Practical Strategies for Obedience
Christian Living: Beyond Belief is a Christian disciplines manual designed to outline the basics of biblical living. It's a "how to live life as a Christian primer" of sorts. Pastor and professor Cliff McManis devotes a chapter each to worshipping, fellowshipping, joining a church, serving, discipling, giving, sharing the gospel, studying God's word, praying, thinking, and obeying. It's simple, succinct, clear, and above all practical. I recommend it.
Below are the last pages of the book, as a list of practical strategies for how to obey:
The reality of indwelling sin (and the truth that the believer will never be perfect in this life) can be discouraging for the Christian. Some get so discouraged by this thought that they develop a defeatist and pessimistic attitude. They say, "Well, I'm just going to keep on sinning anyway— no one is perfect. Sin is here to stay. Everyone has a vice—let me have mine. Why make such a big deal of trying to obey all the time?" Paul condemns that kind of carnal, short-sighted thinking (Romans 6:15-16).
Instead, the New Testament expects and even requires the Christian to live victoriously over sin. The Bible expects believers to live a life ordered by obedience. For example, the Apostle Peter matter-of-factly exhorts Christians to live such a life when he writes, "As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy' " (1 Peter 1:14-16). Peter does not allow for disobedience in the life of a Christian because of the reality of indwelling sin. There are no legitimate excuses for compromise. Christians are commanded to obey God.
In your ongoing battle with sin, consider the following biblical principles to aid you in the war toward victory and obedience:
Don't make excuses
God hates sin (Psalm 5:4-5). We need to hate it too. Don't get into the habit of accepting your sinful behavior. Satan wants you to think like that—to not take sin seriously. God takes it seriously, so must we. Think of some sins in your life. Then consciously determine to "hate" them. Ask God to help you despise sin. Proverbs 8:13 tells us "to hate evil." Becoming an obedience person starts with an attitude of loving God by hating sin (Psalm 97:10).
It will take time…a lifetime, as a matter of fact
Christians need to be realistic about becoming holy. God wants us to be mature and become like Christ. But it won't happen overnight. Christian maturity takes time—it's progressive and incremental and happens little by little over the course of the whole Christian life. We'll never be perfect in this life, but God promises to help the Christian grow progressively through the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit. This is good news—God promises to help Christians spiritually mature. Paul said "we [believers]…are being transformed into his [Jesus'] likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18). This verse should encourage Christians to be optimistic (for we will grow) and patient (for it happens over a period of time) about becoming obedient.
Don't isolate yourself
Much sin and compromise is committed in secret (Ephesians 5:2). Examine your own sins. Is it routinely done when you are isolated and by yourself? If so, then take heed and be preventative by purposing to not be isolated or by yourself for long periods of time. The Bible says that it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). A fool isolates himself. Don't trust yourself. "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41, NASB). Whenever possible be in the company of other believers.
The Bible says, "confess your sins to each other " (James 5:16). The Bible also says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (Proverbs 27:17). Becoming vulnerable to other people by way of confessing sin and admitting areas of weakness can help the Christian live a more obedient life. God empowers believers when they become accountable to each other for their actions. Is there someone in your life who holds you accountable on a regular basis for being obedient to God in all areas of your life?
Recognize patterns of wrong behavior
Sometimes, when people become Christians later in life as adults, they find that they have developed patterns of sinful behavior that are hard to shake even after being saved. Whether it's anger, lust, sexual temptation, lying, speaking profanity, complaining, sarcasm, discontentment, laziness, stubbornness, excessive anxiety, or whatever, life-long patterns of behavior pose a severe trial for many believers.
Do you have any deeply rooted patterns of sinful behavior that are a carry-over from many years of ungodly living? If so, the place to begin to uproot it is to first admit it and confess it as sin to God. The first step to overcoming the problem is to acknowledge that the problem exists. Proverbs says, "He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy" (28:13).
Put off sinful patterns of behavior
After exposing sinful patterns of behavior, determine then to forsake such a lifestyle. It has to be a conscious choice. Paul calls this "putting off." Put off old behaviors and then replace them with new godly habits—put off and then put on. Paul says to "put off all these [evil] things…[and] put on" godly behaviors (Colossians 3:8, 12, KJV).
Replacing old, bad habits will take time—and it's hard to do. But with the help of the Holy Spirit, deliberate planning, focused prayer and accountability from Christians friends, real change is possible.
Practice the spiritual disciplines
This whole book has been about the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life. I have tried to distill down the fundamental priorities for Christian living according to the Bible. We have to master the basics to establish a solid spiritual foundation. Those basics are the imperatives mentioned in this book. To live an obedient Christian life means to live a life that is characterized by true worship, Christian fellowship, joining a local church, serving regularly in your church, discipling other Christians, giving to the church, going into the world to share the gospel, studying God's Word daily, praying privately every day, and protecting your mind with the truth. If these habits become routine practices in your life, then you will have greater success in obeying God. And when you have a life of obedience, God will bless you for it.
Christian Living Beyond Belief by Cliff McManis, pg. 211-214
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