The Obedience Spin
OBEDIENCE, PART 2 (The obedience spin)
Obedience … according to who? Let’s consider some qualifications here. Do you think you (or another) might have a better understanding or hope of obedience if you:
claim the name Jesus or Christian?
stand firm upon Christian principles?
always talk or sing about God and His goodness and His promises?
seek out what God wants you to do?
examine the Scriptures for distinctions that might reveal the best way to live?
have the Biblical qualifications to show the way to those who are blind and a light for those in darkness and a teacher of the immature believer?
Let’s put those questions on the back burner for just a bit. There’s an account in Matthew that I think might shed some insight. Adam, if you would …
“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ “And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. “The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go. “Which of the two did the will of his father?” They *said, “The first.” Jesus *said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. “For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him. Matthew 21:28-32
This story makes even more sense when it’s seen as part of Jesus’ response to the religious leaders’ demand for his qualifications. Tell us by whose authority you do these things? What things? Stuff like, healing the blind and the lame — and then, especially, speaking as one who knew God. Now, if your experience has been anything like mine — you know, when somebody’s asking for your qualifications — you probably took a defensive stance. Oh yeah, there are many ways to make yourself look right in front of people, and one of the most common is to quote Bible verses that seem to validate what you do or say. Look, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with quoting the Bible, however I am asking you to consider whether you’re hoping that by doing so, you can somehow prove yourself before your accusers.
Jim, that’s a distinction worth emphasizing, because I think some might dismiss what you’re getting at simply based upon a knee-jerk reaction that has nothing to do with your point. I hear you saying clearly that you have no problem with what the Bible says … only that people can easily twist it to their own purposes.
That’s for sure. I mean, didn’t Jesus and John and Paul and Peter and Jude make the same kind of statements regarding those who did the same thing?
So in other words, the words of the Bible would instruct us to be wary of those who use the Bible to make themselves look right. Anyhow, you were saying…
I was saying that we should make no mistake about it, as it is the religious mind that teaches us to try to do what Jesus did and speak what Jesus spoke. For many Christians, the question What would Jesus do? embodies the essence of Christian obedience. The truth of the matter is that this approach cannot reproduce the reality of either what he did or said. If you’ve been there enough times, then you know that it doesn’t really work.
Well, at least not as hoped for.
Definitely! Of course, while I’m sure the objection could be raised that Jesus himself often quoted Scripture when confronted by the scribes and Pharisees … and no doubt he did … only … not as often as we might think. I can tell you that he didn’t quote it like I was trained to do, that’s for sure. After all, we have a record of how the people responded when they heard Jesus speak. Adam, if you would read the passage in Matthew…
When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.Matthew 7:28-29
What do we think it means to teach as one having authority? If it was just a certain tone of voice, any one could learn how to do it, don’t you think? And that is exactly the point. The scribes had learned how to teach from their own teachers, and just like today, some were much better than others. Perhaps you remember the criticism leveled against Paul:
“His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible”2 Corinthians 10:10
Yeah, it seems that even back then, people learned how to persuade others with their words. Manipulating others to think or do what you want is nothing new, is it? No wonder Paul would have written:
Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. Romans 16:17-18
And it’s no wonder, as well, that with his obvious lack of any speech-manipulation techniques that Jesus’ words stood out in striking contrast to what they were used to hearing from the scribes. Their being amazed at Jesus’ teaching didn’t mean that they intellectually recognized some linguistic distinction, it simply had to do with the sense that he not only knew what he was talking about, but also that he truly believed what he said. You see, Jesus spoke as one who truly knew God.
It would seem that today’s Christian teachers, with their religiously-learned doctrines and positions, are no different than the scribes who passed on the wisdom they had been taught.
So it would seem. Anyhow, Jesus’ story of the two sons cut right through the charade of man’s religious perception regarding obedience. Many people think they understand the basic meaning of the story simply because they can correctly answer Jesus’ question. Don’t overlook the fact that those who despised Jesus also gave the right answer as to which son did the will of his father.
You know, many people do well on true or false questionnaires, even if they don’t know what they’re talking about — and especially when the correct choice has been made quite obvious.
When I was in school, I preferred a quiz that was true-or-false or multiple-choice (also known as multiple-guess) because I was more likely to get a passing grade … and it helped when I learned how to look for the obvious indicators of wrong answers. You see, answering the question correctly merely forced the pretenders to unknowingly pass judgment upon themselves as they set themselves up to hear what kind of people qualified as the obedient son. Adam, would you re-read that part of the story again?
Jesus *said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. “For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.Matthew 21:31-32
Jim, is it any wonder why the message of Jesus Christ might have turned the world upside down?
It shouldn’t be. Don’t we realize that the truth of Christ destroys every fragile house of cards that has been built by man, including the whole structure that has been built by religious Bible-believing man? (And BTW, what I’m referring to really has nothing to do with the Bible itself.) The arrogance of man establishes many different forms of I’m-better-than-you kind of clubs, and the perception of their members causes a blindness as to how often outsiders perform better than club members, even without their knowing what’s written in the handbooks.
Many of our own experiences in the Christian system may have caused us to adopt a similar attitude. And that brings me back to the questions I posed at the beginning of the audio — you know, the questions that highlight our assumptions as to our own standing before God. Let me ask them again in more of a straight-forward way:
Do you suppose that your obedience is found because you claim the name Jesus or Christian, and because you stand firm upon Christian principles, and because you always talk or sing about God and His goodness and promises, and because you seek out what God wants you to do, and more than this, because you examine the Scriptures for distinctions that might reveal the best way to live, and because you have the Biblical qualifications to show the way to those who are blind and a light for those in darkness and a teacher of the immature believer?
I’m wondering how many of you realized that I simply reworded something Paul wrote in Romans chapter 2? Adam, if you would …
But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Law and boast in God, and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, Romans 2:17-20
Now, I’m sure some of you might object on the basis that this passage is referring only to Jews who rejected Jesus … or that it’s only talking about salvation (as in the doctrine of justification) … but definitely not Christian obedience.
Jim, some might be thinking, how dare you replace the word Jew with the word Christian!!
I’ll bet the Jews who ruffled at Paul’s statements said something similar to keep their own false perceptions out of the limelight. If I’m so far off the track in suggesting that this has something to do with Christian obedience … then why do the exact same issues surface in our Christian obedience discussions and questions? In other words, why else do you think it is so easy for me to rephrase that passage in such a way that it might cause many Christians to answer with a hearty Amen or cause others to squirm in their seats from a sense of inadequacy?
I suspect that many believers shy away from a lot of what Romans chapter 2 has to say because some of it seems to suggest the possibility that salvation might be affected by one’s obedience … or lack thereof. In fact, Romans 2 — and I mean all of it — is an expose of the self-righteous rationale of those who pass judgment on others, all while trying to excuse themselves, even though they do the very same things. Just listen to the first verse:
Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.Romans 2:1
Doesn’t this sound very much like what Jesus had told those he spoke to who bore the name Jew? You see, they regarded themselves according to their inherited label and according to their perceived obedience to the Law. They were the teachers, for they had the authority of the religious system behind them, and therefore, all others were the blind or the immature.
Jim, the attitude being described here isn’t exclusive to the religious system, is it? In fact, this kind of arrogance doesn’t require any official system at all.
I can tell you, from my own childhood experience, that this same kind of judgmental attitude existed in my own family. Oh … and never make the mistake of assuming that those quiet, introverted kids are less judgmental than their extroverted companions. In fact, I have often wondered if it may be quite the opposite. After all, it was the supposedly obedient son in Jesus’ story who judged himself as being much better than his wayward brother.
Now, in the above verse, Paul specifically stated that “you who judge practice the same things”. However, according to the story Jesus told — the one many refer to as the Prodigal Son — as far as the details he gave in that parable, the son who stayed at home didn’t do any of the same things that his younger brother did. At least, it might seem that way.
It took me years to accept the truth, but I was that self-righteous brother who saw himself as having been obedient … especially as I was compared to my rebellious older brother. I didn’t beat up my younger brother. I didn’t stop going to church with the family. I didn’t act up in school. I didn’t skip class and get poor grades. I didn’t continually get into trouble at every possible opportunity. I didn’t go out drinking and whoring all weekend. I wasn’t the one who took the car without permission and wreck it. I didn’t come back home because I had no place to go, I didn’t bring my most recent girlfriend to the house and expect my parents to provide a place to live. I didn’t do the same things he did … or did I?
What do you mean by that?
That I may have been blinded by the details. Yeah, those details kept me from owning up to the obvious reality that hid behind my illusion of obedience. You see, just because the outward expression of my own disobedience didn’t match that of my brother, it doesn’t mean that we didn’t do the same things. The wisdom we learned in the world might offer a million different ways to prove that we’re not as bad as our brothers — that we don’t do the same things they do — but the light reveals that, in spite of our attempts to create levels, all darkness is essentially the same. The bottom line truth is that my own fears kept me from outwardly expressing my disobedience, which is why it appears different.
What kind of fears held you back?
I was afraid of losing my status as the good son. I was afraid of losing the illusion of a respect I didn’t deserve. I was afraid of rejection. I was afraid of suffering the kind of repercussions my brother did. And I didn’t want my own feelings of inadequacy and weakness to become public knowledge. Have you heard Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote about how it’s better to keep silent and to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt? Well, I related to that in a big way.
It seems that the very understanding of obedience — and even the meaning itself — might conform to one’s own perception then.
Let’s consider how the perception of that older brother from Jesus’ story — you know, the one who saw himself as obedient — let’s imagine him becoming a leader in the Christian church. It’s not really that much of a stretch of the imagination, is it? Now, let’s ask ourselves how that would have effected a change in viewpoint as to what obedience really is.
It would turn the whole understanding upside down. It would conform itself to the self-righteous mind. We might also consider the same change in viewpoint by asking what would happen if one of those Paul referred to in Romans 2:1 were to somehow get a leadership position in the church.
Exactly the same. If we were to take an honest look at the modern Christian church, I think many would agree that it often comes across with self-righteous judgments and false claims of obedience.
Jim, in view of the repeated judgments made by Christian preachers who later get caught doing the very things they condemned in others, it would seem that many Christian leaders are just as hypocritical as any of the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus confronted.
That’s for sure. Consider something with me here: Do we really imagine that just because our own teachers might bear another name that they are any different? Also, do those of us who have passed from death into life think we were any different in our former arrogance? And do we imagine that we could rebuild the principles of that former arrogance without it drastically altering the gospel we preach?
Jim, this is the very heart of what Paul posed to the believers in Rome, isn’t it?
Without a doubt. You see, he didn’t write his letter to tell them how to get saved, he wrote it to declare the reality of their salvation in Christ so that they would find confidence in the life they had been called to, so that they would not keep falling for every newly-revised principle of arrogance that came from the mind of the world. An arrogance, I might add, that masked itself as godliness.
Considering what we know of Church history, that’s not an unusual mask.
Okay, let’s keep in mind how Jesus shook the religious mind when he told the Jews that the very people they despised would enter the kingdom of God before they ever would. Now, just saying “the people they despised” doesn’t really pack enough of a punch, so let me put it in down-to-earth terms. You see, Jesus made sure to include the very kind of lowlifes the religious leaders associated him with. These were the money-grubbing, weaselly kind of men who took shameful advantage of their own people in order to gain a better life. But it wasn’t just the low-life men, it was also the whoring women who did the same kind of thing. Let’s face it, appearance-wise, these religious men had some good reasons to condemn everything about Jesus.
And I’ll bet they had a lot of Scripture to support their accusations.
No doubt. Would it be surprising to discover that Paul followed a similar approach in what he wrote? It shouldn’t be, though, considering that God himself gave Paul understanding into the mystery of His son. Although much of the truth of Romans has been buried behind multi-layered doctrinal structures (and yeah, I hope that sounded a little confusing), the simplicity of the letter is amazing. Paul merely elaborated upon the same shocking revelation that those who were considered outsiders by the ones who were considered insiders were shown to be obedient, while the insiders were shown to be disobedient.
Maybe you should define or clarify who the insiders and outsiders are, just to make sure our listeners don’t miss the distinction.
The distinction between the insiders versus the outsiders is merely a shared perception. It is the club mentality. Some people who are insiders in one establishment may be outsiders in another, and it also works the other way around as well. Anyhow, the attitude that establishes this distinction comes from the same place, for it all suggests in an official way that we are better than you.
Jim, does that mean that anyone who is part of the institutional church is automatically an insider?
Definitely not. I want you to realize that in referring to it as a shared perception, I am allowing for the possibility that you might be part of a group without accepting their better-than-you attitude. Maybe you’re just not aware of it or maybe you’ve decided to take a stand against it, and I can appreciate your position. The fact is that you might have separated yourself from the institutional church and have more of that arrogant attitude than many who are sitting in the pews.
So in other words, you might be on the outside of an establishment and yet still be an insider at heart?
For sure. However, having said that, those who buy into the basic beliefs of an arrogant-minded establishment usually do so because it agrees with their core beliefs, beliefs that exist with or without an organization. Sometimes we don’t have a choice as to where we might worship, but when we do, we usually choose a group that fits with our core beliefs.
So Jim, what about the shocking revelation that Paul elaborated upon?
Oh yeah, I definitely don’t you to miss the shocking part of it, for it was the fact that because outsiders did what insiders did not, the insiders’ disobedience was revealed by the outsiders’ obedience. This is what has made the self-righteous man scream “Not fair!” all throughout what is called Christian history. Never let the illusion of maturity keep you from recognizing that behind the scenes, many grown men and women have been kicking and screaming down on the floor as they throw their temper-tantrums. Just don’t forget, that when you see it going on, it may not have been long ago that you were down there crying with the best of them.
Adam and I are going to continue on with our detour through the subject of obedience in next week’s Shovel Audio. We’ll be discussing the inward obedience of the heart, which is the true stuff of life in Christ. This is the very reality of our freedom in Christ that not only gets ignored … but condemned. Never forget that religious man — even the Christian religious man — still looks on the outward appearance, despite the fact that he can quote the verse about how God looks on the heart. Jesus Christ has turned everything upside down for us.
We hope to bless you with the continuing reality that … God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.