Walking in Obedience

How we walk in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ seems to be a matter of great confusion among Christians today. I just had another encounter with a Christian leader of a small group Bible study who made a statement which I have often heard in one form or another from many Christians and this prompted me to record my thoughts for my own clarification and edification and for sharing with others in the future.

 The statement was along the lines of “I don’t do anything (such as launching a Bible study or seeking to expand a ministry) unless the Lord tells me to.” This is good-sounding doctrine and seems to be a good practice and very spiritual, but in fact is not good sound doctrine. One reason it sounds so good is that it sounds a lot like what Jesus himself said. The problem, and why it is not sound doctrine, is that it is not what Jesus said, just similar, and Jesus said things that promote just the opposite.

What Jesus said was “I only do what I see the Father doing” (John 5: 19) and “whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (John 12: 50), not “I only do what the Father tells me to do”. What Jesus is saying in the first instance, as Henry Blackaby teaches in Experiencing God, is that He was looking for where the Father was working and where He found the Father working, He joined the Father in that work.

That becomes clearer as you look at His statement in the larger context leading up to the statement as I did several years ago when reading the Gospel of John. In John 3, I noticed Jesus having a detailed conversation about the gospel with Nicodemus. From the midst of this conversation comes what is probably the most well-known verse in all the Bible, John 3: 16. We see in later scriptures that Nicodemus apparently believed and became a follower of Christ, though not necessarily following Him publicly.

In John 4, we find Jesus taking an uncommon route through Samaria and ignoring Jewish custom by talking with a Samaritan woman at the well outside the city. And not only talking with her, but again engaging in an in-depth conversation about her salvation, offering her life-giving water despite her sinfulness. Upon believing, she returns to the city, invites everyone to come meet Jesus and brings a crowd out to see Him. Naturally, He shares the gospel with them and many respond in faith.

In John 5, Jesus returns to Jerusalem and goes to the pool of Bethsaida, where He sees a crippled man lying next to the pool seeking to be healed by getting into the pool first when its waters are stirred by an angel. When Jesus asks if he wants to be healed, the man indicates that He does, so Jesus tells him to take up His pallet and walk. Therefore the man did just that, taking up his pallet and leaving. Later, upon seeing the man again in the temple, Jesus tells him to “Go and sin no more”. So again, he goes.

As I read these three stories together, I began to wonder why did Jesus take care to share the gospel with Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and the people of her city but said nothing to the crippled man about his salvation. Shortly after healing the crippled man, Jesus was confronted by the religious leaders about healing on the sabbath. When they asked Him why He was healing on the sabbath, His answer to them answered my question also … “I only do what I see the Father doing.”

With Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and the people in her city, he saw that there was spiritual interest, which only comes from the Father (John 6: 44), indicating that God was working. How did Jesus look for and see this spiritual interest … by making statements and asking questions that gave people the opportunity to respond in a way that would tell Him whether God was working here or not.

With Nicodemus, his indication that He wanted to know more when Jesus said “You must be born again” told Jesus that God was working in Nicodemus. Nicodemus could have thought that this was just nonsense and started to walk away, which would have told Jesus that God was not working in His life and would have let the conversation die there.

With the woman at the well, Jesus made some outlandish claims about living water and never thirsting again that really caused her to thirst for more. Jesus noted her interest and continued to pursue the conversation, even pointing out her sin in a kind way. Again, she could have just laughed and walked away, but her response instead told Jesus that God was working here and He naturally joined Him in that work.

The willingness of the people to respond to the testimony of this woman who was an outcast and to come with her out of the city to meet Jesus told Him that God was also working in their lives, so He shared the good news with them also. Note that in none of these encounters are there any indicators from what is said or what is recorded that God told Jesus to go talk to these specific people. He took the initiative in only one of these situations (with the woman), but interacted with people in ways that would show Him whether God was working.

The same is true with the crippled man. To me, it is sort of a dumb question to ask the man if he wanted to be healed. He even performed a miracle and healed the man, who was not curious enough (spiritually interested) to even ask Jesus who he was or where He got this power. He simply walked away and Jesus did not pursue him. Given a second chance later in the temple, Jesus told him to not sin. I would have been asking (and think anyone with spiritual sensitivity / interest would ask) “How can I not sin … that seems like an impossibility.”). I believe that Jesus concluded that God is not working here, therefore there is no reason for me to pursue him.

Not seeing God obviously working somewhere did not keep Jesus from doing things to reveal whether God was working, such as making those outlandish statements or asking outlandish questions that beg for a revealing response.

The thing that Jesus said that I believe promotes an opposite way of thinking (opposite to doing only what Jesus tells me) is found in the parable of the talents (Matt 5: 14-30). The outstanding statement in this parable is the commendation “Well done, good and faithful servant.” This commendation is given to two servants, not for obedience to what they were told to do (they weren’t really told to do anything other than manage the talents (money) they were given by the master). They were commended for their initiative in knowing the master’s desires that his talents be reproduced and taking steps to make it happen. The servant who was afraid and hid his talents (waiting for the master to tell him what to do with it?) was rebuked and had his talents taken from him and distributed to the others.

This parable certainly was not told simply to convey that Christians are to seek to multiply whatever money God blesses them with, but rather to multiply the gifts and ministry skills that He has given us and advance His kingdom and, in my opinion, to do so without waiting to be told when, where, and how. We certainly need to be listening for God to direct in our ministry activities, but like the mighty ship that is turned by a tiny rudder which has to be moving for the rudder to turn it, so should we be taking the initiative, moving forward in advancing the kingdom, and letting God redirect by adjusting the rudder.

I welcome your input and perspective.


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Summary of Leadership Training – 18 Jul 2011

This is a summary of the training for Crossroads leaders earlier this week.

The Wheel – Christ the Center / The Obedient Christian

Review of general principles for discipling others: 

1. Tell them what – define / describe the spiritual character or discipline desired

2. Show them how – show how it can be done

3. Do it with them – beyond just demonstrating how it’s done, do it together

4. Give them an assignment – people most often will do what they know someone is going to check up on


Additional principles for discipling others:

Two key things to teach

1. Why … what is the Biblical motivation for the spiritual discipline?

2. How … what is a good methodology for doing it?


Christ the Center

1. Confirm their personal relationship with Christ

– according to George Barna surveys, 60-70% of people attending church in America are not Christians

– we can’t assume because someone has gone to church for a long time or has volunteered to lead a small group that they actually have a personal relationship with Christ

– how to confirm:

a. ask them to share their testimony (not in a challenging, confrontational way; just ask them to share their story of how they became a Christian)

b. have them read My Heart – Christ’s Home and discuss their response

c. Study and discuss Lessons on Assurance  … studies and scripture memory on Assurance of Salvation, Answered Prayer, Victory, Forgiveness, and Guidance

2. Why would we want to make Christ the Center of our lives?

– John 15: 7 – abiding in Christ leads to answered prayer

– John 15: 8 – abiding in Christ leads to bearing fruit which glorifies God

3. How do we make Christ the Center?

– Time in prayer and the Word are key

– Teach them to have a quiet time of fellowship with Christ

7 Minutes With God is a good starting point


Obedience to Christ

1. Why is obedience important?

– Jeremiah 29: 11 – the Lord wants and knows what is best for me; His plans (commands) are for my good

– John 14: 21 – it proves or demonstrates our love for Him

– Isaiah 1: 19; Deut 28: 1-14 – to be blessed

– Joshua 1: 8 – it brings prosperity and success

– Psalm 119: 100 – to gain understanding beyond our years

2. Resources for Obedience

– Philippians 4: 13 – we can do all things through Christ; He gives us the strength to obey

– 1 Corinthians 10: 13 – God always provides a way of escape when we are confronted with temptation

– Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12 – faithful Christians will lift us up; a cord of 3 strands is not easily torn apart

– Proverbs 29: 18 – where there is no vision, the people perish; envision yourself obeying; plan how you will react when tempted

– Proverbs 3: 5,6 – pray for guidance; acknowledge Him in all our ways; ask yourself ‘What would Jesus do?’


Next Training Session: The Word and Prayer


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Christ the Center – John 15: 5

John 15: 5 – “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Jesus used the picture of a vine (or tree trunk) and connected branches to illustrate His relationship to each believer, promising that each one who remains (abides or lives) in him would bear much fruit. This picture provides a couple of points to consider in our relationship with Christ.

  • The branch does not bear fruit by straining and trying to bear fruit, but by staying connected to the vine and receiving daily nourishment from the vine. Our focus must remain not on what we do for Christ, but on allowing Him to work through us as we abide in Him.
  • The branch does not need to be moved far away from the vine to wither up and die … the distance of the width of the thinnest blade that slices between the vine and the branch is enough to kill. We must never forget that apart from Christ, we can do nothing!

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Christ the Center – Gal 2: 20

Galatians 2: 20 – I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

One of the great differences and privileges of Christianity over the false religions of the world is this great truth that Christ lives in us! The Christian life is not one of laboriously trying to keep up in following Christ and serving and obeying Him, but one of yielding to Him and allowing Him to live through us. My Heart – Christ’s Home provides a good overview of what this relationship is like.

Too often we act as if we believe God just wants us to come visit Him at His house on Sunday mornings and doesn’t care whether we think about Him the rest of the week. Some take it further and at least try to serve Him during the week, but this still falls far short of what Christ wants … to live in us.

This experience of Christ living in us begins when we accept Christ, or invite Him into our hearts as Lord and Savior … 2 Corinthians 5: 17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! When we invite Christ in, He responds and comes in … to live in us for eternity! It’s up to us to recognize His presence, listen to Him, and do what He says.

Disciplers recognize that one of their major responsibilities is to help those they are discipling to live this out in their daily live.

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Obedience to Christ

One thing that needs to be clearly understood by followers of Christ is that obedience to Christ does nothing to earn our salvation. Salvation comes by faith alone without any help from works (Ephesians 2: 8,9), but it is still expected that we practice good works (Ephesians 2: 10), which is what obeying Christ is all about … that is what we are created in Christ Jesus for.

Jesus showed how closely faith (knowing Him) and obedience are tied together in Matthew 7: 21-23 …

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

First He says that calling Him Lord is not enough, that true Lordship is demonstrated by doing His will. Then He says that doing things commonly regarded as good works, or obeying Him, (even doing it ‘in His name’) does not necessarily mean that we know Him (or that He knows us).

It is a challenge to find the proper balance between faith and works. We should all recognize that faith without works is dead (James 2: 20) and that works without faith is equally useless (Matthew 7: 22,23; Philippians 3: 4-9). Our obedience to Him should be an expression of our love, not an attempt to earn His love.

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Spiritual Bread

Here’s another great thought from Henry & Richard Blackaby’s devotional Experiencing God Day-by-Day  pertinent to the area of Christ the Center of our lives:

And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)

We know how to use physical bread. Whenever we are hungry we simply go and eat. Do we do that spiritually? Jesus said if we believe in Him, we will never be spiritually hungry, or malnourished, for He is the “bread of life.” Every time we face a spiritual need, it is a simple matter of going to Christ and allowing Him to provide us with what we need.

Our problem is that sometimes we interpret Scripture based on our own experience. We say, “Yes, but I remember a time when I was spiritually hungry.” If that is true, then either God did not tell the truth, or we misinterpreted our experience. Could it be that we tried to satisfy our spiritual hunger with human resources? Could it be that we relied so heavily upon friends and the experiences of others that we have never learned how to go to Christ for our own spiritual food? Could it be that we had a great spiritual feast several years ago, and we were so “full” of Christ that we thought we would never have to eat again? We grew lean and hungry because we were still operating on an encounter with God we had years ago. If you are lacking something spiritually, it is not because God does not have an abundance of resources prepared and available for you. It is that you have not come to Him in faith as He invites (John 10:10).

When God gave manna in the wilderness, the children of Israel had to go out each day to receive God’s daily provision. Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Spiritual nourishment is something you must seek daily. Have you found spiritual food from Christ today?

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Knowing Christ

I have been going through Henry & Richard Blackaby’s devotional Experiencing God Day-by-Day this year as part of my time with the Lord. Several recent readings have been particularly pertinent to the area of Christ the Center of our lives. Here is the first:

“You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” JOHN 5:39-40

Bible study will not give you eternal life. You could memorize the entire Bible and be able to discuss minute issues of biblical scholarship and yet fail to experience the truths found in its pages. It is a subtle temptation to prefer the book to the Author. A book will not confront you about your sin; the Author will. Books can be ignored; it is much harder to avoid the Author when He is seeking a relationship with you.

The Pharisees in Jesus’ day thought God would be pleased with their knowledge of His Word. They could quote long, complicated passes of Scripture. They loved to recite and study God’s Law for hours on end. Yet Jesus condemned them because, although the knew the Scriptures, they did not know God. They were proud of their Bible knowledge, but the rejected the invitation to know God’s Son.

Can you imagine yourself knowing all that God has promised to do in your life then turning to something else instead? You may be tempted to turn to substitutes. These substitutes aren’t necessarily bad things. They might include serving in the church, doing good deeds, or reading Christian books. No amount of Christian activity will ever replace your relationship with Jesus. The apostle Paul considered every “good” thing he had ever done to be “rubbish” when compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ (Phil 3:8). Never become satisfied with religious activity rather than a personal, vibrant, and growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

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What Would Jesus Do?

In 1897, Charles Sheldon wrote a Christian classic titled ‘In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do?’. It is the primary source of the question sometimes heard in Christian circles of ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ or seen in its abbreviated form: WWJD. Unfortunately, far too often it is regarded as a worn-out cliche and not as a very important question that every Christ-follower should be seriously asking several times a day.

In this practical novel, the pastor of a small local church is practically forced into challenging his congregation to asking themselves this question before making any decisions for a whole year. The majority  of the book is the story of those who accepted the challenge and the impact of those decisions on their lives and their community.

Asking such a question and responding accordingly seems to me to be at the very heart of making Christ the center of one’s life. In fact, I wonder how anyone could make a serious claim that Christ is the center of their life if they are not regularly asking this or a similar question.

As you seek to walk with Christ and serve Him as His disciple, ask this question often, walk in obedience to the answer, and watch your life be transformed!

If you care to read In His Steps, it is still available in book form and also online in its entirety at Kansas Collection Books.


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Christ the Center

One of the most important things for a Christ-follower to understand is that Christ is to be the center of the Christian’s life. If we are not careful to keep this truth in focus, then it is easy for other things to take that place, such as church, fellowship, Christian service. If we who seek to disciple others do not teach them this and help them to experience this in their daily lives, then typically by default they will become satisfied with these good things that fall short of God’s desire for His children.

So how do we make Christ the center of our lives? And how do we help a young Christian to grow in this area? Let’s consider first what Christ being the center of my life looks like. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but these are some things that should be true of the Christ-centered Christian (note that the things I mentioned above are included … they are just not central):

  • attends church regularly, both to worship God, learn about Him, and fellowship with other believers (Hebrews 10: 24, 25)
  • serves God as the Holy Spirit leads and has gifted them (1 Corinthians 12: 4-11)
  • has regular devotional time (or quiet time), reading the Word and praying (Luke 5: 16)
  • seeks the Lord’s will in all decisions, the big ones and small ones (Matthew 7: 21)
  • seeks to share the gospel with unbelievers (Matthew 4: 19)
  • seeks to influence other believers to be Christ-centered also (John 21: 15-17)

The challenge is understanding that though these things help in the process of becoming Christ-centered, doing them does not make us Christ-centered … they are more like symptoms or indicators that Christ is the center of our lives. Our lives become centered on Christ by abiding in Him (John 15: 5). The key way that we abide in Christ is meeting with him daily for close, personal fellowship, what many call a devotional time, quiet time, or daily altar. Regardless of what you call it, the focus is on spending time with Jesus, talking to and listening to Him. Another major contributor is transforming our thought patterns (Romand 12: 2) by memorizing and meditating on what He said.

My thoughts and the resources available to help a growing Christian establish Christ as the center of his life are numerous, so I will write about these in another or multiple posts.


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Planting Seeds of Integrity

I would like to recommend a great blog post that I just read, that I would title Plant Seeds of Integrity.

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