How Do You Read the Bible and Life?
In the New Testament we run across the words keep, do, and obey in reference to a proper response to what is good in life or to what God commands. Below are but a few examples.
- “If you love me, you will keep my commandments." -John 14:15
- "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” -John 14:21
- "You are my friends if you do what I command you." -John 15:14
- "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments." -1John 5:2
When you read the above passages, how did you understand the words do, keep, and obey? Let me clarify. When you read the third statement that to be a friend of Jesus requires doing what He commands, did you interpret the word do to mean: feel good about, to unsuccessfully attempt to do, or to succeed at doing? Likely you resonated with the statement and felt good about Jesus' call to do what He commands. This response of yours was good but insufficient because Jesus is calling a person to action beyond just feeling. Do you see yourself as a friend of Jesus? It is good to be Jesus' friend, but have you done what He said is required to be His friend? Do you do what Jesus commands? Think of what you consider that Jesus commands you to do. Have you done it? Do you do it? Has your doing been successful or unsuccessful? In other words, is success in action important to Jesus, or is He simply interested that you put in an effort even though you fail?
Obedience: Victory or Failure?
In sports competitions, one person or team wins the competition. The winner declares that victory was achieved. The losers declare that they tried to win, but failed. The loser's attempt was unsuccessful. When you think of Jesus' call to keeping, doing, or obeying His commands, have you achieved victory, or been unsuccessful? I suspect that more clarity is needed. First, is Jesus declaring that His friends keep, do, or obey what He desires just when it is convenient, or all the time? Second, does Jesus want us to evaluate success by looking at our effort or the lack of success of others? Many non-Christians have told me that for moral issues, comparison to other people is never good.
- Does God desire you to succeed at being righteous, or just that you try to be righteous?
- Does God desire you to succeed at being holy or only that you try to be holy?
- Does God desire you to succeed at being free from sin or merely that you try not to sin?
- Does God desire that you succeed at keeping all His commands all the time, or simply that you put in an effort?
The Standard of Evaluation
It is good for God to desire that you always do what is good. It is not good for God to think or declare that it is satisfactory that you only imperfectly do what is good or only do good part of the time. Thus God's expectation for you (and all other people) is that you always do what is good. No compromises. Do you agree? Are you succeeding at doing good always?
Let's apply this to obedience. Do you agree that imperfect obedience is disobedience? Let's say that God gives you a glass of pure water and commands you to drink all of it. Let's also say that you drink 60% and decide that that is enough for you, and so you don't finish the glass of water. Did you obey God? No you didn't. Imperfect obedience is not good and thus not satisfactory to God.
Jesus came into this world to reveal what is good. On all moral issues, it is good to compare ourselves and all other people to Jesus. It is never good to compromise that standard of evaluation. Compared to Jesus how are you doing in terms of holiness, obedience, and keeping the commands of Jesus? Are you an obedient Christian?
Honesty About Confusion
The first step in understanding God's ways is to notice our confusion about what God desires. I have the privilege of living in a culture that is overwhelmingly Mormon. It is a
surprise blessing because they use our words, but with different definitions. This helps us to think more critically about what we believe. As we here are challenged, we at least occasionally realize that we have lies in our own minds. This is a wonderful revelation. Until I notice a lie that is in my thinking, I am unaware that I need to discard it. I witness to hundreds of Mormons annually and in nearly every conversation I hear words something like, "Since it is good to do good, this means that we need to try to do good. God doesn't expect us to be perfect, but only to do our best." People commonly tell me that the commandments are a goal to shoot for, not something to expect success at now. Therefore, I commonly get corrected for telling people that God expects immediate success at doing good, being righteous, and obeying His commands. When I tell them that God always expects perfection now, the conversation opens to the gospel. All people know that I am not perfect in my thoughts, words, and actions, and so how can I so gladly and confidently preach that only perfection counts with God? I preach to myself first this message of perfection now on all topics of the Christian life. I find it in all of life and everywhere in the Bible. Thinking this way makes life a joy and makes it easy to preach non-hypocritically to others.
Do you preach to yourself first that God expects from you perfection now on all aspects of the Christian life--say holiness, obedience, keeping the commandments, and loving others? If you don't preach perfection now, by what authority do you compromise God's goodness, or what verses or reasoning do you use to correct me to embrace your view that God doesn't expect perfection now--that, for example, He doesn't expect complete holiness now? I have commonly heard Christians (including pastors) talk about obedience, loving others, keeping Jesus' commands and more, and have wondered how they could speak so positively since it was impossible for them (or me) to be succeeding at what they were preaching since what they were saying was clearly about behavior. It is clear to me now that they were not meaning successful obedience but rather an attempt (unsuccessful) at obedience. We Christians know that we shouldn't say try to obey because obedience really includes success. But we have been tricked into a pretense. We mean try but don't say try because that is not good. It is okay to use the wrong words as we express ourselves. But it is deceptive to use good words when we mean something that is not good. God sees the heart.
The critical issue for you to consider concerns how you use words. It can be painful to be honest, but honesty is important in order to embrace change. When you talk about obedience, doing what is right, or loving others, do you mean success when compared to Jesus, or do you mean just putting in an effort? Is success important to you like it is important to Jesus?
The Next Step: A New Question
If perfection now is God's expectation and imperfect obedience is disobedience, then you need a new question when you read the Bible and when you think about life. I suggest that not asking good questions has us in much confusion in seeking to understand both the Bible and life. If the Bible and life are to be trusted, then either God is confused, the writers of the Bible didn't hear clearly from God, these writers were confused, the Bible has been radically changed all over the place, or you are seriously misunderstanding the Bible and life. Is it possible that you are confused about what Jesus meant by keeping the commandments, obedience, holiness, and much more? Is there even a slim possibility of this? It is true for me. It seems to me that we Christians often talk like God is confused. I suggest that both all of the Bible and all of life are perfectly consistent with God's call to perfection now. The big question I ask myself and I urge you to consider is this: Is it possible that you are confused about what Jesus (or the other writers) is talking about?
As stated above, my Mormon culture has confronted me much and taught me to daily check myself for confusion. Just because I don't notice any today doesn't mean that it isn't there. My principle it to pray every morning that God would bring to me during the day a Mormon, atheist, or child to say something that would reveal another lie in my thinking, that I might discard it. Please join me in this prayer.
"Do or Do Not, There is No Try."
This quote by Yoda of Star Wars fame is on a wall at Oasis Books. It gets laughs but also affirmation from everyone I ask about it. Do you affirm it? If you do then it is a wonderful tool to use to cleanse your mind of the polluting affect of manageability--of worldliness--of do and try harder--of the flesh--of human glory--of quenching the Spirit. Yoda's words point to Jesus, since only Jesus succeeded in always doing what is good.
As you read the Bible or think about your behavior and that of other people, I encourage you to seek to read every verse in light of God's good expectation of perfection now. Think of Jesus. Think of Yoda's words. Learn to notice failure clearly in light of perfection. I predict that you will begin to enjoy the people who previously have rubbed you the wrong way. Also your reading of the Bible will be like a treasure hunt for new riches. It may even feel like you are reading the Bible right side up.
The focus of this post is to tease you to notice that almost certainly your mind is infested with trying where success should be. This is for life and for reading the Bible. I have sought to only hint at fresh ways to understand both. In other posts at this blog you can read my views on what complete holiness now means and the simple way to do it (perfectly), what Jesus meant by the fruit that reveals certainly if a person is a Christian, and much more. Soon I will post an article on how I know why you have done every sin that you have done as a Christian. Do you know? Are you surprised that I claim to know this about you, even if we have never met? Watch for it. Here is Jeremiah's hint (it foretold of Pentecost) "I will fill the priests with abundance, and my people will be satisfied with my goodness, declares the Lord." (31:14)
Let's celebrate God's goodness as our full satisfaction!