In this series of blogs, using the acronym ‘PROMISE’, we are exploring 7 regular practices that need to be part of the life and practice of true discipleship. Each word represents a ‘holy habit’ that helps us grow and be nurtured as disciples of Jesus. The first two words were Pray and Read. Today’s word is a corollary of last week’s – for you cannot read God’s word without seeking then to obey it.
O – Obey God’s word
My late father had green fingers. Growing up, we lived in a 2nd floor apartment with a balcony, and my dad filled it with plants of various kinds that he gently and often tended to. However, among his pots, he once placed a genuine-looking plastic plant complete with colorful flowers and real soil. It was very lifelike.
One day, one of my aunts came to visit and looking around the garden, she was very much taken in by the beautiful colors of the artificial flowers. So deceived, she requested of my dad the seeds of the plant in question.
My brothers and I so wished our dad had actually given my dear aunt some plastic seeds!
But filling a garden with lots of wonderful-looking plastic flower plants is the same as acting like a Christian without being one. No matter how lifelike, those flowers cannot be fragrant nor their buds fruitful. They are mere pretense.
The one thing that distinguishes true discipleship from the false is a readiness to hear and do what God says. Obedience is always God’s preferred response of us, more than all the juicy sacrifices the disobedient could bring (1 Samuel 15:22).
‘If you love me, then keep my commandments’ Jesus stated in John 14:15. Obedience, then, is the premier test and proof of genuine discipleship and relationship to Jesus (see Luke 6:46-49, Matthew 12:50).
For God’s word is more easily discussed than obeyed. This is most acutely a problem for those of us who are the theological descendants of Protestant churches, with their rightful emphasis on the Scriptures alone (‘Sola Scriptura’ or the ‘Scriptures Alone’ was one of the clarion calls of the Reformers) as the sole rule and plumb-line of truth for us. But one of the dangers of making God’s word primary to faith and order is that we have the tendency to put an unwarranted emphasis on abstract creeds rather than rightful deeds. Knowledge about the Scriptures so easily comes to be equated with its practice. Many evangelical Christians today are therefore more apt to speak of faith as a matter of what they believe, know, and hold to, as opposed to how they live and love.
It is no wonder, then, that many of our churches are filled with people who may know or hear a lot, but do little.
Former Youth for Christ USA president Jay Kesler argues that we have inherited a style of preaching in our churches that is information heavy. He observed that ‘preaching a sermon strong on information but weak on application is like shouting to a drowning person, “Swim! Swim!” The message is true, but it’s not helpful.’
What is needed then is not information and explanation (which often lead to inaction), but application of God’s revelation that leads to transformation in our lives.
And so, as we read God’s word, alone and with other disciples, and as we teach it, let us seek to put the emphasis on application and obedience (‘how do we obey this passage?’) rather than mere information (‘what does it say or mean?’).
Take time as we share the word, to challenge each other to articulate what actions are being called to take as a result of reading God’s word, then ask one another the next time we meet, whether we did them. Pray with one another to be doers of the word and not merely hearers. This is true accountability as disciples – holding and helping each other to do what God says.
Read and obey. They are habits worth having and are the proof of bona fide discipleship.