This week's Bible Study - July 10, 2016
Transformed in My Obedience
Quotes of the Week:
Grades don't measure anything other than your relevant obedience to a manager.
John Taylor Gatto
Are you in or out? This is a question that comes up often, in many different contexts. Most of the in or out questions carry no real consequence. Friends are going to a movie, are you going or not? Others are getting ready to start another game of (basketball, cards, etc), are you going to play or do you need to leave? There are many of these types of questions that come up and other than changing what you will or won't do for a bit, they don't really impact your life. There are other similar questions that come up that will greatly impact your life. Who will you marry? Where will you work? Where do you buy a house? These and other similar circumstances will have a huge impact on your day to day life, and perhaps some role in your quality of life. These situations are much headier than whether you will go to a movie or play a game, but even they are not the most crucial in or out question in life.
There is one other question that is of utmost importance in each of our lives. Even when someone doesn't think they need to answer it, they already have. Are you in or out, when it comes to eternity with God? Many people say what they think is most important and they usually try and live by that, if they are concerned. Mostly, it comes down to a list of do's and don'ts for many people. They tend to believe that if they do the do's and don't do the don'ts, they are 'in' if they have more good checkmarks than bad. It is how we are graded in school, so it may seem reasonable. We are accustomed to letter grades in school, such as A, B, C, D or F. In some classes, you take Pass / Fail, but it comes down to showing you know enough to pass. You see how some people might think this makes sense. It's like they believe God to have a giant scale, and all of the good deeds are piled on one side and the bad deeds are on the other. If the good outweigh the bad, then you're in. There are multiple problems with this. We would never be aware of what is graded, and even if we did know that, we wouldn't know the relative sizes, right? Surely, it would take hundreds of lies to equal murder, right? Obviously, it comes down to who is doing the grading and if this were the case, we would never know that we were in.
The real way this works, according to Scripture is fairly straightforward. We could say that it starts with the scale. However, the major difference is if there are 'any', even one, bad deed (i.e. sin), the scale is broken. God's system is binary. Sin is sin, and all sin requires a penalty (for the wages of sin is death). We also can read in Scripture that there is not even one of us that can live without sin. You can take the most godly person you know, but if they exposed their lives to you, you would find some area of sin. Perhaps there would be way less sin than in yours or mine, but even one sin breaks the bank.
Jesus spoke a lot about the kingdom of God and what was required to enter it. Many believers hear this over and over throughout the years. Many stand and applaud. They may admire Jesus, but if they never embrace Jesus for themselves, it matters little what they thought.
Jesus tell us that we are to enter through the narrow gate. I remember when I was in China a few years ago on a mission trip, and our group was at Tiananmen Square. It was near 'the anniversary', so it was fenced off, so that you couldn't get in or out without going through a gate. It was what would certainly be considered to be a safety hazard here in the States, but there, it was what they did. (Note that wasn't the only safety hazard we saw there, but that is a different story)
We are told that wide is the gate and broad is he road that leads to destruction and that many enter through it. However, the gate is small and the road is narrow that leads to life, and only a few find it. As we go through life, we all encounter choices of all types. You might think of these choices as gates, because one you've gone through a gate, you've made a choice. However, Jesus wasn't simply talking about the choices in life, but He spoke of the gate into eternity. Over and over, He made it clear that there was only one way of salvation. Of course, in today's world, many people want to say that there are many ways, for a variety of reasons.
If you are not living your life deliberately, you may find yourself caught up in the flow. I think of floods that come at different times of the year in different places. People may think it is only water and they may believe that they are okay, because they can swim. They believe that it is really shallow and those signs don't mean a thing. However, even a heavy car, caught in the swiftly moving water of a flood, becomes like a toy as it is washed away. You don't want to get caught up in the flow.
You will find all types of people that are content to go with the flow. And, you will find that not every place the flow goes is necessarily bad, but when you let your guard down, you can find that you may have put too much faith in the flow.
If you've followed these lessons for the past few months, you know that I was diagnosed with ALS. It has changed almost everything that I can do. I have to think about everything, from each bite that I take, each drink that I take, each step that I take and everything I do. There even seem to be times where I have to think about breathing. There are times when I 'forget', believe it or not, that I have ALS, and I take a big swig of water like I used to and it causes me to choke. Or, I might be trying to help Berkley around the house and I take a step without thinking. Almost any time that I am not deliberate in my actions, there is a consequence. I wonder how things would be different in our lives if we had to be as deliberate with the choices we make.
Godlessness is easy. Godliness is hard. It requires us to examine our lives and to deny ourselves. We need to confess our sins and repent when we have sinned. It is a process that we go through over and over. Some people just believe that they can go with the flow for a while. They see that as freedom and they believe they can handle it. However, over time, one's conscience will weigh them down, when the choice for 'freedom' is what drives them. If it was without a doubt a one-time choice - choose life or death, it would be easy. However, the temptation to drive down the wide road in life, even knowing where it leads has trapped many people. Which gate are you wanting to go through? Do the actions of your life line up with where you say you want to go?
Right after talking about the narrow gate, Jesus talked about false prophets. I believe He was talking about those who would say that Jesus didn't know what He was saying. I find it amazing to think that anybody would intentionally throw people off, spiritually, but it happens. I would imagine that some are misguided, but there are others who are deadest on misguiding people. Sometimes, these people appear to be the good guys - they come in sheep's clothing. However, inwardly they are ferocious wolves.
What would you say is more dangerous? A crook who looks like a crook, or a crook who looks like everybody else? Jesus warns us to realize that there are false prophets and we are to be on guard. While we should not go on witch hunts, we should certainly be discerning. It is crucial that we know truth so that we know when someone is leading us away from the narrow way. Too many people want to study the plethora of lies and end up knowing more about some of the lies and not much of the truth. There are many lies being said by false prophets. Some lies are that the Bible is simply a book of myths, or that there is no hell, or that God is only love, or that there is no Satan, or that there is no real truth, or that God only looks for sincerity, or that Jesus in not the only way or on and on.
How can we tell that a person is a false prophet? Jesus says that you need to look at their fruit. Well, that sounds confusing to many, as how would you compare people with apples or oranges or ? There are a few things that you can look for. First, is their doctrine consistent with the Bible? There is an implication that we know the truth of Scripture. Unfortunately, this is where many fall right away. We spend a lot of time knowing ins and outs of music, movies, news, politics or sports, but how many devote as much time to the Word of God, which is our life? If you are going to determine who is false, you must know truth. Secondly, if they seem to be consistent with Scripture, are their lives consistent with their words? Each of us fails in this situation, because none of us are perfect. We all know the right thing to do at times, and would tell anyone that is the right thing to do, but we end up doing the wrong thing. We aren't looking for perfection, but it would be good to see consistency. Thirdly, if they are a leader of people, what do their followers do? Do they propagate the leader, or do they propagate Christ? In Jesus' day, as well as in ours, there are plenty of false prophets.
Jesus then hits closer and closer to home, by saying " Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Could it be that some may call Jesus Lord, but are not sincere? We shudder, because we know ourselves. We know our minds, our thoughts and our actions.
Jesus says that some will do things, such as prophesying in His name and driving out demons and performing miracles in His name, but they can still be told that He never knew them. We tend to look at what people do for Christ and assume that they must be a fully devoted believer. Unfortunately, we all know how to go through the motions, making things look a certain way. As we've discussed many times in the past few months of lessons, the key is less about what you do and more about who you are. When we have become the people God has called us to be, the things we do will be part of our nature, and when we have failed Him, we will realize that we need to repent and turn back to Him. Being a believer is much less about what you can put on your spiritual resume, but much more about what is in your heart. Do you love others? Do you ask for forgiveness when you have failed others? Are you thinking the best of others in your life? I doubt any one of us would want to hear Jesus say that He never knew us.
Jesus closes this section by saying that those who are wise will hear his words and put them into practice. Do you realize that there is a big difference between hearing and listening? There are times when we hear the words, but they don't resonate. One afternoon at work, I was in a team meeting in a conference room. It was a summer day and I was in the corner next to the window. The ones who were speaking were on the other side of the room. After a few minutes, someone asked if everyone could hear. Of course, we all said yes (we were tired and wanted to go back to work or at least out of the meeting). Then, they pointed at me, the furthest away and asked if I could hear. I said yes, and then my bluff was called by the words "What did they say?" In honesty, I could hear those words but I wasn't listening. I had nothing to say, so I said "blah blah blah" and followed that by saying I could hear, but I wasn't listening. That may sound like a funny story, but if you were honest, how many times would you have that same response after a sermon or a Bible Study?
Jesus said that the one who puts His words into practice is like a wise man who built house on the rock. If you grew up in church or went to Vacation Bible School as kid, the words of the song may be flowing off your tongue, even now. The rains came down and the floods came upů.but the house on the rock stood still. Contrast the wise man with the foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. I guess he wanted a beach house, literally. However, when the rains came down and the floods came up, the house on the sand crashed.
If you are reading this lesson, I would gather that you are a believer or that you at least have some tendencies toward believing. Perhaps you were baptized in the past or you had made some form of commitment long ago. The sad reality is that so many people bank on that certificate or that decision, but allow little to no impact to their lives. There is the danger of people having the 'been there, done that' thought with their faith. The certificate of baptism is great, as is any commitment you made, as is knowledge of all things spiritual in your head. However, if your life is not impacted, those things are worth little.
As I've been dealing with this terminal disease, I have had to look at areas of my life that may not have been out and out rebellion against God, but areas where I tended to think more like the world does. It has hit me over and over that outwardly, we are wasting away, but inwardly, we are to be renewed by the transformation of our minds. Unfortunately, we focus so much on the 'look' that it is easy to forget the internal transformation. Ask yourself about your thoughts, desires, words and actions. Are they being transformed by an internal change in you, or are they more likely to conform to the way that the rest of the world handles them. I can say that even if you are giving it all you can, you still will hit roadblocks and circumstances that will help you understand if you are being transformed or not.
Now, we are not literally building houses, but we are building our lives. If you are building your life upon anything other than Christ, you are building upon sand. Many tend to want to partition their lives, so that they keep the 'Christ' things in a box and the rest of their lives in another box. This is asking for trouble. When you have your own ambitions, agenda, ethical code and other areas of your life that are apart from His teaching and His life, you are skating on thin ice. I've talked to some people that realized that they had to change jobs, because they realized that to be successful in their work, they needed to hide their Christianity.
Each of us will deal with pressures of life, trials and massive storms. Perhaps you can relate, even as we can right now. It can be gut wrenching to wake up and realize that the problems in your life are real and not just a dream. When you get squeezed, what do others see? We all deal with sin, and responses to our sin. Do you truly make the changes that need to be made so that you aren't in that area of sin again? We all deal with difficulties. When you have a problem that you can't solve, do you seek God, or is it only as a last resort? Are we more like the wise men building on the rock (Christ), or are we foolish and continuing to put more floors on that beach house on the sand (architected by self or the world)?
This can be a tough lesson. This is all so very straightforward, but can be so very hard. Strive for the narrow gate. Don't get caught up with the crowd. Seek the truth of God's word, so that you aren't making yourself to be easy prey for false prophets. You've probably seen the shows about Jonestown and David Koresh, and so many others. How do people fall for that? Don't let yourself be one.
Take a real hard look at your life and ask yourself if you are legit. Don't respond with all the things you have done, the mission trips, the classes, etc. The real question is if you are the person you want others to think you are. It's not about what you do, unless you are doing just to do.
When you feel that God is speaking to you, act upon it. Scripture is amazing to me, in that I can read through a passage and something may jump out to me that isn't what everyone else is thinking about. When you hear God's voice through a sermon, a Bible Study, or in personal time with Him, act upon it. Build your house upon the rock. The beach is a nice place to visit, but when the hurricanes or tsunamis come, you want to be as far away as possible. Don't build your house on the sand.