This is the third installment of things overheard or beliefs commonly held about the Christian life that upon further reflection are not as true as they first seem. Feel free to leave your own thoughts!
- Being a Christian is about obeying the Bible.When I was younger, a man older than me professed to know what God requires of his servants. He said Jesus’ true followers did what the Bible said to do. He proceeded to tell me what it taught and also that I must obey it as he instructed if I wished to be a true disciple of Jesus.His basic premise — that we as believers are to obey the Bible — sounded reasonable, even self-evident — so much that I felt compelled to radically change my life and do so. So from that day forward, I took it upon myself to obey the Bible.
Problem was: I could not do it.
Sure, some things were easy. Practicing love (being nicer to others, basically) was not so difficult. I was doing that already. But following the weightier commandments, such as healing the sick or preaching the gospel, especially when combined with the commandment to hate one’s own life, became an impossibility. In fact, the harder I tried, the more impossible it became.
And then there were commandments I honestly did not know what to do with, such as when Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell everything he had. Must I too sell all that I had? Must I live homeless? Is that what it meant to be a true disciple? Some would tell me this commandment was just for the rich young ruler, because he had a problem with his possessions. But I wondered: What right had I — had any of us, really — to exclude myself from that commandment? And if I was unwilling to do so, was that not proof enough that I too had a problem with my possessions? If I was to obey the Bible, I had to obey all of it.
Then I would come across scriptures like the one where Jesus said: “Come to me all you who are weary, and I will give you rest. . . . For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Since to me obeying Jesus meant obeying the Bible, obeying him was anything but easy — and I could not imagine it being otherwise.
It would be many years later that I would realize I had made a tactical error in setting out to obey the Bible. By doing so, I had turned the Bible into a new form of the Law, which the Bible (not to mention core Christian doctrine) teaches is the very thing Jesus came to deliver us from (Romans 3:28). The letter of the law was killing me instead of bringing new life (2 Corinthians 3:6).
But wait: Aren’t we supposed to obey the Bible? Isn’t that the whole idea behind being a Christian? The simple answer is no. Rather, we are supposed to obey the God of the Bible, through the leading of His Spirit, just as the Bible says we are.
In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul goes into great detail describing the differences between obeying the law and obeying the Spirit. He makes painfully clear that obeying the Law (meeting God’s holy requirements) is impossible. Some have debated whether Paul was describing himself before or after his conversion, but the answer is both. Whether you are a believer or not, attempting to obey any law, including the Bible, will fail. It will only reveal to you your own sinful nature.
But there is a new way, Paul describes, and that new way is in fact what makes a believer truly a believer: “For what [obeying] the law was powerless to do, God did by sending his Son . . . so that the righteous requirements of the law might be met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but to the Spirit.” (Romans 8). It is by obeying the Spirit of God that dwells inside of us — the true mark of a believer — that we are able to fulfill God’s requirements.
But does this mean the Bible is not important? Absolutely not. It is simply not to take the place of the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and our obedience to Him. We are created for intimacy with God, not an instruction manual. By making the Bible the thing we follow, we ironically dishonor the Bible.
When Jesus walked the earth, he criticized the Pharisees of this very error: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
Truth is, if we make it our life goal to obey the Bible, we can come no closer than the Pharisees did. But if we surrender instead to the God to Whom the Bible points, there we will find life, and that abundantly.