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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No Room for Boasting

Is the church basically just a group of people who think that they are better than everybody else, because they hold themselves to a bunch of traditions and rules that they think makes them superior?

Perhaps unfortunately that is sometimes the way churchgoers actually feel, but the Bible itself does not describe Jesus’ church that way. In fact, the book of Romans takes pains to make it abundantly clear that the righteousness of the church is NOT about how good they are as people, but rather how kind God has been to pour His grace out on those who will put their faith in Him.

The book of Romans gives us principles such as these:

“There is none righteous, not even one… There is none who does good, There is not even one.”

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”

“Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith.”

The point is that people in the church are not naturally “better people” than those outside. Rather, they are clothed with the goodness of Jesus. “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Church is all about Jesus, and His goodness.

These principles led Paul to say these words in 1 Corinthians 4: “To me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself… Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.”

In other words, Paul was saying that the job of the church is not to figure out who is the best Christian and who is the most lousy, or to brag about how good we are. Instead, judgment belongs to God, and we rest in His promises for those who are faithful.

And yet, while the church is not obsessed with being “better than” other people or figuring out who is the holiest, it is still true that the church strives for moral excellence. In the fourth chapter of 1 Thessalonians, The church in Thessalonica is commended for walking as they should, with the instruction “that you excel still more.” Again in the same chapter they are complimented for the love that they have for one another, yet they are told, “but we urge you, brethren, to excel still more.”

And in an odd way, it is the very fact that the church is justified by faith rather than by works that enables the church to grow spiritually. Because of Christ’s sacrifice and the words of scripture, we can know that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13), and this frees us from negative thinking and constant fear of punishment or failure, so that we can walk down the path of holiness with confidence and joy. We can also be free from the pettiness of comparing ourselves to those around us. It has been said, “it is amazing how much can get done when no one cares who gets the credit.”

The church is not simply a place for “good people” who make all the right decisions in life. It is a place for broken people to find justification by faith, to rest in God’s promises, and to follow Him as well as they can on the pathway of righteousness.

“God’s Rules Take Away My Freedom”

Barbed Wire Prison

One portrayal of devout Christianity popular today is an image of grumpy, controlling individuals who want to impose their opinions on everyone else. To make matters worse, their opinions are no fun, and require us to give up all kinds of personal freedoms such as drinking, partying, swearing, or unhindered sexual expression, among other things.

Yes, there are many things that God commands us to abstain from doing. And yes, in many cases Christians believe that the wellbeing of their fellow countrymen will be benefited by the incorporation of God’s will into their laws. They may vote or even campaign to that end.

But we should remember that the message of Christianity is not one of compulsion. God makes His will clear to us, but then He leaves us to make our own decisions. His appeal to us is an appeal of a loving Father who wants to give us the things that we most desperately need, while freeing us from the petty and unhelpful passions that are ours in our ignorance.

The heart of the issue is a consideration of what it means to be free. We hate rules because they take away our freedoms. But what if the greatest freedom is only achieved when one honors one’s own true nature and the nature of the Creator?

Jesus did not come to take away our fun. On the contrary, He came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). He came so that we could be born again (John 3), and walk in newness of life (Romans 6). He came that we might be partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). He came to gather us under His wings as a protector (Matthew 23:37). He came to free us from our slavery (Romans 6). He came that we could be filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Christianity is not ultimately about giving up the things that we desperately wish we could have, it is about finding things even better that are ours for the taking.