You can’t claim obedience until you’ve had the choice to disobey

Have you ever wanted something wrong so badly you couldn’t think about anything else? You can’t sleep. You can’t get anything done. It could be anything–person, place, or thing. Food or drink or money or power or fame or toys. Has the desire for that thing ever taken over and lured you into rationalizing that it’s okay for you to have it or to do it?

Everybody goes through that. Everyone has experienced that. Even Jesus did. He let Himself be put in a situation where He was extremely vulnerable to temptation, but He had a secret weapon. Know what it was?

AppleTemptToday’s verses are Matthew 4:1-11.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” 

Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’ ” Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’ ” 

Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.” 

“Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’ ” Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus. 

Firstly, it’s not a sin to eat bread. Let’s just get that little thing out of the way.

People sometimes wonder why Jesus put Himself in this situation. Well, I think it’s because He had to have the opportunity to disobey. Adam and Eve were tempted the same three ways (the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, which repeats over and over throughout Scriptures) and failed. Jesus passed.

You can claim to be an obedient servant of God all you want, but until you’ve had the opportunity to disobey, you’re making stuff up. If you haven’t had the chance to choose between doing what God says versus doing what Satan wants or what you want, you can’t say you’re obedient or disobedient. Now, in our world, there’s ample opportunity to disobey, so it’s not like we need to go out looking for situations where we can face this choice. But it’s the principle we need to remember. Just because you believe in Jesus doesn’t make you obedient.

You realize, Jesus could have disobeyed if He wanted to. But He didn’t. He pulled out His secret weapon for overcoming the temptation. He stared Satan in the face and quoted Scripture at Him. Can you imagine what that scene must have looked like?

But does that really work? Can you quote a Bible verse and make temptation flee in terror? Honestly, Bible verses are just words. They’re like any other statement until you take them to heart and start living by them. Jesus believed that we need God more than we need food. He believed that He was secure enough in God’s love that He didn’t need to test the Lord. He believed that only God deserves to be worshiped. But more than just believing it, He let those beliefs direct His life choices. That’s what made the difference.

I think of Jesus as this conquering King who’s coming back to take over the world any day now, and He’ll ride across the skies in glorious splendor and take us all home where we won’t have to put up with this crazy world anymore. So it’s easy for me to forget that Jesus was human just like me. He faced the same temptations I do, but when he had to choose, he chose to obey the Bible, to depend on God, because God is right and true.

I am subject to the same passions and desires, but I don’t have to obey them. Instant gratification, insecurity, and pride are temptations that we all experience — but that doesn’t mean we have to accept them. I can choose not to sin. Jesus gave me that ability. Thanks to God, I have the power to do what is right, which will allow God to bless me.

You can quote all the Scripture you want, and it’s good to know it by heart. But until you actually live by it, they’ll just be words on a page. Jesus followed God’s Word–what God had revealed to the people at that time. So I need to do the same. Not just saying I know it, but doing it. Just like Jesus did.

The difference between being Christian and being Christ-like

Imagine, one day you meet someone who says he or she is a writer. That’s awesome, right? So you ask them what they write, and they respond: “Well, I’m not really writing anything now. But I will soon.” Are they really a writer?

Let’s try another job description. One that’s not artsy. How about an engineer? If someone tells you they are an engineer, generally you ask what they build or what they design. But what if the engineer you’re talking to has never built anything or designed anything?

There’s a big discrepancy in both of those situations. You can claim to be a writer all day long and never act like a writer. You can know everything you need to know to be an engineer but never act like an engineer. So why do we think it’s different with our faith?

roads-divergingToday’s verses are Deuteronomy 30:19-20.

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the Lord, you will live long in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

My Bible study group recently finished a section on the Book of Deuteronomy, which is Moses’ instructions to the Children of Israel before they are about to go into the Land of Canaan.

God is really straightforward with them, and He repeats Himself a lot. Basically what He says is that if they obey Him, they’ll be blessed, and if they disobey Him, they’ll be cursed. Pretty simple, right? If you’ve read the book, you know how that story goes.

And, yes, God is speaking directly to the Children of Israel in this particular verse, but what He’s saying relates to our lives today as well.

We all face choices every day. We can choose to take God at His Word and obey Him, regardless of whether it’s fun or not. Or we can choose to live life on our own terms. Those are the only choices we have. You choose life or death, blessings or curses. Just like the Children of Israel did.

And just like the Children of Israel, if you want to be obedient to God, you need to love Him and commit yourself to Him. That means doing what He says is right. That means living your life in a way that would please Him. That means making choices that honor God. That means living a Christ-like life.

But how many of us know it’s true that you can call yourself a Christian all day long but not be Christ-like?

Just like a writer who doesn’t write or an engineer who doesn’t design, a Christian isn’t automatically Christ-like. That’s a choice you have to make every hour of every day.

I know a particularly troublesome Christian who is sometimes the least Christ-like person you’ll ever meet. I saw her in the mirror this morning. 😉

I’m stubborn. I want my own way. I think I know best. And I don’t want to do it God’s way because He’ll take me down a road that won’t be fun, and I just want to have fun. And believe me, I’ve lived through the consequences of those choices, and I can tell you from experience that it’s better to listen to God. But I’m a work in progress. Every Christian is.

You’re a Christian the moment you trust Christ for your salvation, but becoming Christ-like is a process.

If you want to call yourself a Christian, fine. Carry a Bible. Memorize Scripture. Go to church. Do the Christian thing. But what difference will a title make in your life if you don’t do what a Christian is supposed to do? A Christian is supposed to be Christ-like, and that doesn’t happen just because you install a Bible app on your smartphone.

Learning to follow God is more than just going to church or memorizing Bible verses or going to a Bible study. You follow God in the little things. Following God happens in the small moments–or at least, they may be small moments to you. They’re the moments when you refuse to participate in office gossip. They’re the moments when you decide to bite your tongue instead of saying something rude. They’re the moments when you do something kind instead of something mean. They’re the moments when you choose to love someone you don’t think deserves it.

In those moments, you choose to do those things for no other reason than God told you to. Those are the moments when you are Christ-like, and that’s far more important than being a Christian any day.