By Roland W. Keith
Parents expect their children to obey them. Teachers require the attention of their students. Bosses expect their workers to do as they’re told. Generals demand that their troops follow orders. And all for good reason. Each of these individuals are in leadership positions. In all most every case they are the subject matter experts. They have more life experience, training, and preparation than those they lead. They have also been given the power and authority to lead, whether it is by society itself or by institutional structures within the society. They also bear the burden of leadership, being responsible for those under their governance and the success or failure of their objective or goal. If that authority is eroded or otherwise weakened their leadership may become ineffective. Even with good leadership there have even been times when open rebellion among those being led has resulted in failure. Then who is to blame?
Moses was hand-picked to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. By all accounts he was an effective administrator and leader. Nonetheless, the generation that he led failed to achieve their goal, because of their disobedience. Moses himself was incited by the people to a single act of disobedience that prevented his entering the promised land as well. While the nation was given opportunity after opportunity to correct themselves and get back in line all it took was once for Moses, because the standard of government or rule must be higher for them than for those being led (Numbers 27:12-14). King Saul was rejected by the LORD for his disobedience (I Samuel 15:10-26; see also Proverbs 16:12). And, today leaders in the church are held to a higher standard (I Timothy 3:1-13; James 3:1). Those who live up to that higher standard deserve our support and obedience as those appointed over us (Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 13:17; I Timothy 5:17). To rebel against them is to do so to our own detriment as one rebelling against God Himself. I’m not talking about blind obedience, but simply that which is rightfully due to them. That being said if we are to submit in all things to proper authority, what do we owe to the one who has appointed them?
According to the Bible government was ultimately instituted by God (Romans 13:1-2), as was church leadership (Titus 1:5-9). If we feel compelled to obey these institutions how much greater should our obedience be to the One Who created them? How much greater should be our effort to obey the One Who created us and the universe we live in? After searching out and testing the ways of life Solomon wrote, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). Centuries later when Israel’s council charged the apostles to stop speaking or teaching in the name of Jesus “Peter and John answered them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). In His lifetime Jesus had told His disciples, “You are my friends if you do what I command you” and If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 15:14; 14:15). Charged with proclaiming Jesus’ gospel His followers were determined to obey Him (Matthew 28: 18-20; Mark 16: 15-16).
Unfortunately, many today want to claim Christianity, but only if they can do it on their own terms. However, failure to worship and serve God according to His plans is to fail altogether, as Jesus warned: “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:21-23). Paul gave a sobering description of the fate that awaits those who do not know or obey the Lord’s gospel in his letter the Thessalonians (II Thessalonians 1:7-10). When we read his words and recall the fate of those who were not obedient such as Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:1-19), Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-2), and those who were deceptive in their service such as Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), it should give us pause to think, “Am I truly doing what God wants?”
Jesus once asked His disciples, “Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). He went on to compare the one who obeys Him to a wise man, and the one who is disobedient to a foolish man (Matthew 7:24-27). Jesus often taught about the need to submit to God’s will, and in doing so He made a distinction between those who give the appearance of obedience and those who are truly pleasing to the LORD (Matthew 21:28-32). There was once a commercial that said, “It’s not nice to fool mother nature.” Perhaps not, but it is impossible to fool the one true living God. He knows who is acting in true faith to His word and who isn’t. And, if we are being observant even, we can usually tell, as James wrote, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:14-26).
Unless we act in obedience to all that God has given us to do our faith is not complete. It is not one or the other. Faith and obedience are part and parcel to our salvation. Jesus came to earth to save all those who would come to Him in faith (John 3:16-18), regardless of who they are or where they come from (Acts 10:34-35). But if we think we can be hearers of the word only we are mistaken. We must be doers as well; to fail to act is to sin (James 1:22; 4:17). Just as Abel was obedient in his faith (Hebrews 11:4) so was Noah (Genesis 6:22), and Joseph (Genesis 39-50), and Gideon (Judges 6:25-29), and Daniel (Daniel 6:10), And Abraham (Hebrews 11:17-19), and Paul after them (Acts 9, 22, 26). All of these examples have one thing in common— they were men of action dedicated to doing God’s will. And God demands the same of us; we are expected to act in our faith, in fact, to complete our faith through our obedience.
We have already looked at a few who were disobedient to the LORD, among them Nadab and Abihu, but who can forget Lot’s wife? Commanded not to look back at the life she was leaving behind she could not resist the temptation and was turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:15-17, 26). On the day of judgment each of us will receive the results of our faith or lack thereof, and the results of our actions or inaction; the results of our obedience or disobedience. In his first letter John wrote, “And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. Whoever says "I know Him" but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps His word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in Him: whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked” (I John 2:3-6). Again, it is not enough to simply look into the law, one must act and persevere in their obedience as James wrote: “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:25). Such obedient faith gives us access to the tree of life (Revelation 22:14).
The world will one day pass away, but we will not. In His revelation Jesus revealed man’s fate to John, who wrote, “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:7-8). Where we spend our eternity will depend. We can abide in the eternal wrath of God (John 3:36), or, we can abide forever with our LORD (I John 2:17). It all depends on the choice that we make. We can follow the world, we can claim to follow God on our own terms, or we can obey the LORD our God. Only one of those choices leads to salvation. Jesus is the way (John 14:6). We often quote this scripture, just as we often quote John 3:16-18. But now let’s quote the rest of Jesus’ statement in that passage: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:19-21). In the end we must carry out the works of God in our life. We must obey.
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.