15- LIFE IN GOD'S KINGDOM-Obedience
By Colleen Donahue
A close and abiding relationship with Jesus is at the core of anything that we do as one of his followers. As we abide on the vine, the sap of the Holy Spirit will be flowing through us so that we can produce fruit. For the branch exists to bear fruit for the life of others.
All too many believers run ahead of Jesus-- usually after a good cause that someone excites them about. In doing so they become detached from the vine and the sap of the Holy Spirit stops flowing. For a while they have a lot of energy and give themselves to whatever they are doing. But in time they are drained of life and feel burned out. The early vision which excited them is gone and they press on in their own strength. Sadly, anything done apart from Jesus and the life of the Holy Spirit will be like wood, hay, and stubble -- only fit to be burned.
But when Jesus whispers to us to go here, say this to so and so, send a letter of encouragement there --- and we obey, then real life flows from Jesus to us and out to the world. A small act of obedience can have a ripple effect all the way to eternal life.
It's vital that we learn to quiet ourselves inside to be able to hear the still, small voice of Christ's Spirit within us and then that we obey that voice. The reason a close relationship with Jesus is so important is because when we love someone, we delight to do what THEY want rather than what WE want. Jesus and His Father were so close that He delighted to do God's will. It became the joy of His heart to obey the Father even when it required suffering and led to death.
In this study we'll look at what it means to follow Jesus's example in a life of obedience.
- For all those who have obeyed Christ's first command to "come" and then have obeyed his second command to "stay" (or abide) there is one more he gives us.
Matthew 4:19 / Mark 1:17 / Luke 5:27-28 / John 1:43
Although Jesus is addressing specific men of his times in the above verses, he gives the same command to all who are his "sheep" -- or believers in his fold. What two things does Jesus say every believer does?
- Here is the great difference between believers in Jesus and believers of any other religion. We are not called to follow an 8-fold path or a set of rules and regulations. If we are thirsty for more than what we know, then where do we find the "water of life"?
John 7:373. If you have come to Jesus and are abiding (or living) in Him then you naturally follow Him because He has become your very life. It's our love for Jesus that makes us ready to obey Him.
John 14:21, 23
How do we recognize those who don't love Jesus?
- It's love for Jesus that makes us want to obey Him, and it's by obeying that we actually remain in His love.
John 15:105. Who does Jesus say are his friends?
Therefore, if you are his friend then he'll make sure to communicate to you what he wants you to do.
- When you commit yourself to follow Jesus then He commits Himself to lead you. Peter, James, John and all the other disciples were not great men of faith upon first meeting Jesus. But they followed him and grew day by day just as we will. They had a lot of character flaws just like us. How were they changed?
Jesus tells us that HE is "the truth" (John 14:6). Once again, it's not a code of law that we follow, but a person. Jesus as "the truth" promised to set us free from the sins and obsessions that keep our life from being all that it can be. He changes us from the inside out when we commit to follow and obey Him.
THE COST OF FOLLOWING --- One Master
We cannot accuse Jesus of trying to recruit followers to see his numbers swell. He wants all who are considering following Him to know what is involved and to count the cost.
- What does Jesus make absolutely clear to us in these verses?
Matthew 6:24 / Luke 16:13
The word for "serve" comes from the Greek word meaning "to be a slave to". The word for "master" in Greek means "one who has absolute ownership." Therefore this verse could be rewritten to say that "no man can be a slave to two owners."
- Do you have two owners? Something owns us when we can't stop thinking about it. If there is anything or anyone other than Jesus that is consuming all your thoughts, time, and energies, then you have two masters. And what happens when you are divided like this?
Matthew 6:24b / Luke 9:62 / James 1:79. God wants our undivided attention and loyalty.
Deuteronomy 6:5It's true that we have a job to do on this earth, but what we are given is not ours to keep. We are only the channels of what God gives us so that we can bless others. Remember, in a kingdom we are the managers but God as King owns it all. Even our time is not our own. All of it belongs to God and we are to serve Him only.
Matthew 4:1010. Today, just like in all generations before us, there is a temptation to follow God while still "enjoying" or "doing", or "having" what everyone else in society is enjoying, doing, or having. We become people who are half-hearted, double minded, indecisive and insincere. God may give us these things anyway, but if we grab them for ourselves, they become our gods.
Deuteronomy 6:14-15 / 2 Kings 17:33,41 / 1 Corinthians 10:21
- If you have been split between two masters then here is your way back.
Deuteronomy 26:16-19 / Joshua 24:15 / 1 Samuel 7:3 / 2 Kings 23:3 / 2 Chronicles 15:12,15 / Philippians 3:7-8
THE COST OF FOLLOWING -- Three Requirements
- Jesus opens the invitation to be his disciple to anyone, but he lays out three requirements that must be met. I think He must have spoken these very deliberately because Matthew, Mark and Luke, all record them in the same way and in the same order.
Matthew 16:24 / Mark 8:34 / Luke 9:23
Our modern evangelism methods make it seem that if we just pray a certain prayer --really mean it-- then we'll be "in the club". Jesus is not looking for fan club members wanting to be part of some "in-crowd". He wants us to carefully count the cost, because to be his disciple will cost us our whole life. As we look at these three requirements you need to be asking yourself, "Am I willing to deny myself? Will I commit myself to take up my cross daily? Do I want to follow Jesus?"
FIRST REQUIREMENT -- "he must deny himself"
SELF is at the root of all our troubles and the reason we can't conquer the wrong things in our life. So it makes sense that this would be the first thing Jesus deals with. Our "self" was created by God to be the vessel that would house His Spirit. For we were created to always live in partnership with God.
- Adam and Eve's choice to live by their own knowledge of good and evil instead of being directed by God's Holy Spirit within them was the start of man’s separation from God. Man's "self" acting apart from God has led to darkness, sin, and misery of all sorts. It's this "cursed self" inherited at birth that Jesus is saying we need to deal with if we're going to follow him.
Romans 5:12 / 1 John 1:814. You might protest: "But I thought Jesus dealt with our old self at the cross?" You are right to ask this because he certainly did. Reread:
Depending on the Bible version you are reading from, it will say....
"....that the sinful body (or self) might be destroyed....." RSV
"...that the body of sin (or self) might be done away with..." NIV
“…so that sin (or self) might lose its power in our lives.” NLT
The Greek word that expresses our English word "destroyed" or "done away with", or “lose its power” is katargeo and it means: "to render inoperative, make idle, make of no effect, to put out of use." This means that the old sinful nature or "self-life" that we inherited, was rendered inoperative at the cross. It has no power to do anything --- unless we let it.
The "spirit" behind the old self is Satan. Therefore, every time we indulge the old self in some way, we give Satan a "toe-hold" which soon becomes a "foot-hold". Inch by inch he will try to take us back to living in the flesh rather than by the Spirit of God. What three things does Peter tell us to do?
1 Peter 5:8-9
- When we don't exercise self-control we allow our bodies to start ruling our life. In this proverb what are we likened to?
A city with broken down walls can be easily attacked and we become an easy target for Satan. Even if we are very disciplined in every area except one or two we still have holes in our armor for the enemy to shoot in his arrows of temptation.
- How will you know if "self" is back in charge of your life? You'll see the following symptoms:
A. Self-will - James 4:13-16
B. Self-trust and effort -- Mark 10:38-39
C. Self-confidence - Matthew 26:33-35
D. Self-righteousness - Revelation 3:17
E. Self-exaltation, desire for human praise, and pleasing of men. -- Matthew 6:1-2
F. When we operate by the old sin nature, our mind becomes darkened, our hearts hardened, and then we become separated from God.
17. Therefore, in our blind state, sin can once again take hold in the heart so that we are powerless to do the right thing.
John 9:41 / Romans 7:18
- Can you see that the denial of "self" means much more than just doing without. It means saying "No" to self and "Yes" to God all the days of our life! There is only one way that we'll have the power to do this.
Without God's Spirit within us we will fail and keep failing. Paul likened this discipline to keep "self" in check to that of an athlete running a race.
1 Corinthians 9:25-27
- In these two verses Paul contrasts our living by “self”, with living as Christ in this world.
To stop making provision for the flesh means that we stop thinking about the cravings of our physical nature and how we are going to satisfy it.
It won't be easy, but in partnership with the Holy Spirit, we'll be able to choose to stop living for our lusts because the Spirit will give us new desires.
- The battle against self will be fought in our mind. Before we can see any change in our life we have to think right. All sin starts with Satan's thoughts and suggestions. We then think them over, justify them, and finally act them out. What are we to think?
Romans 6:10-12 / Colossians 3:1-3
When we choose right thinking over wrong thinking what starts to happen to our mind?
- When we refuse to live by the dictates of our body, two things result.
1 Peter 4:1-2
Denying our "self" in some way is like an act of sacrifice to God. How does God see this effort on our part?
- Here will be the results when you consistently choose to deny the old self life:
A. We become full of Christ!
2 Corinthians 4:7 / Galatians 2:20B.B. Jesus is able to use our mortal body to continue his ministry on earth.
2 Corinthians 4:11-16C.C. Christ’s Spirit within us makes us a new person.
2 Corinthians 5:17D.
D. We become so united with Jesus that our own will wants to do God's will even it if costs us everything.
And like Jesus we can say:
E. The most blessed result is that I'm not struggling and trying hard to live and do what is right. I am righteous because Christ in me is righteous and therefore I do the right things. I become like Jesus without all the trying and striving.
John 15:4-7 / 1 John 3:24
SECOND REQUIREMENT - "Take up your cross"
- Matthew, Mark and Luke all record the same three requirements to be a follower of Christ but Luke adds the word "daily" for this second requirement.
Dealing with our natural inclinations is not a once and for all matter. Cross bearing is continuous.
- To "take up" is a voluntary action where we willingly receive something to ourselves. It means we are being given something that is going to require us to act and accept responsibility. It may be an evil or distasteful thing thrust upon us, but at the back of it is God who has allowed it usually through other people. What God allows will always be for our good if we accept it from his hand. Jesus gives us the example of himself as to how to take up the cross. Notice the difference in these verses.
Matthew 26:39 & 4225. We must be clear that we are not being told to take up Christ's cross for we could never do that. Only the sinless Christ could take on himself the sins of the whole world. Instead, you and I have our own personal crosses to pick up and bear. They are not caused by God, but they have been allowed by Him for our good as we saw above.
Even in carrying our cross God is with us and making all things so that they work for our good and his glory in the end.
Isaiah 43:2 / Romans 8:28 / 2 Corinthians 4:17
- We are not to make our own crosses -- such as ascetics do. We are only to pick up and carry the ones that are prepared for us. Our cross may be a wayward son, or a chronic medical problem. It will look quite different from someone else's cross. The Apostle Paul had an affliction (cross) that he asked the Lord to remove three times. How did God answer him and how did Paul respond?
2 Corinthians 12:7-1027. The problems, inconveniences, and sufferings in your life are your cross. When you bear these willingly for God then you take on the same attitude that Christ took.
What God allows as crosses in your life are his disciplines for you. What are they proof of?
Your cross, will have lasting effects on your life if you will take it up.
- The cross was a well-known instrument of suffering and death. There is no other way we can bear fruit for God except through death. This is the second requirement if you want to be Christ's disciple.
John 12:24-2529. Christ's disciples don't measure their life by "gain" but by "loss".
Matthew 19:21, 29 / Mark 8:35 / Mark 9:35 / Philippians 3:8
THIRD REQUIREMENT: "Follow me"
Matthew, Mark and Luke lay out the same order if we want to be a disciple of Jesus. They quote Christ's own words in Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34 and Luke 9:23. First we must be willing to deny self. Second, we must be willing to take up the cross daily that God arranges for us. Third, we are told to "follow me" (i.e. Jesus).
- The Greek word for "follow" means "to be in the same way with" or "to accompany". So we get a picture of walking side by side with Jesus -- not ahead or behind -- but in step with Him always ready to listen, to go, and to serve.
John 10:27 / John 12:2631. To follow Jesus means we aren't looking around to see what everyone else is doing. We have a single heart and eye on Him. Notice how Jesus answered Peter when he was wondering about John.
32. What example is set for us to follow after?
Ephesians 5:1-2 / 1 Peter 2:21
- Jesus came to earth for the one purpose of giving his life so that all men could know His Father. His whole life was poured out for others.
John 10:11 / Titus 2:1434. Therefore He will lead us to pour out our lives for our families, friends, and colleagues at work, school and church. If we follow Christ we will not have the option to live for ourselves.
2 Corinthians 5:15 / 1 John 3:16
35. These verses show the chief characteristic of our Lord's life. It will have to be ours as well.
36. There are many who are eager to know Jesus Christ and partake in the power wrought by his resurrection from the dead. But what must we be prepared to share with Christ if we would follow Him?
Acts 9:16 / Romans 8:17 / Philippians 3:10
As we follow Jesus -- even into suffering if he allows it -- what will we have the opportunity to learn?
- Obedience is the key to following Christ. It is learning to hear his voice in all matters great and small and then wholeheartedly doing it. As always Jesus is our example in this.
John 6:38 / John 8:29 / John 14:31 / John 15:10 / Hebrews 10:938. Obedience begins by reading God's word (the Bible) and then obeying the general commands given to all of us.
Deuteronomy 26:16 / Deuteronomy 32:46-47 / Joshua 1:8
These are Old Testament verses that required God’s people to obey the Law of Moses so that they could be right with God. When Jesus came, he fulfilled the law of Moses so that we no longer count on our obedience to the law for our right-standing with God. Nevertheless, the Old Testament laws that Jesus quoted in the New Testament are confirmation of ones that are valid for all time. In fact, Jesus would hold us today to a higher standard than the law. Here are five examples from the Sermon on the Mount. In each case Jesus quotes what the law commands and then follows that with “but I say…”.
Matthew 5:21-22 (Jesus refers to Exodus 20:13 & Deuteronomy 5:17)
Matthew 5:27-28 (Jesus refers to Exodus 20:14 & Deuteronomy 5:18)
Matthew 5:31-32 (Jesus refers to Deuteronomy 24:1)
Matthew 5:33-34 (Jesus refers to Numbers 30:2)
Matthew 5:38-39 (Jesus refers to Exodus 21:23-25, Leviticus 24:19-20 & Deuteronomy 19:21)
- When we are obeying what we know to be God's will, He will often reveal specific guidance just for us. It may come through His word (the Bible) or through the words someone else writes or speaks. It may come through the still small voice of the Holy Spirit within us. Whatever way it comes, we will know it's from God if it does not violate anything else He's already spoken to us in the Bible. For example: He won't tell you to lie about something when his word guides us to be truthful.
Here are some examples from scripture that show God gave specific things to various people to carry out.
Genesis 6:22 / Genesis 22:1-3 / Joshua 11:15
- Following Jesus (and the obedience necessary to do so) will not be easy. But the more you say "Yes" to Christ and "No" to “self”, the more confident you will become in hearing his voice and doing the things he asks. While we are not to obey so that God will reward us, it is a fact that God rewards generously those that love and obey Him.
James 1:25 / 1 John 3:22
In our next study we will be looking at the fruit which will come from faithfully following Jesus.
- Do you want to be Christ's disciple? Then you'll need to count the cost and see that it will mean denying your "self" (the old sin nature) , taking up your cross daily, and then following Jesus wherever he leads you. For those who choose this path what will happen?
SUMMARY - Obedience
Throughout the centuries Jesus has had many casual followers but few disciples. Every believer is called to be Christ's disciple, but because the cost is high, many prefer to stay in his fan club -- at a distance. But Jesus is not looking for fans. He can never be accused of recruiting followers to see his numbers swell. He is looking for men and women who will commit their entire life to Him so that He can continue his own work through us. He is looking for our love and loyalty.
He wants every disciple to count the cost BEFORE following him. First, it will require the denial of our old sinful self. Then, each of us is given a "cross" to bear willingly on a daily basis. This is often in the form of a person in our lives. Finally, we are asked to follow Him -- which means a close, side by side walk with Him into the trenches of humanity.
These three requirements to be Christ's disciple will lead us to follow Jesus to our own "death" --- i.e. a death to our selfish ways, and a death to our own will. We will no longer be our own because He bought us with the price of His life. We will no longer be able to come and go as we please because He asks us for our loyalty and obedience. It's a decision we can not take lightly.