Everything. We spent the past few weeks walking through a series on “blind spots”, each of which qualify as disobedience. As we discussed, the Church in America today largely ignores or allows others to assume its God-given responsibilities to care for persecuted brothers and sisters, orphans, widows and the poor. The vision of church leaders became obstructed not unwittingly, but despite countless biblical examples and commands by Jesus to live Prayer, Care and (then) Share lifestyles.
The Church increasingly abdicated compassion as it gradually, yet consciously redefined the word “Church” from believers to buildings and from people to places. That slippery slope also impacted their interpretation of the Church’s target “customer”, from the “lost” in the community to the “found” in the pews. In that light, it becomes clear why the solar eclipse of evangelism and discipleship has blocked the Son’s rays. Asking those currently treated as “customers” (i.e. by definition, those who leaders seek to attract and retain) to be the “Church” (and pursue the real “customer”) is far too risky to impose on those who pastors would like to come back next Sunday. It’s also too challenging, time consuming, costly and uncomfortable for those who now see that as the pastor’s job.
A company wouldn’t ask customers to study the owner’s manual, go through extensive training and risk life and limb as prerequisites for purchasing a product, much less a very expensive one. Yet that’s exactly what pastors are called to do with members of their church – because they are not “customers”. Members are the “Church”, therefore they are more like employees of that same company who are expected to study the employee manual (Bible), undergo countless hours of training (discipleship) and work late nights away from family (missions) as prerequisites for employment, particularly for a higher paying occupation like Kingdom-building that brings priceless eternal rewards.
The Importance of Obedience
Therefore, the redefinitions of “Church” and “customers” have created a dichotomy between obedience and discipleship where none exists. Obedience and discipleship are joined at the hip – obedience is just the hardest part for those now accustomed to a lower level of commitment to living out their faith. Pastors are particularly cautious in our consumer culture about asking members to truly obey the Great Commandment and Great Commission:
- Studying the Bible isn’t difficult (at least not in America where we’re not jailed if caught doing so)
- Praying isn’t risky
- Worshipping God isn’t costly
- Walking away from sins and addictions is difficult
- Sharing the Gospel with non-believers is risky
- Giving up the American dream for God’s plan is costly
Yet those are exactly what Jesus asks His Church to do as prerequisites for following Him:
- Repent Humbly – Obeying God’s laws, directly confronting sin within the Body (Matthew 18:15-17)
- Witness Aggressively – Obeying the Great Commission, realizing that although we often quote Matthew 28:19 (“go and make disciples”), we rarely hear about Jesus’ next and final words in verse 20 “and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”
- Love Unreservedly – Obeying the Great Commandment, understanding that loving the Lord and obeying Him are synonymous (John 14:21, 23-24) and that truly living out “loving your neighbor” will make us look much different than our non-believing neighbors (which, as we’ll discuss next week, studies show is not the case today)
Scriptures don’t stop there, but go several steps further, citing obedience to God’s Word as a condition for:
- Proving Our Love for Jesus – John 14:21, 23-24
- Being Filled with the Holy Spirit – Acts 5:23
- Receiving God’s Promises – Numbers 14:22-23
- Being Declared Righteous – Romans 2:13
- Fellowship with Other Believers – 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15
- Being Part of a Church Body – Matthew 18:15-17
- Salvation – Hebrews 5:9
Churches in our day and age seem to have divided into three camps on the topic of obedience, claiming the moral high ground over other churches or denominations because they either:
- Associate calls to obedience with legalism, emphasizing that we’re saved by Christ alone
- Possess a more biblical interpretation of God’s laws, and therefore are more obedient
- Understand that both faith and obedience matter, meaning we should obey out of love for Christ and never in a futile attempt to “earn” or “deserve” salvation
Yes, we’re saved by grace through faith but must remember that:
- Obedience is validation of our faith, not the origin of it
- Obedience is evidence of our salvation, not the cause of it
- Obedience is the essence of discipleship, and the result of it
How Are Churchgoers Disobedient?
Not seeing themselves as the personification of church but rather as participants in church, most members and attenders are not living lives as sold-out disciples of Jesus Christ. “Christian” and “Disciple” should be redundant, but today we call “Christians” anyone who:
- Believes in Jesus
- Repeated a profession of faith
- Talks about religion
- Speaks out about the sin of others
- Attends church
- Serves at a church
- Grew up in a Christian household
- Has read the Bible
Those are not necessarily disciples. Disciples have studied deeply, committed fully and changed dramatically. They’ve assumed the attributes of Jesus and live like Him, exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit. As the Book of James repeatedly emphasizes, faith without works is dead. However, society sees a Church that talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. We sound like Christians (which according to surveys comes across more as condemnation than compassion), but not like Jesus (who “desires mercy, not sacrifice” – i.e. religious behavior). Jesus is looking for followers who exemplify the meaning of “church” seen in Acts 4 – those so filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:23-31) that their praise and worship spilled over into evangelism and compassion (Acts 4:32-37) – faith AND works. Most modern believers are willing to gather, pray and worship but struggle when it comes to compromising their standard of living (warnings Jesus addressed in His encounter with the rich young ruler and the parable of the sower and plants choked out by thorns).
How are Church Leaders Disobedient?
Obedience is scary for pastors in America. Teaching, preaching and implementing any of the following can cost them everything they’ve worked so hard to build:
- Discipleship as a precursor to membership (Matthew 28:19)
- Discipline as a requirement for engagement (Matthew 18:15-17)
- Obedience as a necessity for leadership (1 Timothy 3:1-13)
Church planters are more bold in making these demands because they have little to lose. Once a Body begins to grow, there’s more risk in advancing biblical principles that are sure to send any luke-warm fence-sitters heading for the exits or to the church down the road. Offending, confronting or challenging an influential family about disobedience (not just moral failures, but unwillingness to live out the Great Commandment or Great Commission) could cause a split that would threaten the viability of the entire church. It’s easy and far too common for pastors to justify compromise when they have a church family to lead and personal family to feed. Obedience may come at a price but that doesn’t make it optional. Likewise, just because church leaders today don’t see the connection between compassion and church growth doesn’t alleviate that responsibility to follow Jesus’ model of demonstrating His love before telling people who He is. Anything less amounts to redefining “church” as a place and members as “customers”.
It’s Your Turn…
Has the fear of moral legalism (as opposed to trusting in Christ alone for salvation) obstructed your vision to the importance Jesus placed on obedience? How do you reconcile the call to obedience and process of sanctification with justification by faith, not by works?