Obedience Critical to Heart Knowledge?

(SeanO) #1

We often hear of the great distance between our head and our heart. How can we get the theology we know in our head down into our heart so that it can transform our lives? It is one of the great goals of discipleship and Christian growth.

And it seems if we listen to the Christian sages throughout history and more importantly to the Scriptures, they all agree that there is a very tight connection between knowledge of God and obedience to God. Knowledge and self-control - obedience and understanding - all of these things are woven together.

In what ways do you think obedience is critical in getting head knowledge down to our heart? What is the Gospel’s role in motivating that obedience? How have you seen that play out in your own life???

2 Peter 1:5-9 - For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Psalms 119:29-32 - Keep me from deceitful ways;
be gracious to me and teach me your law.
30 I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I have set my heart on your laws.
31 I hold fast to your statutes, Lord;
do not let me be put to shame.
32 I run in the path of your commands,
for you have broadened my understanding.

“I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but rather, I believe in order that I may understand” - Anselm of Canterbury

“Obedience is the great opener of eyes.” George MacDonald

Blurry Visions of God
(Charles Donnelly) #2

I think one way I would look at it would be to use my wife as an example. We met and as I began to KNOW her better I loved her more…as i loved her more she became more important to me. as a guy particularly there is always abuse that takes place as friends begin to be superseded by the woman you are growing to love. Well your old friends can be looked at as your old life or your sinful ways. They dont want to be left out but you are leaving them behind as you grow closer to God. The more I love her the more important it is to me for her to be happy. I wont do wrong things to make her happy (with God this is never an issue). Now there is alot to say for the fear of God but I have found that it was my increasing love of God that made me WANT to obey Him. The more i love Him the more I WANT TO know Him…it becomes an increasing snowball of loving and knowing and WANTING to obey since i get to know God better (He is loving, forgiving, merciful, sacrificing, and when it comes down to it DESERVING/WORTHY of obedience) My obedience is less about fear and more about love, trust, respect. I hope that helps

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(SeanO) #3

@charlie.thevisionchurch Great thoughts! Your reflection reminded me of a verse from 1st John.

What do you do personally on a daily basis to remind yourself of the love of God?

I John 4:18 - There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

(Stephen Wuest) #4

Concepts in modern Western societies are not the same as concepts in the late medieval time. And concepts in the late medieval time are not the same as concepts in the New Testament. So addressing this question, involves explanations across different sets of concepts. This is a first problem, that few Christians recognize.

— The biblical view is that man is both a spirit, and a physical body.
— The biblical writers present mind/heart as the seat of reason, and intention, and moral consciousness (this is not the “emotions” that moderns connect with “heart”).
— The early Greek phlosophers, and the writers of the New Testament, place the mind on the spiritual side of man, not on the physical side. Our free will, and ability to choose, resides on the spiritual side of our nature. (This seems very strange to modern American Christians, who often cannot imagine what the “spirit” is, and who often don’t see our consciousness as residing on our spiritual side.)
— The New Testament writers present the truth that the mind must enforce its (righteous) choices on our physical body. This is part of what “self-control” and “discipline” is. (We must also learn to control our thinking, in order to choose the proper topics of thought, and to think in a logical and disciplined way.)

What this leads to, in the New Testament, is a richer concept of “faith.” “Faith” is not just an initial mental choice to believe or commit. “Faithfulness” involves enforcing our choice of faith, on our physical body, to live out physical actions that are a consequence of our mental choice. In the “faith” chapter of Hebrews, there are some examples of initial mental choices to believe (something that God has promised). But many of the examples are physical actions that are done “in faith” or “by faith.” When we artificially reduce “faith” to mental choices, we are not using the concept of “faith/faithfulness” that the New Testament writers are. And we are missing the fact that God sees our faithful physical actions, as artifacts of our faith.

In the book of James, we see explicit use of biblical categories. In chapter 2, James “quotes” God’s moral/ethical code from Exodus, that we should not show partiality/favoritism among the people of God. Every good Jew and Christian, must make the mental commitment to keep this point of God’s moral/ethical code. But James goes on to point out that when we do not continually enforce this mental choice (of faith in God’s moral/ethical law) on our bodies, to live out the consequences of this choice, then we are lying against God’s truth. As modern Westerners, we often fail to see that James is talking about the same subject — faith, and living faithfully. (He is not talking about some other subject, such as social justice).

As modern Westerners, we fail to make the connection that James (of course) expects us to make. “The spirit without the body is useless.” James is talking about the choice of faith that we make in our mind on our spritual side, then the living out of this faith in our physical body. The mental choice to not show partiality/favoritism must be accompanied with physical actions that follow as a consequence of that mental choice. (We must not show partiality between a rich man and a poor man.) The mental choice, without living out the physical actions, is useless. Faith without faithfulness, is useless. This is what James means, when he says that “faith without works is dead.” He is repeating the same concept that “the righteous man shall live by faith.”

The late medieval period seems to have favored a definition of “faith” that was purely mental (spiritual). So for Luther, he seems to suspect James statement (“faith without works is dead”), and somehow imagines that the mental choice of faith is very different and separated from the physical actions that we live out “by faith.” Luther needed to expand his concept of “faith” to include living out actions that follow as a consequence of that faithful mental choice. (Hart, in his new translation of the New Testament, gets this right. Way to go, Hart!) Luther did not think that the book of James should be in the Bible. Luther could not understand that what James was saying was “faith without faithfulness, is useless.” There is nothing in the book of James, that should have offended Luther. The problem is that some of Luther’s concepts were very different than the concepts of the writers of the New Testament.

The biblical concept of faith includes living out physical actions that are in obedience to that mental act of faith. This follows from being both spirit and body. “Faith” and “obedience” to that faith, are not 2 different things, but part of the same biblical concept. When we are not obedient to our mental commitments of faith, then we are not being faithful. When James says “the spirit without the body is dead” he is not talking about some other topic (than faith). When James talks about “lying,” he is not talking about some other topic (than faith). For James, “lying” can be making the mental commitment to God’s moral/ethical code (a form of faith), but then failing to live out that commitment (such as showing favoritism to the rich). And when James talks about Satan, the father of lies, and the punishment that God prepared for liars, he is not talking about some other topic (than faith). James is warning us about how God views our commitment to his moral/ethical law, when we fail to live out physical actions that are consequences of that mental commitment. Faith, without the following faithful acts, is a form of lying. (Showing favoritism for the rich, is a form of lying against God’s moral/ethical law.)

Try reading the “faith” chapter in Hebrews, and write down which examples are mental choices (to believe a promise of God), and which actions are physical actions done “by faith” that are not merely mental choices, but are done as a consequence of a previous mental choice. It is artificial to separate these 2 kinds of responses of faith.

Now you see the (obvious) problem with making a mental commitment to God’s moral/ethical code, but then not living out that commitment.

(SeanO) #5

@Stephen_Wuest Do you think that our actions reveal those things to which we are truly committed?

Rather than seeing a divide between mental assent and action - I would personally distinguish between mental assent to a belief and volitional will. We may think we believe something - giving mental assent - while not actually expressing such a belief through our volitional will - what we plan to do. Sometimes that disconnect is not even apparent to us. I think that is why James talks about seeing ourselves in a mirror - whenever we have the opportunity to see a disconnect between something to which we give mental assent and our volitional will, we should be quick to close that gap and figure out why we are not acting on what we claim to believe.

(Stephen Wuest) #6


This is a really difficult topic. I see academic approaches to reasoning about how we choose, that are sort of abstract, and don’t really match the way that the Bible presents free will and choosing and what evidence is, and what evidence is relevant, and how much of what kind of evidence justifies believing a certain proposition. (These are really basic questions in Epistemology.)

It’s a difficult question, because different Christian groups (and schools) use different sets of vocabulary to describe the same topics. But if I don’t use the type of vocabulary that someone is expecting, then they often think that I am not speaking about what the Bible really means.

When it comes to the Bible, it does not agonize over many of the questions that secular philosophers agonize over (Do I exist? Is the physical universe real? Do I perceive my environment accurately? How do I choose? etc.).

And when it comes to mental choices, and physical actions, I think that the Bible sees them both as types of actions. (Which is why faith requires both certain mental choices, and living out physical actions that follow “by faith” from those correct choices.)

I like the very simple, but very unobvious discussion by James in chapter 2, about lying. With James, you could say that he only recognizes one sin, and that is lying. (God created hell, for the sin of lying.) But to lie, we need to misrepresent something in relation to some universal standard (aka some aspect of our shared reality). This involves the shared reality that we live in. We can lie against God’s moral/ethical law by not accepting some part of it (such as, we should not show partiality/favoritism in our congregations). We can lie by mentally accepting God’s moral/ethical law, but not living it out (James’ example is Christians who accept God’s moral/ethical law, but then show partiality/favoritism to the rich). We can lie, by not accepting who God is (he is part of our shared reality.) We can lie by denying or destroying what God revealed to us through our conscience. We can lie against our shared reality of valid reasoning methods (by putting out arguments that are fallacies, or refusing to recognize valid arguments or evidence). James’ vocabulary of lying, is based on the obvious shared reality that we live in (this is important for those interested in apologetics).

Other writers in the bible use a bit different vocabulary, but describe that our intentions will become obvious in our physical actions, even though we try to hide them.

NIV Matthew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

As I wrote about a section in Timothy:

NIV 1 Timothy 5:24 The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. 25 In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever.
RSV 1 Timothy 5:24 The sins of some men are conspicuous, pointing to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good deeds are conspicuous; and even when they are not, they cannot remain hidden.
NA28 1 Timothy 5:24 Τινῶν ἀνθρώπων αἱ ἁμαρτίαι πρόδηλοί εἰσιν προάγουσαι εἰς κρίσιν, τισὶν δὲ καὶ ἐπακολουθοῦσιν· 25 ὡσαύτως καὶ τὰ ἔργα τὰ καλὰ πρόδηλα, καὶ τὰ ἄλλως ἔχοντα κρυβῆναι οὐ δύνανται.

Paul has just finished explaining how Timothy is not to be hasty in commissioning church leaders. Paul requires that anyone who is to be considered for a position of church leadership have a public and righteous lifestyle. They must have a track record.

But Paul is saying that our actions may be judged as good or evil (before the final judgment, when God is perfect knowledge will evaluate our actions).

When considering church leaders, part of their track record had better be holding to orthodox teaching.

Even when righteous deeds are done in secret, they will probably eventually become known. It is curious that Jesus said, “let your light so shine among men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father who is in heaven.” Being the light of the world, does not mean hiding all you do under a bushel basket. Nor does it involve announcing to the world, what you are doing. Nor does it involve doing righteous deeds in order to be seen by the world.

The Scriptures often present an obviousness about our intentions, when observing our physical actions. Theological systems tend to not accept that there is this obvious connection.

Some other interesting verses are:

NIV 2 Timothy 3:9 But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.

NIV 1 John 3:7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

RSV 1 Timothy 3:10 And let them also be tested first; then if they prove themselves blameless let them serve as deacons.

NIV Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom 12:2 NIV)

NIV John 15:8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (Joh 15:8 NIV)

NIV 3 John 1:11 Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. (3Jo 1:11 NIV

NIV Revelation 2:2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.

NIV 1 Peter 3:11 They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.

NIV Romans 12:9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

NIV Romans 7:19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do-- this I keep on doing.

(SeanO) #7

@Stephen_Wuest Hmmm - I think to reduce every sin to a lie would be difficult, though I think I see your basic premise. Sometimes when we sin it is because we believe a lie - a distortion of reality, that is true. But other times sin is committed in spite of our knowledge of the truth - the demons believe and tremble, yet they do what is evil. Also, in the Garden Eve was deceived, but the Scriptures seem to imply, though they do not explicitly say, that Adam knew and still disobeyed.