often stem from those, but we need to remember that what we believe isn’t enough on its own. It’s so much easier to believe something intellectually than it is to live it out every day.
In the Church today, so many of us have made things so theoretical. We want to believe that everything is a metaphor and that we don’t really have to do what Jesus asks us to. We like to claim that we shouldn’t take verses literally. But isn’t this so often just a cop-out?
Maybe being a Christian is as simple as just doing what Jesus tells us to do every day, even in the little and seemingly irrelevant things. We can’t think that we can live for ourselves in our everyday lives and still have intimacy with God, or that we’ll be able to obey Him in the big things if we can’t even obey Him in the small things.
We will pay the consequences for every small act of disobedience. The consequence is distance from God if nothing else, which we should be most eager to avoid.
It can be so, so difficult to actually start obeying Jesus when you’ve gotten so used to disregarding His words. It can be hard to actually change how you live and to realize that you need to take responsibility if you really want to follow Jesus.
Something I find really valuable is to write down verses about things I’m struggling with and areas I need to improve in. For instance, you may feel like you’re okay when it comes to being caring and hospitable, so maybe those verses aren’t ones you need to focus on, but you may really struggle with your temper. If so, look up verses about anger and self-control and meditate on those. Ask God to help you in that area and to give you self-control and take away your anger.
As Christians, we can’t afford to not be self-reflective. One of the most damaging things in the Church is pride. We’re really good at criticizing other people 24/7, but we’re not so good at taking a good look at ourselves and letting God convict us. We should never complacently accept our shortcomings and allow our consciences to become seared by refusing to change.
Recently God has convicted me of how prideful I’ve been. I always thought I was really humble and that I didn’t struggle much with pride, but I didn’t realize that all this time I’ve had an incredible amount of pride.
Humbling ourselves and admitting our faults is the first step to letting God change us. If we want to obey God, we have to be humble.
Honestly, I’m tired of being so preoccupied with my beliefs and my theology that I neglect my relationship with God and fail to obey Him. I’m tired of being so prideful about the things I have right that I miss the plank in my own eye.
Instead of worrying about having perfect theology, let’s attempt to live in perfect obedience every day.
So if you’ve put all this pressure on yourself to get everything right and you’ve convinced yourself that you won’t be in right standing with God until you’ve perfected your theology, I want to encourage you and remind you that that’s most certainly not the case.
If you’ve let your beliefs become a point of pride in your life as I have for so long, I want to remind you to give others grace and to remember that God looks at the heart.
If you’ve become so fixated on getting it all right that you’ve forgotten what it’s even like to obey Jesus, I want to encourage you to start by obeying God in this moment.
Holiness isn’t some destination that you might reach some time in the future when you finally get everything right, but something that is readily available to us right now if we are willing to humble ourselves.
It’s impossible to ever get everything right. If anyone tells you they have, don’t trust that person. We’re fallible human beings, and it’s freeing when we realize that we don’t have to have all the answers.
It’s everyday obedience to God that enables us to be used and transformed by Him. I want to love Jesus more, and I want to obey Him more.