''Winging It' with Stan Smith
Originally posted on 04/19/2017
If you've been around much at all, you've heard the accusation. "You Christians pick and choose which verses you're going to obey." Pretty common. Why do they say it? Well, at the bottom, of course, it's because they figure if they can cast aspersions on us, they can use that as a reason to ignore God. Fine. But what is the more surface reason? Well, it's largely based on the fact that we don't follow the Jewish laws of dress and food and animal sacrifice but do aim to follow the moral law, not for salvation, but to obey the God we claim to follow. Because of the fact that the surface reason is not the actual reason for the accusation, the truth is that no matter how much we say about how Christ fulfilled the ceremonial laws or about how we are not under the Old Testament civil laws, they will retain the accusation. The real aim is to avoid responding to God. It's called a red herring.
There is still, however, a problem. The reality is that any honest, genuine, Bible-believing Christian would have to admit that we do indeed pick and choose what commands we will obey. And not on the basis of Christ's fulfillment of the sacrifices required or us not being part of Israel's civil laws. It's because of our refusal to obey. To our shame.
Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15) Notice the form; it is indicative, not prescriptive. It says what will happen if you love Him, not what you must do to love Him. John wrote, "By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, 'I have come to know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him." (1 John 2:3-5) This is not to suggest that perfection is required to know Him. It does suggest that a persistent failure to follow Him is a reason to question your relationship with Him. (Remember, 1 John 2:3-5 is preceded by 1 John 2:1-2 in which John tells us of the Advocate we have in Christ when we sin. Perfection is not in view here; rampant refusal to obey His commands is.)
Sure, we all sin in many ways (James 3:2). He might, in a moment of weakness, find himself looking at porn and repent. She might, without thinking, opt to refuse to submit to her husband and regret it. Oh, and there is the ever present "pride monster", a roaring lion of its own waiting to attack us. We all do it. I'm not talking about sinning -- about the normal sin-repent cycle we all experience. I'm talking about refusal to obey. Obedience is important, and I'm suggesting that we seem to have a systemic disobedience in many of the commands we've been given. What kinds of commands am I referring to? Well, we all know the command sequence Paul gave the Thessalonians.
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
How well would you say you do that? Any of it? Rejoice, pray, give thanks? Notice the superlatives: "always", "without ceasing", "in everything". A bit much, right? But Paul says that "this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus", so it would seem to be important. Do you? Do you at least make an effort? We often wonder, "What is God's will for my life?" and we have something here in print in God's inspired Word and we seem to largely ignore it. Doesn't that seem problematic?
We live in America, the home of the brave ... and exceedingly rich by the world's standards. So I would argue that most of us struggle with covetousness and greed. We find excuses for not being satisfied and think up ways why it would be good and right to be greedy ... which Scriptures calls "idolatry" (Colossians 3:5). I'm not talking about the "slip and fall" type. I'm talking about the sustained "No, I don't have to obey that command" type. That seems like an issue for American Christians.
Which of us has never heard of the Great Commission? It is, after all, part of the grand scheme of God in which believers are to take part.
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20)
We are ostensibly followers of Christ. That's what "Christian" means. He gave this Great Commission to His followers. "Make disciples." Do we? Sure, it's big. It includes going and spreading the gospel. It includes baptism. It includes teaching them "all that I commanded you." It should be done as Jesus did (since we are, after all, followers of Christ). Do we do anything like this on the whole? Do you know a church that teaches and practices discipleship? Is your Christian experience one of being discipled and discipling others? Here we have a straightforward command from our Lord based on His ultimate authority (Matthew 28:18) and yet we calmly and coolly mostly skip out on it. We don't even do the watered down version much -- "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." (Mark 16:15) "It's okay," we tell ourselves. "There are missionary types who will do this for us. We can keep safe here in our shell as long as we give out some dollars to support them, can't we?" This is a prime command from our Lord Jesus Christ not given to Old Testament Israel but to the Church that we largely choose to ignore in our personal lives.
Just a few examples. Not small ones, big ones. We don't even need to go with the top two: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and body, and love your neighbor as yourself. How hard do we work at those two? Not hard enough, I'd guess. I think if you looked at Scripture you'd find a tendency in yourself to pick and choose what commands you'll obey and what you'll ignore. So while we fend off the false accusation of the skeptics in theory, we end up affirming it in practice. Mind you, I'm not pointing fingers at you here. I'm looking in a mirror. I suspect, however, that other genuine, Bible-believing Christians might find that they might see a similar reflection in their own mirrors. I know it has been fairly common in my long Christian experience. So maybe you might want to "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!" (2 Corinthians 13:5) You know, "Be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you." (2 Peter 1:10) We who wish to follow Christ ought to be following Christ, oughtn't we? Not picking and choosing.