12. Obedience

Meditations in 1 John : 12 :  Obedience

1 John  2:3,4   We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.

In some parts of what appears the Church, it seems that Christian faith is more like a nice social club where we turn up a few times a week and go through various rituals but which have little relevance to the rest of our lives. “Going to church” is just one box in the variety of boxes that make up our lives, and one box does not affect the other boxes. In other words we compartmentalise our lives so the ‘religious’ box does not affect or influence the other ‘boxes’ of business or society or family, or whatever else it is.

Yet this ‘style’ of Christianity is about as far as you can get from Jesus and the New Testament’s teaching. Using the analogy above, what has happened is that, if our encounter with Christ has been genuine, a genuine repentance and surrender to God, then it is like all the boxes of the parts of our lives have been put in one big box and that big box determines, directs and decides all that happens in the smaller boxes. They are now all influenced by the bigger box.

For John obedience is the key issue and it will come up again in his letter. Watch a person’s life and hear of their conversion and then watch and see what happens. If that person’s life starts changing and clearly takes on a new Christ-like nature, where the individual is now clearly following the New Testament teaching and is being filled with love and goodness, and is doing what they are learning are Christ’s instructions, then we will know that what has happened to this person is genuine.

However, watch another person who makes a profession of conversion and we see no changes taking place, then we are being given grounds to suggest, as John does, that this person neither tells the truth about what they have done nor has the truth living within them. Where there is an absence of visible love and goodness growing in this person’s life, then we have every reason to doubt that anything meaningful has taken place in their life, despite whatever they may say.

The individual may claim to be a Christian, but if that simply means they have a high moral outlook on life, that’s not what it is all about. To tie this down we have to go back to their originating experience when they say they became a Christian. If they say they have been a Christian all their life, they are deceived. A person becomes a Christian at some specific point of time. It may indeed be in childhood and that little person may have invited Jesus to be their friend, and that may have been a genuine experience but what invariably happens is, as they grow up, sometime in their teens they have a fresh encounter with God with a fresh, deeper, more meaningful experience of Christ.

But whenever it is, it will be a specific experience. I can accept that for some people it will be a crisis moment and they can clearly identify the moment, and for others it is a growing awareness whereby there is a gradual coming to repentance and surrender, but repentance and surrender there must always be for a genuine conversion where someone encounters God and receives the Holy Spirit.

There is the significant issue: when a person comes to Christ, he imparts his Spirit so that the Holy Spirit indwells us (1 Cor 3:16 & 6:19). He does this when he sees we come to a place of genuine repentance and surrender and he sees we are committed to be obedient to him. The apostle Peter spoke of, the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:32) Thus there are two things that will bring about the change we referred to earlier, possibly over simplistically, as bringing love and goodness visibly into our lives. Yes, there are lots of other things, a desire to read the Bible, a desire to pray, a desire to be with God’s people and a desire to share what has happened with others. All of these things are part of the ‘visible package’ that is this new life and they will be seen in varying degrees of clarity,  but the overall characteristics of love and goodness are THE two primary things that start to be observed in this new life and they are both expressions of obedience.

A disciple was a person who followed a Master, to receive teaching and guidance but they were not a disciple if they did not then obey or put into practice the teaching of the Master. Thus in the famous ‘Great Commission’ Jesus instructed, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20). To be a disciple meant you obeyed Jesus’ teaching. No obedience = no disciple. It IS as simple as that!

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