Robert Jeffress - Developing An Obedient Heart
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. Christians like to hear pastors talk about love or forgiveness or the glory of heaven. But the moment you start talking about obedience people get a little defensive! "Obedience? Really? Doesn't God just want me to have faith? He doesn't really expect me to do anything. Does he"? Well, today we'll see how misguided that thinking really is because, without a doubt, obedience is one of the essential marks of a true disciple of Christ. My message is titled, "Developing an Obedient Heart", on today's edition of Pathway to Victory!
I don't know about you, but I like people who obey me. I just do, especially people under my authority. I'm not saying I'm some tyrannical despot, but I'd like people who do what I ask them to do without a lot of hassle. Amy and I hired a painter not long ago to do some touch-up work around the house. I am telling you everything we asked was met with resistance. He'd give us a list of reasons he couldn't do the simple things we asked him to do, and Amy and I vowed we will never use that painter again. You know I think about our staff, we've got such a gifted and wonderful staff here, but I appreciate those staff members who do what I ask them to do even though they may not understand why: at least they believe maybe I know something they don't know about a situation and they comply with my request. Those are the staff members, admittedly, that I favor. Those are the ones who get the raises and the promotions because they do what I ask them to do. Hint to staff members listening today. I think about my own children.
You know, I remember many years ago I was talking to one of my daughters about a particular behavior, and I said: you know honey, I love you and I want the best for you, that's why I want you to do this. I didn't know how she would react. And she said: dad, I'll do what you ask me to do. I mean at that moment she could have asked me for anything in the world. I'm glad she didn't, but she could have and I would have given it to her because I want to reward my children when they obey me. Now, why is it that I use contractors, I favor employees, and I reward children who obey me? It's because I am made in the image of a God who uses favors and rewards those who obey him. God rewards those who obey him because they understand the nature of their relationship to him, they trust his judgment, and they trust his motives.
Today we're in our series on Seven Marks of a Disciple, and today we're going to discover another one of those marks of a follower of Jesus Christ: and that is: an obedient heart. A true follower of Christ is one who obeys Jesus in all things that he has commanded them, according to Matthew chapter 28. You know, Jesus demands from us an obedient heart. Just listen to some of the commands in scripture that he gave. John 14:21, "He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me, and he who loves me shall be loved by my father and I will love him and will disclose myself to him". Or John 8:51, "Truly, truly, I say to you if anyone keeps my word he shall never see death". Or John 3:36, this is a great one to memorize, "He who believes in the son has eternal life, but he who does not obey the son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him".
You know one of the downsides of the evangelical faith tradition is this idea that we have that somehow belief in Jesus is essential for salvation, but obedience to Jesus is optional. We give people the idea that you can trust in God to take care of you in the next life without trusting him enough to obey him in this life. But Jesus never gives us that option. He never gives us a dichotomy between trust in him for salvation but distrust in him for obedience. You know it's no accident that the words in the Bible, the Greek word "Obey" and "Trust" are very similar. The Greek word obey, peitho, the Greek word trust, pisteuo, are very similar because they are really the same thing.
It was Bonhoeffer who said: only he who believes truly obeys, and only he who obeys truly believes. You can't truly believe Christ without obeying Christ. That's what Jesus is saying to us. Jesus not only commanded obedience but he demonstrated obedience in his own relationship with God. In John 4:34 he said, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work". In John 6:38 he said, "For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but to do the will of him who sent me". And Jesus demonstrated that not just in his words, but in his actions. In fact Jesus in his life demonstrated three key characteristics of an obedient heart, the kind of obedience that God demands from us. First of all, Jesus' life demonstrates immediate obedience to God. Immediate obedience to God.
Now I'm not suggesting Jesus was some divine robot who was programmed to say 'yes' automatically to God - Jesus struggled with doing the will of God sometimes. There was no greater struggle he experienced than that of Gethsemane. In Luke 22:42 he said, "Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup, this experience from me". Jesus did not want to go to the cross. Not only because of the physical torture, but because of the spiritual agony of for the first time ever being separated from his Heavenly Father because he was burying the sins of the world. So he begged: find another way, God: and yet after that semi-colon he quickly added, "Yet not my will, but your will be done".
Let me give you a little insight here. When we develop an obedient heart, the more we obey God we find that interval between God's command and our obedience shorter and shorter and shorter, but here's the flipside to that: the longer the gap between God's command and our obedience, the greater the opportunity for Satan to gain a victory in our life. When God speaks, the longer we say: well God, let me think about that and get back to you on it – the greater the opportunity for Satan to persuade us to go another way. Jesus demonstrated immediate obedience. Secondly, Jesus demonstrated complete obedience to God. The puritan writer Thomas brooks said: no man obeys God truly who does not endeavor to obey God fully. Complete obedience. The obedience that God demands from each of us is not just a partial obedience, it is complete obedience.
And by the way, Jesus demonstrated that in Philippians 2:8 when he said, "And being found in the appearance of a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross". Jesus' obedience wasn't partial - it was complete. And then, finally, the kind of obedience God demands from us is a joyful obedience. Did you know the Bible says right now there is a whole audience watching our relationship to God, how we respond to God our father? The audience consists of people here on earth who are watching whether or not we obey God completely, and fully, and joyfully, but there's also an unseen audience in heaven - those who've gone before us and are in heaven, not to mention the invisible angels and demons who are watching everything. And we either give glory to God or we hurt God's reputation for how we respond to the commands of our Heavenly Father.
If you think that's a stretch, consider Hebrews chapter 12 that compares our life to a race, an Olympic style race, and God has a specific course he's laid out for us to run, and as we go around that course to complete it, it takes perspiration and determination. And whenever we're tempted to give up, Hebrews 12:2 says: we need to look at somebody else who finished the course that was set before him, "Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross". No, Jesus wasn't giddy of how the idea of going to Calvary, but he did it anyway. Why? Because he was able to look past the agony of Calvary and look to the ecstasy of the unending reward God had planned for him. And that's the kind of obedience God wants from us: to obey without a lot of argument, obey because we trust God's plan for our life.
What is it that keeps us from that complete, immediate, and joyful obedience? Let me mention several barriers to that kind of obedience that God commands, two specifically. One is: our distance from God. Let's just be honest: it's hard to obey an invisible being, isn't it? One we've never seen, one who seems so far away. By the way, that's nothing new. The Israelites had trouble obeying God because of their distance from God. Remember that story in Exodus chapter 32 when the children of Israel were at the foot of mount Sinai, and Moses went up the mountain to receive the commandments from God? They were having a difficult time enough obeying a God they'd never seen, but now their leader disappears. So what do they do? They fall into immorality and disobedience. Out of sight, out of mind.
I'm not saying that's a right excuse for disobeying God, but it at least helps us understand one reason we find it difficult to obey God. But an even more potent barrier to obedience to God is our distrust of God. It's not just our distance from God - at the heart of our disobedience to God is a basic innate distrust we have of God. You know somebody has said: all sin is basically contempt for God. Whenever we violate God's command, we're saying: God, I don't trust you. You may be more powerful than I am, but I don't really believe what you've said is what is best for me. Every time we sin we are basically casting a no confidence vote in God. That's the barrier to our obedience, our distrust of God.
How do we develop an obedient heart, a heart that reflexively obeys God completely, immediately, and joyfully? It doesn't happen automatically. We don't get one of those hearts the moment we are saved. The key is we have to transform our hearts, and it is a joint project between God and us. Salvation is God's work alone, but sanctification, becoming more like Christ is a joint effort between God and us. Even Jesus, you know, this is one of the most amazing verses in the Bible, Hebrews 5:8 says, "Though Jesus was a son, he learned obedience by the things that he suffered".
Now think about this: if Jesus the perfect Son of God had to learn how to obey his Heavenly Father, how much more do you and I have to learn how to obey God? How do we do it? Let me suggest four practical ways to develop this obedient heart. First of all, decide that obedience is a priority in your life. Decide that obedience is a priority in your life. I know that sounds simple, but let me just say the reason most of us don't obey God regularly is because we have no intention of obeying God regularly. One writer said it this way: if you will stop and ask yourself why you are not as pious as the early Christians were, your own heart will tell you that it is neither through ignorance nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it. We have to intentionally decide that we're going to obey God. We have to come to the point in our life when we say: God, I believe what you say is true and I really do believe you want what is best for me.
By the way, a great scripture passage to memorize that reminds us that God's will and God's word are perfect for us is the passage from Psalm 19. Read this and meditate upon it regularly, "The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever. The judgments of the Lord are true, they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, more than fine gold: and sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb". God's commands are not evil, they're not bad, they're not going to hurt us - they are good, they are pure, they are delightful. Develop that intention: decide that obeying God is your intention.
Secondly, develop a God-is-here mindset. Develop a God-is-here mindset. If one reason we have trouble obeying God is because of our distance from God, we've got to develop what we call this God-is-here mindset. What do you mean by that, pastor? Think about king David for a moment. Now when we think about David, what do we think about? The big mess up with Bathsheba, right? But other than that one flub up, you know, the Bible says David was, in fact, a man after God's own heart. Why was that? The key to David's spiritual life was found in Psalm 16 verse 8. This is so rich. David said, "I have set the Lord continually before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken".
Now David what do you mean you have set the Lord before you? I mean you wrote in Psalm 139, "Where can I go and escape from God's spirit? He is everywhere that I am". That's the omnipresence of God, yes, he is everywhere, we just don't realize he's everywhere. We don't realize he's there and watching us, and close to us so we have to continually develop the mindset that says God is here. He is here. How did David do that? One way he did it, Psalm 1, was by meditating on God's law: day and night: reading the Torah, the scriptures. It reminded him that God is here, and that's a key for us to remember God is here, by continually reading his word. We need to work at reminding ourselves that God is here. You see there's an inseparable link between thinking about God and obeying God.
A third key to developing that obedient heart is: obey all that you know to be true. Obey all that you know to be true. Deuteronomy 30 verse 2, "And you return to the Lord your God and obey him with all of your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons". Or Deuteronomy 32 verse 46, he said to them, "Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, which you shall command your sons to observe carefully, even all the words of this law".
A fourth essential for developing an obedient heart is: remember the reward for obedience. Remember the reward for obedience. Listen to Hebrews 11:6. I want you to listen to this: look at it carefully. "Without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him". If you're going to obey God continually, yes, you must believe that God exists. That's kind of a no-brainer, isn't it? You must believe that God is, but believing God is is not enough. For consistently obeying God you have to believe that one day there's a pay-off for your obedience, that one day he is going to reward you for your obedience to him.
You know we look at that kind of skeptically. For example, a parent who rewards his child gives him a quarter or a dollar every time the child obeys the parent, we think: oh, you're messed up. You ought to teach your kids to do the right thing because it's the right thing to do. Or a first grade teacher who gives out candy to the students who do well on a test: oh, no, no, no, no, no, you need to teach them to do well in school just for the joy of learning - you don't need to give them a reward. But do you know what? God knows us better than we know ourselves. God says unless there is a promised reward in the future, you're not going to stay in that troubled marriage. You're not going to say 'no' consistently to temptations. You're not going to continue at a difficult ministry unless you believe there is a pay-off at the end. And that's why we have to believe that there is a reward for obedience.
Think about Hebrews chapter 11, the great roll-call of faith - what was their motivation to obey God? It was the promise of a future reward that kept them going. Hebrews 11 verse 13 says, "All of these died in faith without receiving the promises". They didn't get the pay-off in this life. They died without receiving the promises, "But having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one". They obeyed God in this life because of the belief that they had a better life that was coming. Even Jesus did that.
Again, remember, it was because of the joy that was set before him that Jesus endured the agony of Calvary to experience that ecstasy of his unending rewards from God. No act of obedience is small in God's eyes, whether it's saying 'no' to a temptation or 'yes' to the ultimate sacrifice, we obey God believing that one day he is going to reward us for doing so. And remember no act of obedience is inconsequential in God's eyes.
Philip Yancey, the great Christian writer, talks about seeing a documentary on television about some of the survivors of World War II. Listen to what he says. This is so fascinating. He said: the soldiers recalled how they spent a particular day. One sat in the fox hole all day. Once or twice a German tank drove by and he shot at it. Others played cards and frittered away the time. A few got involved in a furious firefight. Mostly, the day passed like any other day for an infantryman on the front. Later these soldiers learned that they had just participated in one of the largest, most decisive engagements of the war - the battle of the bulge. It didn't feel like it was decisive to any of them at the time because none of them had the big picture of what was happening elsewhere.
And then Yancey adds: great victories are won when ordinary people execute their assigned tasks, and a faithful person does not debate each day whether he's in the mood to follow the sergeant's orders or to show up at a boring job. We exercise faith by responding to the task that lies before us, for we have control only over our actions in the present moment. What is God asking you to do today? It may be something monumental. It may seem inconsequential, but whatever God is asking you to do today, saying 'yes' is the first step in developing an obedient heart.