December 13, 2008

“But I meant well . . .”

There are few words I hate to say more than, “I had good intentions . . .” Other people might excuse failure if I mean well, but I am beginning to realize that good intentions don’t cut it with God, so they ought not to be an excuse for a shortfall on my part. Instead, I’m far better to ask for forgiveness.

Today I read Hebrews 5:8-9: “Though He (Jesus) was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.”

In a former post I pondered the question: Why did Jesus, who never sinned, have to “learn” obedience? At that time I wondered, since it was not His nature to disobey and He knows all things, why did He have to “learn” anything?

Perhaps because He was fully human and He was demonstrating the importance of obedience? As a man, He showed us how to depend on the Father for everything even as He was tested by trials like we are. All that happened to Him called for a choice and as He made those right choices, we can see the reality of His perfection as fully God and fully man.

My devotional reading says that He also had to learn obedience to be our perfect High Priest. He was in a new role and as He obeyed the Father, He became the author of our salvation. He couldn’t accomplish that by good intentions; He had to follow through.

Learning obedience to God is the same for me too. Proverbs 29:19 says, “A servant will not be corrected by mere words; for though he understands, he will not respond.” I may know what God wants from me, but suffering (intense or not) puts me in a position where I will choose to do something about what I know. Until then, I’ve not actually “learned” obedience. A truth might be in my head, but it is not part of my life until I obey it.

Sometimes Christians call that “head knowledge.” I am aware of a particular thing intellectually, but my terminology falls short after that if I say “it needs to be known in my heart.” That isn’t quite the way God says it. He wants me to know it, head and heart, but also obey what I know and make it part of my life.

Mere knowledge isn’t good enough. Salvation didn’t happen to me because I knew about Jesus, or because I went to Sunday school and church and acquired a head full of theology. Jesus didn’t save me because I memorized verses or knew doctrine. He cares about obedience.

Yet even obedience comes second. It is a mark of those who are already saved, not a way to be saved. In Matthew 7, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Some will stand before Him and say ‘Lord’ as if He is their lord, but they do not do what He commands; that is mockery. Yet others will point out their good deeds done in His name, and Jesus will also banish them because that is not enough.

The key is not what only what I say or do, but whether or not He knows me. As He says in John 10:27, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”

A saving relationship with Jesus is not about what I call Him or even about what I do, as important as that is. Unless I know Him and He knows me, all my talk and even my obedience is useless, as useless as any excuses about good intentions.

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