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Christian Living

Do We Need to Obey God?

Doing What the Bible Says Isn’t a Requirement but a Response

In the post about how to be saved we realized there’s nothing we need to do (or can do) to earn our salvation; it’s a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). This means we don’t need to first obey God before he accepts us. He accepts us through no merit of our own. We just need to receive his goodness—his grace—through faith. It’s that simple.

But Don’t Abuse God’s Grace

In a spiritual sense, grace means receiving something from God that we don’t deserve. Just as we don’t deserve salvation, we don’t deserve his love either. We don’t need to obey God for him to love us. He loves us—despite ourselves and our actions—and he always has and always will. He loved us when we were still disobedient, still sinners.

He loved us so much that Jesus died in our place (Romans 5:8). And nothing can cause him to withdraw his love from us (Romans 8:38-39). It’s another example of God’s endless grace.

If we don’t need to obey God for him to love us or to save us, does that mean we can continue to live in disobedience to him? To continue to sin? Of course not.

 Paul writes, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2, NIV).

Work Out Our Salvation

In another place Paul writes that we are to continue to work out our salvation  (Philippians 2:12-13). He doesn’t say we need to work for our salvation, but to work it out. It’s something we do after he saves us, not before, as in a prerequisite.

This means that we choose to obey God as a response to him loving us and saving us. The Bible calls this sanctification. And we’ll spend our whole life doing it, moving ourselves closer to God as we obey him.

We don’t have to do this, to work out our salvation by obeying him. But we should want to. He has, after all, given us the greatest present of all, the gift of eternal life with him.

We choose to live a life of obedience to God, not because we have to but because we want to. Click To Tweet

Obey God

We don’t need to obey God as a requirement to be saved. Instead, once we follow him and receive eternal life our response of gratitude is to obey God. It’s how we say thank you to him for the gift of salvation he gave us.

We choose to live a life of obedience to God, not because we have to but because we want to.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Do You Know What Your Mission Is?

How Closely Do You Do the Things God Tells You to Do?

Paul travels to Ephesus to tell people about Jesus. This is his mission, a mission for God. As a Jew it seems logical that he would go to his own people first to share this good news. He does. He goes to the local synagogue, where he spends three months boldly telling them about Jesus.

However, some of the Jews don’t like what they hear, so Paul leaves the synagogue, but he doesn’t leave Ephesus. Instead he goes to the local lecture hall, presumably a Greek hangout. There he speaks daily about Jesus. It apparently goes well, because he sticks around for two years.

In the end, everyone in the area—both Jews and Greeks—hear about Jesus (Acts 19:8-10).

I’m glad Paul goes to his own people first. And I’m glad he has a backup plan when his first one doesn’t work out. He seems to do this often when he enters a new city. He starts in the Synagogue, with his own people, and then expands his target audience when some of them oppose him.

In each city Paul goes to the Jews first, to give them a chance. Click To Tweet

Yet, why does he do this?

Paul’s assignment is the Gentiles, not the Jews. Ananias knows this at Paul’s (Saul’s) conversion (Acts 9:15), and Paul confirms this when he shares his conversion experience while on trial (Acts 22:21).

Yet to the Romans, Paul shares his deep love for his people. He writes that he is willing to be damned forever if his people could be saved (Romans 9:3-4).

Does this mean that Paul puts his own personal agenda before God’s command? While it might seem so, consider Peter when he quotes Psalm 118:22 to say that (most of) the Jews reject Jesus and then he becomes the cornerstone, presumably for everyone (Acts 4:11).

Perhaps Paul goes to the Jews first in each city to give them a chance. And when they reject his teaching about Jesus, he can freely go to the Gentiles, with scripture to back him up.

What may at first seem like disobedience may actually be a sound strategy.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Acts 18-19, and today’s post is on Acts 19:8-10.]

Read more about the book of Acts in Tongues of Fire: 40 Devotional Insights for Today’s Church from the Book of Acts, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover. [Originally published as Dear Theophilus Acts.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

When God Says Enough

Despite God’s longstanding patience giving us time to shape up, judgement will eventually come

The book of Ezekiel is an interesting one, packed with evocative prophetic imagery that portrays God’s power, patience, and eventual judgement. As follows through much of the Old Testament the people disobey God. He warns them to turn things around and is patient, hoping they will avoid the consequences of their wayward actions. He wishes for the best, and the people let him down.

But Ezekiel is confronted with a peculiar response to his messages of impending punishment. Like the boy who cried “wolf,” the people dismiss Ezekiel’s warnings (actually God’s warnings). They say, “Time passes on but these threats never happen.”

They stop taking Ezekiel (and God) seriously, which they never fully did to begin with. They feel quite justified in ignoring the word of God because they think there is no downside for disobedience.

There are consequences for disobeying God, and our time is up. Click To Tweet

There are Consequences

To this God says “enough.” He will withhold their punishment no longer and will fulfill all that he said. There will be no more delays.

I wonder how much we today are like these people of old, viewing God’s warnings as meaningless threats that will never happen. Since our wrong behavior receives no immediate punishment, perhaps we’re not so bad after all. Maybe God doesn’t really mean it when he says our wrong actions are sin.

To this I hear God again saying “Enough.”

There are consequences for disobeying God, and I fear our time is up.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Ezekiel 9-12, and today’s post is on Ezekiel 12:21-28.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

When God Calls Do We Answer? When He Speaks Do We Listen?

Punishment May Await Us If We Fail to Listen to God

Isaiah wraps up his lengthy prophecy talking about judgment. He prophesies that God has destined the people for death. That they will be slaughtered. There will be consequences.

Why would a loving God want to kill his people? Through the mouth of Isaiah, God explains why. He says that when he calls his people, they don’t answer. It would be like you and me passing each other on a path. You say, “Hi,” but I ignore you. That would be rude. It would disrespect you. And that’s exactly what God’s people do to him. They’re rude and disrespectful.

And to make sure we don’t miss his point, God rephrases it. He adds that when he speaks, his people don’t listen, either. That would be like you telling me, “Wait! Don’t step into the road.” But I ignore you, walk into traffic, and blam! A car hits me. So it is with God’s people. He tries to warn them, but they don’t listen.

Our Actions Have Consequences

Instead of answering, instead of listening, they do the exact things that God says are evil. They intentionally do what displeases him. That’s premeditated disobedience. They may figure they’re free to ignore what God says because they don’t think it matters or because they assume there will be no consequences. At least they haven’t seen any consequences for a long time.

But God’s patience is at its breaking point. He says, “Enough is enough; your time is up. You ignored me and disrespected me long enough. You’re about to enter the punishment phase,” all because they didn’t listen to God.

When God calls, we better answer. When God speaks, we better listen. Click To Tweet

We may have a similar view of God, perhaps not directly but indirectly. We may choose to ignore God because we think it doesn’t matter, that we’ll still get into heaven. We may assume there will be no consequences because we haven’t seen any yet. However, just because God loves us and will forgive us doesn’t mean our wrong actions won’t have negative outcomes.

When God calls, we better answer. When God speaks, we better listen.

[Read through the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Isaiah 64-66, and today’s post is on Isaiah 65:12.]

Read more about the book of Isaiah in For Unto Us: 40 Prophetic Insights About Jesus, Justice, and Gentiles from the Prophet Isaiah available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

We Need to Listen to God and Obey Him

Our Actions and Our Lack of Actions Have Consequences

As the Israelites prepare to enter the territory God promises to give them. Moses, relaying God’s words to the people, gives them a stern warning. Though God plans to give the land to his people, they must do their part to fully receive it. They must obey God.

He expects them to drive out the inhabitants, destroy their detestable religious practices, and take the land. Then they can settle down. Of course God will help his people do this, directing their actions and offering supernatural assistance. Yet they must do their part.

If the Israelites fail to do so, it will come back on them. The people they were supposed to chase away will eventually become the source of their downfall.

These foreigners will cause problems and distract God’s people so that they don’t obey him and don’t put him first as they should. They will be a snare.

But They Didn’t Obey God

If this happens, the punishment intended for these foreign nations will boomerang on the Israelites.

We know the rest of the story. They do not fully chase away the other nations; they do not fully take the land. They coexist with their enemies, intermarry, and adopt their foreign religious practices, something that is an anathema to God.

When God speaks we better listen–and obey. Click To Tweet

God gives them chance after chance. And though there are times of revival, they are short-lived. After several centuries of mostly disobedience, God does exactly what he warns them he will do.

Because of their failure to drive out the other nations, they are themselves driven out—first the nation of Israel and later the nation of Judah.

The people hear God’s instructions, but they only partially obey, which is the same as disobedience. There are consequences.

How is partial obedience the same as disobedience? Is partial obedience ever enough? 

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Numbers 31-33, and today’s post is on Numbers 33:55-56.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Consider the Timing of God’s Blessings

Pursuing the Right Priorities

In the post about the effects of priority we saw that wrong priorities produces wrong outcomes, whereas right priorities results in God’s blessings. It is, however, worth it to consider the timing of these two events.

The prophecy is given on the first day of the sixth month. The people respond to it about three weeks later, on the 24th day of the sixth month, by starting to rebuild God’s house.

Some might say that a delayed response is disobedience. However, a delayed response is better than no response.

God wanted to make sure they would follow through and take our work seriously. Click To Tweet

Then three months after reconstruction starts, on the 24th day of the ninth month, God promises to bless the people because of their obedience. Note that there is a three-month delay. The people did not receive an immediate blessing. Instead they received a delayed one.

It might be that God wanted to make sure they would follow through and take his work seriously. Or perhaps he was testing them. Would they continue to serve him and make him a priority even if he didn’t bless them?

What if they got discouraged and gave up after a week or a month?  What if they stopped obeying him on the 23rd day of the ninth month? If so they might have missed his blessing by one day.

I wonder if sometimes we give up too soon in obeying God. Do we do the right thing for a while, but not seeing any change, we revert to our old ways? If so, we may miss God’s blessings.

An important point, however, is that receiving God’s blessings is a bonus for doing what he says, not a given. Our motivation to obey God shouldn’t be to earn a reward.

Instead our obedience should be an act of love and worship. May we never lose sight of that.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Haggai 1-2, and today’s post is on Haggai 2:14-19.]

Learn more about all twelve of the Bible’s Minor Prophets in Peter’s book, Return to Me: 40 Prophetic Teachings about Unfaithfulness, Punishment, and Hope from the Minor Prophets

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

When We Say We’ll Do What God Says, Do We Really Mean It?

The People Ask Jeremiah to Seek God’s Will, But They Don’t Like the Answer

Those few of God’s chosen people left in the promised land have it bad. Babylon has conquered them. Insurgents have just killed their captor’s appointed ruler, and the people fear they’ll face retribution.

They Seek God

They do what they should’ve done all along. They turn to God. They want to know God’s will. But they can’t, or don’t know how to, hear directly from the Almighty. Instead they want an intermediary. They go to Jeremiah for help.

“Pray to the Lord,” they ask the prophet, “and inquire of him where we should go and what we should do.”

Jeremiah Agrees but with a Caveat

The prophet listens to the people’s request and commits to seek God as they asked. Then he adds a warning. He pledges to tell the people everything that God says whether encouraging or discouraging, whether positive or negative. And for his part, Jeremiah promises to not hold anything back.

“We’ll do whatever God says,” the people promise. “Whether good or bad we will obey him.” They sound sincere. We assume they are. But let’s see what happens.

Jeremiah Waits to Hear from God

God and Jeremiah have a tight connection. He hears regularly from God and writes it down for the people—and for us—to read. It seems reasonable that as soon as Jeremiah seeks God’s instructions that he’ll get a quick response. It should only take a few minutes.

But God’s timing is different than ours. God doesn’t speak to Jeremiah right away. For the rest of the day nothing happens. For the rest of the week there’s no word from God. Then ten days later the word of God comes to Jeremiah.

An Unexpected Message

The people are afraid and want to flee the promised land. They wonder if Egypt is the ideal place to go. There they’ll be out of the grasp of Babylon’s reach. They expect God will confirm their logical decision to scurry off to Egypt.

But God doesn’t do what they expect. He tells them that if they stay put, he will bless them. The Lord says they shouldn’t fear the military might of Babylon. They should place their trust in him instead.

“However,” God says, “if you disobey me and don’t stay where I put you and instead scoot off to Egypt, then don’t expect any favors.” Though they reason that Egypt will afford them food and safety, instead they’ll die there from starvation and war.

Jeremiah did is the people asked. He sought God’s will and then, as promised, told the people everything God said. There’s a blessing for obedience and a warning for disobedience.

The People’s Response

The people promised they would do what God said. They heard Jeremiah’s message of what to do, along with the accompanying promise of provision. They also heard Jeremiah’s message of what not to do, along with the associated warning of death.

What do the people do? They accuse Jeremiah of lying. Following the adage, “they shoot the messenger”—at least metaphorically.

They don’t like Jeremiah’s message, so they decide to dismiss it. But by ignoring Jeremiah, they’re ignoring God. They decide to do what they wanted to do all along. They hightail it to Egypt, disobeying God’s command in the process.

And to Jeremiah’s dismay, they drag him off with them as they flee to Egypt.

May we break this pattern of selective obedience. Click To Tweet

What About Us?

When we say we’ll obey what God says, do we really mean it? Too often our obedience is selective. We do what’s easy and ignore the difficult parts of God’s commands that don’t make sense or that we don’t like. In short, we don’t believe God’s message—at least, not fully.

God’s people did it long ago, and God’s people still do it today. May we break this pattern of selective obedience.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Jeremiah 41-45, and today’s post is on Jeremiah 42:1-3.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Do What Is Just and Right

Do God’s Instructions to the King of Judah Apply to Us Today?

It’s dark times indeed for God’s people. The prophet Jeremiah is his mouthpiece to speak truth. God sends Jeremiah to the king of Judah with a message. This message begins with some commands and ends with a promise for obeying and a threat for disobeying.

The Commands

Through Jeremiah, God tells the king to do what is just and right. Then he breaks it down. First, don’t wrong or hurt foreigners, orphans, and widows. This isn’t the first time or the last that God shows his heart for foreigners, orphans, and widows. Perhaps the first mention is in Deuteronomy 10:18.

Later Paul testifies that his purpose is to bring God’s good news to his own people and to the Gentiles, that is non-Jews, which would be foreigners (Acts 26:23). And James tells us to look after orphans and widows (James 1:27). Yes, foreigners, orphans, and widows are important to God, so they should be important to us too.

Second, God says don’t kill the innocent. This command to not murder appears in the ten Commandments (Exodus 20:13). And Jesus models it with the woman caught in adultery when he releases her from a lawful execution, of her being stoned to death (John 8:10-12).

The Outcome

Then God gives the king a promise if he obeys, future kings will continue to rule—implicitly success. However, if the king disobeys, the palace will be razed—implicitly failure.

The right and proper treatment of foreigners, orphans, and widows must start with the king. When he models it, the people will follow. And if he fails to act, the people will follow his inaction.

We will do well to help foreigners, orphans, and widows. This pleases God. Click To Tweet

Help Foreigners, Orphans, and Widows

We can easily extend God’s command to the king of Judah to us today, because we see these principles supported in the rest of Scripture. However, the promise for obedience and threat for disobedience, may or may not apply to us.

Regardless if there are rewards for obedience or punishments for disobedience, we will do well to help foreigners, orphans, and widows. This pleases God and allows us to bless others in his name.

[Read through the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Jeremiah 21-22, and today’s post is on Jeremiah 22:3-5.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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The Near Death Experience of Jonah

Live a life of obedience and without regret in order to finish strong

Most people know the story of Jonah: God sends Jonah to help Nineveh. But Jonah gets in a boat headed in the opposite direction. God sends a storm to get Jonah’s attention. Jonah implores the crew to throw him overboard in order to calm the storm.

After some prodding they toss him into the water. A fish swallows Jonah. God gives Jonah a three-day timeout. He has a near death experience. The fish spits out Jonah on dry land. Then Jonah obeys God.

But what happens between the crew throwing Jonah into the sea and the fish swallowing him? Jonah nearly drowns. It isn’t as if the fish is hanging out by the boat waiting to rescue Jonah.

No, Jonah goes in the water and fights to survive. He flails as long as he can. Out of strength he can fight no longer. He sinks. Water fills his lungs. He can’t breathe. Jonah is dying. His life flashes before his eyes. Then the fish comes and saves him. He doesn’t die after all.

How do I know this? I don’t. But Jonah’s prayer to God suggests his watery rescue comes at the last possible moment. He says, “When my life was ebbing away…,” (Jonah 2:7). In other words, he is about to die. His final thoughts are of God and God’s holy temple.

Jonah prays. He affirms God and promises to make good. Jonah acknowledges that salvation comes from God – in this case, his salvation is both literal and figurative.

Will our final thoughts be filled with regret over unfinished business and disobedience? Click To Tweet

When we get to the end of our life, what will we think about? Will our final thoughts be filled with regret over unfinished business and disobedience? Will we recall good times with family and friends?

Perhaps we will anticipate eternity with God. Or maybe we will pray. Will our final prayer be one of desperation or of peace?

Living in obedience to God and without regret is the surest way to make sure we finish this life strong. Then God will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21). May it be so.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Jonah 1-4, and today’s post is on Jonah 2:7-9.]

Learn more about all twelve of the Bible’s Minor Prophets in Peter’s book, Return to Me: 40 Prophetic Teachings about Unfaithfulness, Punishment, and Hope from the Minor Prophets

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Are You One of God’s Chosen People?

Isaiah Tells the People that God Will Choose Them Again, but Did He Ever Stop?

One phrase jumps out from today’s passage in Isaiah’s prophecy to God’s chosen people: once again he will pick Israel. God, through Isaiah, gives his people hope for a better tomorrow.

At this particular time, however, God’s people are discouraged; they feel he has abandoned them. They have no reason to celebrate; they have no cause for joy. God, it seems, has turned his back on them; it feels like he has left.

In reality he’s giving them a timeout, a deserved punishment to get their attention over their repeated disobedience. He wants to remind them of who he is and how they should act.

Yet they despair. They call out for him, desperate for a response.

But God delays.

Yet as he tarries he offers them hope for a better tomorrow. He promises he will choose them once again.

He chose them in the past, and he will choose them in the future. And though they don’t realize it, he chooses them now. But they don’t see it; they don’t feel chosen.

We are God’s chosen people: yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Click To Tweet

We all have times when God feels distant, when it’s hard to pray, when his voice remains silent, when faith falters. Some people call these the dry times or their desert experience. Yet God will choose us again.

The reality is that God will never un-chose us. We remain chosen by him—even when we don’t feel like it. We are God’s chosen people. May we remember to act like it.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Isaiah 14-17, and today’s post is on Isaiah 14:1.]

Read more about the book of Isaiah in For Unto Us: 40 Prophetic Insights About Jesus, Justice, and Gentiles from the Prophet Isaiah available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.