Genesis 22 records Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac at the Lord’s command.
1 And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.
2 And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.
3 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.
Abraham rose up early in the morning. I doubt he got any sleep at all that night, but he obeyed quickly.
Similarly, good King Josiah (2 Kings 22-23) obeyed God immediately when the lost book of the law was found. He quickly sent for godly men and women for counsel, then when he was sure he understood, he sent for the elders of Judah. He called all the people together, read the book of the law, made a covenant between himself and the nation, and God, to obey it, and immediately began. He threw out idols, cleansed the temples, got rid of the idolatrous priests, and so for.
Over and over, we see godly men immediately obeying the word of the Lord. And so should we.
My pastor was discussing the pattern Jesus laid down for confronting sin in others, where you go to them gently at first, then with some others, then take it to the church. But, he noted, if he walked in and caught a friend in adultery, you can kind of cut to the chase a little bit. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” does not need a lot of thought. Just obey it. It’s black and white, cut and dried. Don’t steal. Don’t worship idols. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t muder.
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
Some things – perhaps most things? – are not quite as straightforward as adultery and murder and theft. The more general commands of scripture, and more general applications of specific commands (see Colossians 3:5, for instance), fall into this category.
I’m a pretty black-and-white kind of guy. I like rules and procedures. And what I tend to do is take a scriptural principle, quickly come up with half a dozen practical ways it should apply to my life, try to make those changes immediately, and expect you to do it, too.
I do not think this is the right approach. That’s not _meditation_. It’s not soaking up the word of God. The world of Christ is to _dwell_ within us, and that evokes a different picture to me than the way I usually go about it. I read Psalm 1:2 as “He likes the Bible and reads a lot of it” but that’s not what it says at all. We do not _devour_ the world of God. We meditate on it.
An elder at my church drew an illustration, which I will not attempt to reproduce. He drew a brain, and an arrow pointing into the brain which he labelled “Word of God”. And from the brain where arrows going to drawings of hands and feet. He said most of the time, we like to hear the word and immediately try to apply it, praying as we go. But, he said, the right approach is first to _meditate_. He altered his drawing so the word goes into the brain, from the brain to the _heart_, where it simmers a while, and then from the _heart_ to the hands and feet where it produces a rich, full, sincere obedience. But we short-circuit the heart.
David did not say “Thy word have I memorized” or “Thy word have I hid in my head”. The word is hidden in our _hearts_. It’s far beyond memorization or devotional reading.
I am not a patient guy. Not patient with myself or with others. If it’s right there in the Bible (or at least looks that way to me!) then I should immediately obey it in every way I can think of, and _you_ should obey it in every way _I_ can think of, too. What are you, backslidden? Are you sure you’re a Christian at all?
But what I’m starting to see is that this is much too hasty, is poorly thought out, does not last, and is not well received by others.
Someone once pointed out some Scriptures, and historical evidence, that suggested I should – like the Christians of the past – have a regular worship time with my family. OK, there it was, so I got started. It lasted about two weeks.
There was a belief in my head, but no conviction in my heart, about family worship. So it didn’t last. Largely, because I had nothing to say. It was a forced obedience to something I thought I should do.
A year later, I’ve been learning and meditating about the relationship of a father to his family and the family before God. Deut 6:7 has been soaking into my heart for a while now, and my _heart_ is beginning to change. So when I do start this (and I will) I believe it will be far more natural, _sincere_, and lasting than the first go-round.
I’m not very patient with others. So when a point comes up in a discussion and I have something to say, I tend to say it. All of it. Very quickly and bluntly. Because you know, I want _you_ to understand as much as _I_ understand. And I can really help you out by telling you what I’ve already figured out. What a friend I am!
It may not be surprising to learn that this is almost never well received.
Consider this hypothetical conversation:
Him: “Wow, I’ve been so busy recently. I’ve been on a weekend trip 3 of the last 4 weeks. I’m not sure I can commit to a regular Bible study group because my kids have all kinds of activities.”
Me: “1 Thessalonians 4:11 says to lead a quiet life. You need to cut out some of that junk.”
Hmm, why did he get mad at me? I was only trying to help. I guess he’s just not very teachable.
There very well may be times when that approach is proper, even in cases other than flagrant sin. But not usually.
It may _be_ sinful to lead such a busy life. But God has been patient with him so far. Being a Protestant, I have no fear of dying while in mortal sin. If God’s been merciful and patient so far, He will probably continue to be so while we patiently let His word pierce our hearts.
You and God are ultimately responsible for your own sanctification. I am not. I do not have to straighten you out, and especially not in one conversation. Most errors are not truly damnable heresies. All errors are important, but some are more important. Not all sins are equally heinous and have to be handled in the same way. There are no little sins, but some are bigger than others.
There is a time for boldness, for being confrontational. Jesus was. But there is a time to speak and a time to be silent. And, I suspect, a time to just say a little bit.
A couple of years back, I was first thinking of homeschooling. I was discussing it with another man, whose children are homeschooled. I discussed the concerns I had. His defense of homeschooling and the way he addressed my concerns actually turned me off to homeschooling. Now, I see that his _position_ was right, but his approach was not at all helpful.
I don’t _have_ to give you a five point outline of why I homeschool, why you should too, and what will happen if you remain rebellious in this area. Instead, I am really allowed to just say small things. You don’t have to take it all at once. We can be patient.
The same thing is true when it comes to flagrant sin that is very entangling. Overcoming sexual sin is not quite as easy as memorizing a verse or two. We are absolutely unyielding in identifying and confronting those sins, but it is unreasonable to expect a Christian to consistently be able to put away these sorts of sins immediately. Drug addiction, sexual sins, anger and bitterness, gossip, other types of habitual and entangling sins – these may take some time. Immediate and perfect victory may be theoretically possible, but is certainly not normal. Continued failure is not _excusable_ but it’s also not a sign that you don’t _really_ love Jesus.
Short circuiting the heart – skipping from the head to the hands – can only produce an external and hollow obedience. Earlier I referred to godly men who obeyed immediately. But theirs was not an external and hollow obedience. It was a quick obedience, but only because they were so much in the habit of meditating on the word of God and obeying as that word worked itself out in their lives. As we are progressively sanctified, our hearts should become more tender to the direction of God. Sincere obedience will come more quickly.
Nothing I’ve written should be construed as “Robert goes soft on sin”. Sin must be confronted and dealt with. Sometimes this will be harsh. Righteousness must be preached boldly and without compromise. God is to be obeyed. I’m still a frothing at the mouth fundamentalist. I am still The Rebukinator. But I’m also starting to learn to make knowledge acceptable (Proverbs 15:2), to be gentle (2 Timothy 2:24-25), and to control my tongue (James 3).