To understand the rationale for a specific command is helpful but not necessary in order to obey it. Do you obey the Lord with all your heart even when you donít understand or agree with a particular precept?
Have you ever played Simon Says? I suspect most of you have played the game at one time or another in your childhood. I have always enjoyed the game, especially when I was Simon. I still remember a little trick I learned that would always eliminate everyone from the game. The best time to use this trick is toward the end of the game when there are only a few hotshots left who have basically mastered the game. The trick is simple, yet effective. I would first say: "Simon says, 'Jump up'," and while they are all in midair I would quickly yell: "Come back down!" Needless to say, it got them every time!
I think there are some valuable lessons we can learn from the game Simon Says. In a nutshell, the game is all about obedience. Simon says to do something--he gives his authority--and it is to be done. But, if Simon doesn't say to do it, then such should not be done! In some respects, life is like playing Simon Says, and the Lord is Simon. When God gives instructions or authorization through His word for something to be done, then it is to be done. But, if no authority is granted for a particular action, then such should not be done.
Our focus today is upon the theme of "Obeying God 100%." Partial obedience is never sufficient. The Lord expects complete submission to His will. When one is only partially obedient, he is disobedient in God's eyes.
Take a moment and think about how mankind began and how sin entered the world. Back in the Garden of Eden, God had just finished the creation and acknowledged that it was "very good" (Gen. 1:31). God had formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed life into him (Gen. 2:7). God had fashioned an appropriate helper for man--woman. We can only imagine what it would have been like to be in that garden. It was surely beautiful and perfect. Adam and Eve could do whatever they pleased, with one exception - "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (Gen. 2:17).
They were not permitted to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God had not given them a long list of prohibitions. He simply denied them one thing. And that which He denied them was not necessary for their existence or to sustain life. We do not know how much time passed between the issuing of that single prohibition and the breaking of it, but we do know how the story goes. Adam and Eve did violate this law. They were tempted, and they yielded to that temptation.
But the question may be raised, "Why didn't they die that day as God promised?" The answer: they did! Death is a separation. Adam and Eve continued to live physically, but they died spiritually that day. They were spiritually severed or separated from their close fellowship with God. They had sinned. They had rebelled against God's revealed will to them. This type of separation or death is mentioned in Isaiah 59:1,2 - "Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear." Iniquity or sin separates one from God. God hates sin, which is lawlessness (I John 3:4). Sin is missing the mark; it is lawbreaking, but sin is not just breaking any law--it is breaking God's law!
From the beginning of mankind, God has always had law. The men who lived from Adam to Moses had a law system. It was not written, per se, but they did have some form of law. They were responsible to God.
If we look at the time period from Moses to Christ, we see a very detailed set of laws and commands, commonly referred to as the Old Testament. The Old Testament was given to the Hebrew people (i.e., the descendants of Abraham). Its purpose was to bring them to the Messiah or prepare them for His coming (Gal. 3:24,25). It was also designed to keep sin "in check," so to speak, until the fullness of time had come (Gal. 4:4). So, the Hebrews who lived before Christ were responsible to God also. They had laws to obey.
The Gentiles living at this time were still under a form of law by God, although we know very little about it. We do see from some of the Minor Prophets that God had not abandoned the Gentiles; He still loved them and expected them to obey the form of law He had required of them.
Since Pentecost of Acts 2, all men have been bound by the law of Christ, the New Testament. Men today must follow the teachings of this covenant and submit to God as He expects.
It is abundantly clear that mankind has always had laws from God, for if there were no laws there could be no sin (Rom. 4:15), but all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Now it is also obvious that God has required different things from those who lived in different times. It would be absurd for one today to think that he is to offer animal sacrifices because David offered them under the Old Law. We are not bound by the Old Testament (Col. 2:14). On the other hand, it would be just as foolish to state that David was not saved because he was never baptized for the remission of his sins (Acts 2:38). Although such is a requirement under the New Covenant, immersion in water for forgiveness was never required of David.
However, despite the differences in God's laws from one age to the next, if we look closely at the examples we have in the Bible, we can see that God has always required one primary thing of man. What is it? He requires that man love Him with all his heart. Deuteronomy 6:5 - "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength" (cf. Matt. 22:37,38).
But what does it mean to love God? Jesus explains it to us - "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments, and His commandments are not burdensome" (I John 5:3). To love God is to obey Him. That sounds simple enough. But man has always had trouble with simple things. Adam and Eve did back in the garden. So did Nadab and Abihu, as well as Jonah, Ananias and Sapphira, etc.
But why does man have so much trouble obeying God? One reason can be found in I Samuel 15. In I Samuel 15:3, God commanded King Saul to go and to completely destroy the Amalekites because of the evil they had done to Israel. Saul was to destroy everything: the people and all their animals. But, Saul had a better idea (or so he thought), and no doubt he was very sincere in this idea. I Samuel 15:8,9 tells us what Saul actually did - "He also took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed." God was certainly not pleased by their actions.
Saul thought he had a good reason for not killing all the animals. He planned to offer them as a sacrifice to God (cf. 15:15)! Wasn't that a good reason? Was there anything wrong with Saul wanting to offer a sacrifice to God? Of course not. But, those specific animals were to be destroyed--they were under God's ban. Doing what God had commanded was more important than Saul trying to please the LORD in his own way. Samuel explains this to Saul in I Samuel 15:22 - "Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams."
To obey is better than to sacrifice! Doing what God has commanded is always more important than disobeying and doing things one's own way. No matter how noble the action is we may be doing, it will never please God if it involves disobeying Him. Saul tried to justify himself, but one cannot justify any action that is contrary to God's will, regardless of how well he can "rationalize" the action to himself.
Sometimes man has problems obeying God because he likes to do things his own way; he thinks that his own way is as good as or better than God's way! This was the problem Saul had. This was the problem Nadab and Abihu had in offering fire in a presumptuous manner to God (Lev. 10). This was the problem Moses had in a fit of rage when he struck the rock God had told him to simply speak to (Num. 20). This was the problem Adam and Eve had back in the garden. It was the problem Lot's wife had in turning and looking back at the destruction of the cities Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19). And it is the very problem many people have today when they look to the Bible and study God's plan of salvation or what God expects in Christian worship. Too many folks want to obey God partially, but not completely. They are hesitant to obey completely because there are some things they do not understand or see the necessity of doing. Thus, they obey God's word to the extent that it suits them, but in some areas they trust their own judgment and ideas over the word of God. May it never be so with you and I!
I once heard a preacher use a good illustration on this point in one of his sermons:
Back in the days of the pioneer--when land west of the Appalachian Mountains was still wilderness--a man who lived on the eastern seaboard decided to move his family and settle in what is now Kentucky. The man sent his oldest son ahead to prepare the way for the family. The son was to erect a crude log cabin, build a barn, and dig a well so there would be some place for the family when they arrived. Before the son left, the father drew a simple diagram of how he wanted the homestead arranged and showed the son where to build the log cabin, where to erect the barn, and where to dig the well. The son took the diagram, and, when he reached the designated spot, he pulled the diagram out and began to examine it. After examining the diagram and studying the land, the son said, "Yes, my father is exactly right with reference to the house. That is where it ought to be built." So the son built the cabin on the spot designated. He examined the diagram again and said, "Yes, he was right with reference to where the barn ought to be built." So he erected the barn at the spot his father had said. However, when the time came to dig the well, the son examined the diagram and said, "He is entirely wrong about that. That is not the place where the well ought to be; it ought to be over here at a different spot." So the son dug the well at the place he thought it ought to be.
Did the son really and sincerely obey his father? Absolutely not! While it is true that the son conformed to what his father had instructed two out of the three times, he did not do so because his father said it. He did it because it met his own approval. When his judgment was different than that of his father, he did not hesitate to set aside his father's will in preference to his own.
We must realize that true obedience is doing something because God says to do it! We must do it in the way He specified and for the purpose in which He specified. Obedience is not doing something because we understand the need for it or see a logical reason for it. In fact, I believe God requires us to do some things that are not logical just to test our hearts to see if we will submit to His commands. We see this very clearly in the plan of salvation set forth in the New Testament.
According to the Scriptures, in order for one to be saved today, he must hear the gospel message and believe it (Rom. 10:17; John 8:24). Then he must be willing to repent of his sinful ways and confess His faith in the Lord (Luke 13:3; Rom. 10:9,10). Finally, he must be willing to submit to immersion (baptism) for the forgiveness of his sins (Acts 2:38). Most of those steps, except the last one, seem reasonable to most people. They understand the need to believe in God and to turn away from sin. They view confessing one's faith as a reasonable part of the salvation process. However, most people simply do not view baptism for the remission of one's sins as reasonable. They do not comprehend how such an act could be related to forgiveness. Thus, most casually ignore the plain Bible teaching on the subject because they can't understand how it could be important to God.
I'll be honest, I don't understand why God specifically chose immersion in water to be the culminating act of one's cleansing of sin. I know there is some powerful symbolism set forth in Romans 6, but still, why baptism? Why not some other act? Why not an act that everyone would clearly understand and realize the need for such? I would suggest that God commanded baptism as a test of man's heart and attitude. It's as if He is asking: Will you obey me completely even though you don't see the need or purpose in being baptized?
Saul didn't understand why God would want all those animals destroyed when they could be formally offered to God as sacrifices. But, the point is, Saul didn't need to understand the reason why! God commanded and he should have obeyed. Just like the game Simon Says. You don't question what Simon tells you to do. You just do it. The simple fact that Simon says it is reason enough to comply. Friends, our view toward God's commands should be identical to this. If we understand the rationale behind God's commands, that will certainly make it easier for us to obey, but whether we comprehend the reason or not is truly beside the point.
We are like God in that we've been made in His image, but we are not His equals! May we never forget that sober truth! May we try our very best to be like Noah and not King Saul. "Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did" (Gen. 6:22). Noah did not just obey partially in the construction of the ark, he obeyed completely--100%. He didn't try to rationalize or justify doing something different than what God commanded of him. True, he probably did not understand why he should use gopher wood or why the exact dimensions God gave were important, but we see his love for God in that he didn't question the Lord--he simply obeyed. Noah was a man who had a living faith that he demonstrated through his actions.
It has been said that the only part of the Bible one truly believes is the part he obeys. So, I'll leave you with these questions: Do you really believe God's word? Do you obey Him 100% or merely when you agree with or understand the rationale behind His instructions? Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.