Jim Wilson is the retired director of Community Christian Ministries in Moscow, Idaho. He will be posting regularly, so check back in soon!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Refraining from Disobedience

There are several aspects of the Christian life that are generally considered under the heading obedience. The first is refraining from disobedience; the second is the state of walking in the light; and the third is an active, positive obedience to New Testament commands. These are not necessarily in the order of importance. They are in the order they will be covered here.

Refraining from Disobedience

The first broken command was worded negatively: “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Almost all of the ten commandments were also worded negatively. Starting with Deuteronomy 5:8, “You shall not” occurs eleven times in the next thirteen verses.

Disobedience is doing, thinking, or saying that which we have been commanded not to do or think or say. It is also the opposite: not doing, not thinking or not saying that which we are commanded to do or think or say. For example,

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37, 38 NIV)

Neglecting to love the Lord in this way is a violation of the first and greatest commandment. It is easier to measure disobedience by what we do rather than by what we do not do. This, however, does not keep the latter from being sin.

The first means of refraining from disobedience is to know the commandments. Ignorance does not keep an act from being sin. Contrary to the view of many Christians, not knowing does not constitute a justification for sin. Not knowing you were not suppose to marry an unbeliever does not make it right. Leviticus chapters 4 and 5 are given to the subject of unintentional sin.

If a member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands, he is guilty. (Leviticus 4:27 NIV)

If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD commands, even though he does not know it, he is guilty and will be held responsible. (Leviticus 5:17 NIV)

It is important to know the commands and obey them.

The second means of refraining from disobedience is to know God’s character so well that anything that comes across your path that does not have God’s characteristics will be recognized as from the enemy. The devil is a liar.

...He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44b NIV)

A liar does not say, “Do not listen to me because I am lying to you.” He says, “Listen to me; I am telling the truth.” Both the liar and the truth teller say, “I am telling the truth.” Therefore, you must know the truth teller so well that you will recognize a lie by the character of the teller.

An example of this occurs in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Both Lucy and Edmond had been to Narnia. When Lucy told Peter and Susan about the wonders in Narnia, she expected Edmond to back her up. Instead, Edmond said that Lucy was playing make believe. One was lying and one was telling the truth, and both said they were telling the truth. Peter and Susan went to see Professor Kirk for advice. After hearing the story the Professor replied, “Does your experience lead you to regard your brother or your sister as the more reliable? I mean, which is more truthful?” Peter said, “Up till now, I’d have said Lucy every time.” He then asked Susan the same question. “Well, in general, I’d say the same as Peter.” The Professor then replied, “You know she doesn’t tell lies, and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then, and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.” Do you know God’s character as Peter and Susan knew Lucy’s? You will find God’s character revealed in the Scriptures.

The third means of refraining from sin is to avoid temptation. Temptation is not the act of the enemy only. You also have a part. Your part is mentioned in James 1:14:

…but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. (NIV)

The first way of avoiding temptation is your own will; you choose not to feed your evil desires. The second way is with God’s help; God will keep the evil one from tempting you. When temptation is cut down, sin is cut down. God’s part is in answering the prayer Jesus taught us to pray:

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:13 NIV)

The fourth means of refraining from sin is to not be overly confident.

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:12 NIV)

Sin is like falling off a cliff. Christians do not want to fall but they do want to admire the view. So they get as close to the edge as they can with overconfidence and carelessness, knowing that they will not fall. Do not be confident or careless, and do not wish to admire the view. Stay away from the edge!

Sometimes it becomes necessary to get close to the edge when you are helping someone who has fallen or is about to fall. There are two strong texts referring to this action.

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. (Galatians 6:1 NIV)

Notice, only spiritual people should do the restoring and they should watch out, not to keep from sinning, but to keep from being tempted.

Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear¾hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. (Jude 22, 23 NIV)

There must be an abhorrence for sin if you are in the rescuing business.

A good, stout fence is a requirement at the edge of any cliff. It is much more valuable than keeping an ambulance parked in the valley. Both may be necessary, but the rescuer at the bottom is not in as much danger as the rescuer at the top. A fence is made of the Word, prayer, and fellowship with other Christians. In addition, a support group of Christians in prayer for you is like having a safety line around your waist and having it anchored to the Christians away from the edge. Do not be overconfident!

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV)

We know of the faithfulness of God before temptation occurs and after sin occurs (1 John 1:9), but this verse is speaking of God’s faithfulness in the middle or during the temptation. God’s faithfulness does not mean He will physically or spiritually pull us out of the temptation. He limits the temptations by their nature (“common to man”), by their strength (“not beyond what you can bear”), and by providing a way out. All of these require a decision on the part of the Christian.

The fifth and sixth means of keeping from sin go together. The fifth is to make a stand against the devil and the sixth is to run away from him.
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7 NIV)

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. (1 Timothy 6:11 NIV)

Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22 NIV)

Either the devil flees or you flee. One of the two should run. You should not sit around and chit-chat with the devil. Resisting is by far the best way. Then the devil does the running. It is the way Jesus handled temptation in the wilderness (and other places where He was attacked). He turned the defense into an offense. The devil attacked first. Jesus counter-attacked with the Word of God.

There is a condition that is necessary before you can resist and counter-attack. James 4:6-7 gives that prerequisite:

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:6-7 NIV)

In order to resist effectively, you must submit to God in humility, whereby you receive grace.

In Ephesians there are two conditions to our resistance of sin. We are told these two conditions in Ephesians 6:10, 11:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. (NIV)

This enables us to take our stand against the devil’s schemes. The stand will be effective only when we have God’s armor and God’s power. It was the same with Jesus.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4:1 NIV)

Prior to the stand, the resistance, the counter-attack, you must submit to God in humility. You must have God’s power and God’s armor.

If you cannot meet these conditions then you must run. Even if you are able to resist, there are certain temptations you must flee from, such as the desire to get rich, love of money and eagerness for money.

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. (1 Timothy 6:11 NIV)

You must flee the one and pursue the other.

(An excerpt from On Being a Christian by Jim Wilson)

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