Trusting God to Tell us What to Do

Many of us know someone who grew up in a Christian environment, but left the faith later in life. You may also know someone who was presented the gospel as an adult, but rejected it vehemently. Maybe, you too have struggled with your own faith, or even considered giving up on living for God. Why?

One of the reasons people often cite for leaving the Lord is that they want to be free to do things their own way. They may say phrases like “no one else can tell me how to live my own life,” or “I have to do what makes me happy,” or “I have to be free to be myself, and the Bible is holding me back.”

There may be some truth to the statement “no one can tell me how to live my own life.” After all, in most cases, no one is going to physically control us and micromanage all of our own choices against our will. At the end of the day, God grants us the right to do whatever it is that we want to do, even if that means to reject Him.

So maybe no one has the power to FORCE us to live a certain way, but surely we all recognize that sometimes it is wise to listen to people who know more than we do.

Most of us do not take our car to the mechanic only to insist on disregarding necessary repairs because “no one can tell me what to do.” Most of us do not pay for music lessons and then ignore everything the teacher says because “I just have to do what makes me happy.” Most of us do not go to the hospital in crippling pain but reject a necessary surgery because “that is just not what I want to do with my time.” We recognize that the path to wholeness often requires us to do things that we do not want to do, and may not even fully understand. But we trust those who can guide us to where we need to be.

The Bible describes the Christian life as a battle between the flesh and the Spirit. Oh, how easy it can seem to just throw in the towel and indulge our fleshly tendencies because we long to “be true to ourselves,” and “not let some ancient book control us.” But notice something about the flesh and the Spirit.

The flesh does not practice wisdom or discernment. For example, the body will crave an unhealthy diet with no regard for how much the “daily recommended amount” of sugar is. A body that is addicted to drugs or alcohol will crave those things with no regard for the wellbeing of the person who possesses it. A body will desire sexual relations with an attractive counterpart, even when the long-term outcome could be catastrophic.

The Spirit, on the other hand, is characterized by discernment, wisdom, and higher order thinking. It is informed, ultimately, by the God who designed the universe and knows intimately how it works. The Spirit encourages us to follow a path of moral development rather than simply “living in the moment.”

Often our feelings, being motivated by our flesh, will pull us in a direction that promises to be gratifying. That direction might be jealousy, outbursts of anger, pornography, consumerism, gluttony, or any other number of things. On the other hand, the Spirit steps in and “tells us what to do,” applying a long-term wisdom to our short-term decisions.

Yes, God does tell us what to do. Frequently. And we would do well to listen. A doctor knows how to help a physical body. A mechanic knows how to fix a car. A piano teacher knows how to play piano. And God knows how to fix YOU. And just maybe, if you do not understand every instruction given by your doctor, mechanic, or piano teacher, you might not understand every instruction given by your God either. That does not make Him wrong.

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Tradition!

Many in the church today seem to have a negative view of the word, “traditions,” and perhaps in some instances they should.

In Mark 7, Jesus told the religious leaders of his day: “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition,” or as Matthew 15:3 and 6 record, why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?… You invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.”

This statement of Jesus followed His quoting to them from Isaiah 29:13, which states: “this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.” Jesus said they were “teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”

But are traditions all bad?

Paul told the Thessalonians, “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15) He also told the church in Corinth, “I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.” (1 Corinthians 11:2)

Just a few verses later in the same chapter, when Paul was instructing the women of Corinth to cover their heads while praying, he referred to this instruction with the Greek word “sunétheia,” which indicates “a custom, habit, or practice,” something that becomes “intimate” or “customary” through repeated usage.

So how are we to judge which traditions are valuable and which should be thrown out?

Notice from the verses that we have listed that the Bible does not exalt or denounce ideas and practices based simply on whether they are “old,” or “new,” but rather on whether or not they are conducive to godliness and in line with Biblical doctrine.

  • If the keeping of a tradition requires us to set aside God’s word, it must go.
  • If observing a particular tradition causes us to break God’s commandments, it must be abandoned.
  • If the process of learning our traditions “by rote” has resulted in heartless, mechanical worship, something must change.
  • If we are teaching our traditions as though they were the very words of God, we must stop.

On the other hand, if our traditions call us to godliness, enrich our spiritual lives, and bring honor to God, all without violating His revealed will, they are to be cherished and prolonged.

But what if a particular tradition is not causing any harm, and violates none of God’s commands, but some find it pointless and wish to abandon it while others think it continues to be useful?

A similar situation occurred in Romans 14.

Old dietary and holiday traditions still existed among new converts form Judaism to Christianity. Disagreements arose about the usefulness and validity of these old traditions now that the Christ had come. But Paul did not exactly pick sides. Instead, he seamed to confirm to them that either position was potentially acceptable: “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.”

To see more of what council the church in Rome was given, read through Romans chapter 14.