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Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries

 

 Audio

1 Peter 1:13-16   1 John 1:8-2:2

One of the things that has come out clearly in the last few weeks of this pandemic is the desire of people to find a culprit, to allocate blame for what’s happened; or in some cases the opposite: they want to shift the blame from themselves, or from their government, to someone else. It’s part of our human nature isn’t it: to want to find someone to blame for what’s gone wrong? If we can blame someone else it helps us to avoid any responsibility on our own part. Well that’s part of what we’re going to be looking at this morning.

Today we come to the third of our studies on Christian disciplines, on finding patterns in living out the presence of God. Today we’re focussing on obedience.

Obedience 

Do you have a problem with obedience? Are you like me, a bit of a rebel. All someone needs to say is don’t do that, and immediately you want to do it? In some circumstances you might even get away with that. Though don’t try it if it involves refusing to wear a face mask in public. Obedience is a good thing when it comes to obeying the law, or doing what your boss tells you to, or where your safety is involved. And obedience to God’s rules is even more important. In fact obedience is one of the characteristics used by Paul to describe his converts. In Romans 6:17  he says “17But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted.”

Peter describes us as having “been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood.”  So obedience is a prime attribute of every Christian. This is what we’re been called to.

Now I just have one problem with that: that is that I don’t seem to be able to live up to it in as consistent a manner as I’d like. Paul describes this dilemma in Romans 7, where he talks about his repeated experience of falling short. Listen to how he expresses it: “19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.” (Rom 7:19-21) It’s a bit like trying to sweep the floor with a broom where half the bristles have fallen out, or trying to smooth a piece of wood with a plane that has notches in the blade. No matter how hard you try you never seem to get it right.

So what am I going to do about it?

Well, I think I need to begin with understanding myself, with recognising how I repeatedly fail to obey God.

Self-examination & Confession          

This is where the spiritual discipline of self-examination and confession comes in. I need to daily look at my life and think about how well I’m doing; to measure it up against what God tells me he wants to see in me. Martin Luther once said: “There is no better mirror in which to see your need than the Ten Commandments.” God’s law is the basic standard against which I need to measure my life. The psalmist says in Psalm 139: “23Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. 24See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Ps 139:23-24 NRSV)

In today’s second reading we heard these words: “8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10 NRSV)

So the place to begin is to be honest with ourselves. Admit to God the natural propensity we have to rationalise, to shift the blame, to deny our own responsibility. Someone once said that self-understanding, self-acceptance, is the key to mental health and can I suggest it’s also the key to spiritual health. The aim here isn’t to beat ourselves up about what terrible sinners we are but to acknowledge that we need God’s forgiveness in the first place and then, as we’ll see in a moment, to understand that we need God’s help to reform our lives.

As we examine our lives what we may find is that we’ve built up these “sin-networks” in our lives that lead us back to the same sins over and over again: bad habits; poor choice of friends perhaps; particular weaknesses that we keep falling for; self-centred thinking that leads to self-centred behaviour; broken relationships that have never been healed; unhelpful behaviour that we rationalise as being necessary for our own well-being.

This is a difficult thing I’m suggesting. It’s hard to be honest with yourself in this area. That’s why the psalmist calls on God to search his heart, to show him if there is any wicked way in him. It’s why John in his first letter gives that dual instruction not to deceive ourselves but to confess our sins with the assurance that God, who is faithful and just, will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

I think one reason we find this so hard is that our desired self-image is of someone who’s good and moral, an upstanding member of the community. If we admit that we’re sinners it spoils the image. We certainly wouldn’t want anyone else to know what we’re really like. But John tells us that to do that is to deceive ourselves; to be living a lie. What’s more we make God out to be a liar. But when I confess my sins I open up my life to inspection by God; I admit, to myself as much as to God, that I’m not able to change myself, that I need his forgiveness and his power to change me. Can you see what a liberating thing that is? I don’t have to be weighed down by the knowledge of my repeated failure to live up to my self-image, or by the sense that I’m continually letting God down.

You may remember Charles Wesley’s great hymn “And Can it be” where he wrote: “Long my imprisoned spirit lay, Fast bound in sin and nature's night; your eye diffused a quick'ning ray, I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; My chains fell off, my heart was free; I rose, went forth and followed Thee.” He was expressing the sense of freedom that comes from confessing our sins and accepting the forgiveness, the imputed righteousness, that Jesus promises us. 

But let’s go back to where we started: to the need for a life characterised by obedience. It’s not enough just to say, as Heinrich Heine said “Dieu me pardonnera, c'est son métier”: “God will forgive me, that’s his job.” No Jesus has saved us for obedience. His Spirit is given to us to renew our hearts and minds. He calls us to work hard at doing God’s will. So how am I going to improve my obedience to God?

Rule for Life

I’m going to do it by committing myself to habits of life that will train me in godly living. This is why we call these things Spiritual Disciplines. These are habits that teach me how to live a better life.

Peter, in his first letter tells us “13Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. 14Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. 15Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; 16for it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." 1 Peter 1:13-16 (NRSV)

Notice that? “Prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves.” It’s a military metaphor, of the soldier who trains hard so he’s ready to fight whatever battle he finds himself in. But it isn’t our bodies we need to prepare, it’s our minds, the thoughts that we have, the ideas we come up with, the words that appear in our heads ready to come out when we’re under pressure. Paul tells Timothy “While physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:8 NRSV)

At the end of his life, Joshua calls the people of Israel together to give them a final message: after reminding them of all that God had done for them, he challenges them to decide who they’ll serve, who they’ll commit themselves to. He says they have plenty of choice: there’s the gods of Egypt that they’ve just come out from, there are the gods of their ancestors in Mesopotamia; but his choice is Yahweh, the God of Israel. But, he says, if you choose to follow Yahweh it’s a lifelong, whole hearted, commitment that’s required.

That choice is ours as well. Are we willing to commit our hearts and minds to following Jesus? Are we willing to open our lives to the Holy Spirit, to allow him to come in and change us? Are we ready to take on the discipline of godly habits and wise choices?

Like confessing our sins, this is not an easy path. Listen to what Paul says in Col 3: “5Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry)…  8now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another.” But then he says: “12As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

The picture is of us taking off our old clothes and burning them then wrapping ourselves in fresh new clothes: these new behaviours: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness patience, all bound together by love which leads to perfect harmony. In the Tough Questions session on predestination and evangelism two weeks ago, one of the questions posed was “How can we make the good news about Jesus more compelling to our fellow Aussies?” Well what could be more compelling, more attractive, than a church full of people who show these sorts of characteristics.

At the end of Acts 2 we read of the early church’s rule of life: “42They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42 NRSV) This regular practice of meeting together was to help them to reshape their minds, to let the Holy Spirit teach them how God wanted them to live.

We too can embark on some form of rule of life like that. One example is the daily quiet time: a time set aside to read God’s word in a systematic way; to meditate on that word; to bring our prayers to God; to think about how we might put God’s word into practice; to examine our lives and confess our sins. The other day I heard of someone who listens to our Psalm Reflections each day on their way to work. What a great way to start your day.

Another practice might be to set your mind, as Paul says, to pray at all times; to take those many moments when there’s nothing much happening, to pray short prayers, perhaps of thanksgiving, or of requests to God, for people you know who need God’s help, for people who need to know Jesus.

Probably a more difficult discipline for some would be to work on disciplining their speech to get rid of anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive or crude language from their mouths; in fact to train themselves in the first place to dismiss such thoughts and language from their minds; to be ready when those sorts of thoughts appear, to shut down the discussion; to tell yourself to stop because it’s not helpful.

What’s important though is to find practices that work for you. What works for me may not work for you so we each need to find ways of practising godliness that will help us individually to become more Christlike - in the way we think and act and speak. Then we need to turn them into habits that in the end come naturally to us. How? As with physical training, by repetition; by doing it over and over again, making adjustments, correcting ourselves when we get it wrong, until it becomes second nature. But always remembering that we do it in God’s strength and that when we fail he is ready to forgive us and let us start over again.

Contact Details

Phone: 0422187127
 
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