Can you be obedient to God?
“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” (1 John 2:3, ESV)
Just before ascending into heaven, Jesus gave His final words in person to His disciples. The disciples were gathered around a mountain in Galilee. They were there to receive Jesus’ final instruction; His last words face to face to the group. In that moment, Jesus said the following, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20). I find it very important that Jesus’ last words to His beloved followers included a command to not only make disciples of all nations and baptize these new believers, but they were required to teach those new followers “to observe all that I have commanded”. True believers are not only those who become disciples nor those who are baptized. They are followers who do these things but then take the next step: they observe all Jesus’ commands. They obey all Jesus’ teachings.
I have pastored for decades. I have visited many churches, listened to thousands of sermons in my life. I’ve heard many calls for baptism. I’ve seen many come to the altar to become followers of Jesus. I’ve witnessed people profess their faith, confess their sin, and sing hymns with gusto. Thousands participated in communion services. However, only a few times have I seen worship services or bible studies dedicated to the topic of obedience to God. Upon questioning a few pastors and some laypeople from this web site, several noticed the same thing. Obedience seems to be a taboo topic, a topic that many pastors refrain from speaking about or studying in depth through targeted Bible Studies. Even the words, “Obey one another in Christ”, has been removed from many wedding ceremonies. In these modern times, some Christians feel too entitled to be told to submit or obey or serve.
At a Bible Study on 1 John 2:3, a pastor mentioned that people who “know Jesus” should “keep His commandments”. This started a long discussion on how people come to “know Jesus”. After a good discussion on this topic, the pastor asked if those gathered were good at “keeping or obeying Jesus’ commandments”. Not a person commented. Not one word was offered up by the people in the pews. They had lots to say about how great it was to know Jesus but had nothing to add when it came to how to obey Jesus.
John MacArthur, in his book Strength for Today, commented on 1 John 2:3 with the following words:
“True believers obey God’s commandments... How can you determine if you are a true Christian? Not by sentiment, but by obedience. If you desire to obey God out of gratitude for all Christ has done for you, and if you see that desire producing an overall pattern of obedience, you have passed an important test indicating the presence of saving faith.” For MacArthur, true Christians are determined not by their knowledge of Jesus’ words or commands but by whether they obey those commands. Obedience is key to faith in Jesus. Obedience is required to be faithful. Obedience separates true Christians from religious actors.
At a heated argument during a committee meeting, two members raised their voices to be heard. They were each upset about problems with the Preschool program. One explained that the children were making so much noise in their classrooms and in the halls that the floor above couldn’t be utilized during school times for church meetings. Another complained that the cost of the Preschool program was sucking up too much of the church budget. Two parents of preschool children became upset and started arguing with the two who complained. Then, one member of the committee turned and said to the pastor, “Well, don’t just sit there. What should we do?”
The pastor thought for a moment, then just said, “Obey God!” One of complainers shot back, “Don’t tell me what to do!” That started everyone arguing or defending or complaining. So, the pastor stood up and opened his Bible and read, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey His commandments.” (1 John 5:2, ESV). Suddenly, everyone grew quiet. The pastor then remarked, “Several times, Jesus told His disciples to observe or obey His commandments. My hope is that this committee doesn’t focus only on the messes or the noise or the problems of the Preschool. Instead, we need to focus on obeying Jesus at this meeting.” Thereafter, the meeting got back on track, thankfully!
The Apostle John, in our scripture for today, mentioned the requirement that we “keep” Jesus’ commandments. The word “keep” in the original Greek means to “keep in view”, “watch over”, or “to take note”. In order to obey Jesus’ commandments, you need to keep them constantly in view. You need to observe them regularly. You can’t just know them. You need to utilize them. You need to follow them. You need to submit to their intent. Can you do that no matter what?