Following Jesus: Our obedience
Previously we looked at, “Following Jesus: Our purposes”. We found that God wants us to become more like Jesus. He wants us to have purposes that reflect His purposes (above) and our strengths (below). We serve others when we apply our purposes to people’s needs. Then like Esther, we will have a meaningful and significant life that brings fulfilment.
We introduced the diagram to show the relationship between these aspects of our life. We looked at our resources, which are comprised of our genetic makeup, our life experience and our spiritual gifts. These are the tools that God has given to us that enable us to do the tasks to achieve our purposes by meeting people’s needs.
In this post, we are looking at our obedience. It’s where we use our purposes and resources to meet the needs of God’s people by serving them.
The Bible says that we have been saved to do good works (Eph. 2:10).
Saved to do good
In Ephesians 2, after Paul describes our salvation, he says what we have been saved for:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:8-10).
In v10 he is giving a reason why salvation is a gift. It came by God’s creation, like a work of art. This is a spiritual creation, not a physical one. Believers are “created in Christ Jesus”. We have a new status before God having changed from being spiritually dead to being spiritually alive. It says, salvation is not by works but for works (Tit. 3:8). Christians are made for a new way of life. The effect of salvation is works. They are to be the fruit of our salvation. It’s a cause-and-effect relationship. We live in a cause and effect world. Each cause has an effect, and each effect has a cause. But is this fruit and effect evident in our lives?
This message is repeated in Titus in a passage that covers: our condition before salvation (v.3), our salvation (v.4-7), and the practical result of salvation (v.8).
“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.” (Tit. 3:3)
That’s our condition before salvation. God says that an unbeliever is foolish, disobedient and deceived.
Then it says, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:4-7).
That’s our salvation. Through God’s mercy and Christ’s sacrifice our sins are forgiven, and we can look forward to heaven.
Then it describes the next step, “This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone” (Tit. 3:8).
That’s the practical result of salvation. Believers are “to devote themselves to doing what is good”. We cannot become a Christian by our works, but works are the result of salvation. Genuine conversion will produce “good works”. A goal of salvation is to serve others.
But what are we devoted to? Does it include helping other believers?
Here we see that the way of life that God prearranged for believers includes doing good works. Under God’s providence He will guide our lives (like He did for Esther) so we will be at the right place at the right time to do these good works. He will provide opportunities for us to work for His glory.
While Alan is in hospital with serious health issues, people have been supporting his wife Bronya via text messages. Let’s use our technology to encourage and support needy Christians.
Loving one another
The phrase “love one another” is mentioned in 15 verses of the books of the New Testament that are written to Christians. For example, “since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:11) and “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters” (Heb. 13:1).
People’s needs are the subject of our service and good works. Paul said, “serve one another humbly in love” (Gal. 5:13). We are to serve one another from the motivation of love. “One another” assumes that Christians live in community with one another. That’s how we become aware of each other’s needs.
Paul also said, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:10). This shows that God gives us special opportunities to serve Him. We are to care about the welfare of others. To think the best about others, and to do the best for others. To not pass on gossip about people because it will hurt their reputation. God’s people ought to support God’s work.
The early church was known for its generosity. Those in Macedonia (Greece) who were poor and persecuted, gave generously to the needy believers in Judea (2 Cor. 8:1-5). Paul challenged the Christians in Corinth to match them in giving (2 Cor.8-9). He says, “God loves a cheerful giver” (9:7). Giving to others is imitating God because God is the greatest giver and Jesus is the greatest gift. As we are children of God and followers of Jesus, let’s follow their example.
Christians are commanded to address people’s needs by caring for one another. This service is the love and good works that follow salvation. What about us? Are we obeying God’s way of Christian living or do we need a kick to get going like Paul gave those in Corinth?
Rui Rui is a woman from Taiwan who comes to church sometimes. She was training to be an early childhood teacher. This was difficult because English was her second language. As Jean had also been an early childhood teacher, she invited her over to help her with her course. She also loaned her resources like children’s books and puppets and showed her how to use them.
George volunteers for a senior men’s group that meets weekly. During the COVID-19 shutdown, he had a weekly telephone conversation with two of the men, Bob and Frank. When Bob’s wife died, George went to the funeral. Now George visits him for 90 minutes each week as he is lonely because he lives alone. The conversation ends with a Bible verse and a prayer as Bob is a Christian.
Two ways to build
After Paul said that he and Apollos were co-workers at Corinth, he says that the church is like a building. The work being done in obedience to God in this instance is building a church.
“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:10-11).
Paul as an evangelist and a church planter had laid the foundation of the church, which is the gospel about Jesus (v.10-11). Apollos as a Bible teacher came later and built on Paul’s foundation. Grace is what God does for us; it is His provision on our behalf. Paul used his God-given purposes and resources to establish the church at Corinth. He gives a warning of how we do God’s work. It must be based on Jesus being the Son of God who offers salvation.
Then it says, “If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones [like granite and marble], wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Cor. 3:12-15NIV).
Here Paul describes two ways to build on the foundation of Jesus and His gift of salvation. These are two types of building materials. The first is flame proof and durable like gold, silver, or costly stones, like granite and marble. Such workers are rewarded when they get to heaven. Lasting work rests on the person and work of Christ. The second is combustible and temporary like wood, hay, or straw. These workers are not rewarded when they get to heaven. Combustible work rests on anything other than the person and work of Christ.
The main point is that we must take care of building the church with permanent materials that will withstand the fire of God’s testing when we get to heaven. At the Judgment Seat of Christ, each of us will give account of our life’s work for God. God tests our service to see whether it is genuine. It will separate the destructible from the indestructible. The indestructible is that which brings glory to God and blessing to people. Are we using inferior materials or superior materials in our work?
Winmalee Christian Conference Center is in a bushfire prone location. There was a bushfire in 1994 that burnt through all the vegetation, but the buildings were saved by the external water sprinkler system. Since then, the building standards have become more stringent. As the Lodge is only 20m from the bush, it has a Bushfire Attack Level of Flame Zone, which is the highest possible. So when the building was renovated, the new external walls, windows, doors, and roofs had to be built to this standard. This means shutters for the windows and the doors and a fire blanket in the walls and roof.
If we obedient to God’s command to do good works by serving others, are we doing them for the right reasons? Will our good works survive God’s test? Is our service fireproof?
Here’s two responses to when Jesus said, “Follow me”.
“He [Jesus] said to another man, ‘Follow me.’ But he replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’
“Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’
“Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’ (Lk. 9:59-61).
There are hindrances to following Jesus. In these two examples the men put their desires first. They said, “first let me” go and do this and go and do that. They put their desires and interests above those of Jesus.
Jesus also told the parable of the excuses.
“A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come’ (Lk. 14:16-20).
Those invited are like the leaders of the Jewish people who rejected the gospel message. In these cases they thought other things were more important than the gospel invitation. These were: the love of material things; devotion to jobs, occupations or business; and family ties and social relationships. These other things are like the ancient Hebrew exemptions from military service (Dt. 20:5-7). So, the banquet symbolizes something more important than military service.
What excuses do we use to avoid doing good works by serving others?
When Jesus washed His disciple’s feet, He was modelling humble service (Jn. 13:1-17). This is also an example for Christians today. So to follow Jesus means to serve one another.
The Bible teaches that the best way of Christian living is to be God’s disciples and God’s workers. And believers have God-given resources to carry out their purposes by serving others to meet their needs.
God had done His part, but what about us? We have a choice to accept or reject this way of Christian living. We do this by either obeying or disobeying the promptings of the Holy Spirit and the commands and models of Scripture.
We are saved to do good and love one another. Are we doing this in a manner of one who will give account of our life’s work for God? Or are we giving excuses?
God wants us to become more like Jesus. He wants us to have purposes that reflect His purposes and our strengths. We serve others when we apply our purposes to people’s needs.
Every day, let’s choose to follow Jesus. And let’s work together with the team of believers in our church, like Paul’s co-workers worked together.
We are saved to do good works. Are we doing these with the right motives? Even if we know this, are we putting it into practice? Or are we self-centered, giving excuses. Are we obeying God’s way of Christian living? Are we serving God by serving others? Or do we need reminding about this?
If we are obedient, then like Esther, we will have a meaningful and significant life that brings fulfilment.
Written, April 2021