“God is good…God’s got this…Don’t worry; God is in control…God will take care of you.” You’ve probably heard these catchy phrases of assurance a thousand times. You’ve probably even heard them enough that the incredible messages they contain seem a bit mundane. Sad.
The fact is, God is all of these things and much, much more. He’s certainly good, He’s forever in control, and He absolutely wants to lead you directly to His very best provisions in your life. God loves all of us in a way that we can’t even begin to comprehend. And, God loves us regardless of our weaknesses and lack of obedience. His love is secure and supreme. We can ask for nothing more. But, how does the truth of God’s love, and His plans for us, relate to these commonly used phrases of assurance in our life when our circumstances bring us to a place of desperate and definitive need of assurance?
You know, there are simply times in our life when we live in direct disobedience to God’s commands. We all know it’s the truth. In the context of our relationship with God, one of the most destructive aspects of our nature is our ability to simply “walk away” from God’s will, at any time, and pursue our own greedy, self-serving interests. It’s much easier to do than I care to admit, but Adam and Eve lowered the bar for human behavior a few years back, and it’s been a momentous struggle ever since.
I think of Adam’s regret as he walked out of the Garden of Eden, knowing he would never again return to this place of perfection and face-to-face personal fellowship with the Lord. He had pitifully failed to follow God’s commands. As he left, he had to be replaying in his mind the things that led up to this disastrous series of events…events that had radical consequences, and consequences that, still today, define mankind’s flawed relationship with Almighty God. He had failed to follow God’s explicit commands, he had failed to lead his wife, and he now realized that, through his profound and intentional disobedience, he would be forced into a life filled with sinful imperfection and toil.
Now, let me take you into a pitifully fictional narrative, but a narrative with some relevance. Indulge me for a moment…
Let’s imagine that “Joe Christian” is standing just outside the entrance of the Garden. Joe sees the dejected faces of Adam and Eve as they walk out. They’re upset, ashamed, and guilty of purposeful disobedience to God. But Joe, being the wonderfully encouraging Christian man that he is, stops them to bring a little pleasantry into their walk of shame out of the Garden of Eden. Joe grabs their hands, smiles at them, and with excitement in his voice, he says, “Don’t worry about this guys! God’s got this! He’s good, and He’s doing this for a reason! God’s ways are higher than our ways! We don’t know why God allowed this, but just have faith! It’s all gonna be alright!” Adam would probably smile at Joe and nod his head in shameful agreement…and then continue his dejected walk into a land of thorns and hardened soil.
Isn’t this what we do when others are struggling? We tell them, “It’s going to be O.K., because God is good!” We try to pump them up with assurances of God’s love and His promises, but is there ever even one question of whether their (or our) obedience to God may be relevant, in even the smallest way, to the current set of God-allowed circumstances?
Here’s a hard fact, one that is not so easy to swallow, for the Christian who is attempting to bring “assuring pleasantry” into the life of the hurting by habitually repeating catchphrases about God’s love. The hard truth is this: Adam wasn’t ejected from the Garden of Eden so that God could bring him into something better. On this side of Heaven, the Garden of Eden was the pinnacle. God threw him out…along with his wife! They were never to return again. Adam was permanently ejected from this place of perfection because Adam was disobedient to God’s explicit commands. Adam’s life wasn’t going to improve…it began to degenerate from the moment of disobedience, and our lives are harder today based on the foundation of sin that Adam willingly allowed. So what am I saying? I’m saying that disobedience has radical, life-altering consequences…consequences that don’t always line up with our assuring phrases.
The assurances of God’s provision in our life should always be vetted against our behavior. God does have tremendous plans for us; this is true! These plans are greater than we could ever comprehend. One of my favorite verses in Scripture is Jeremiah 29:11…“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” We should look at that verse in the light of those to whom the promise was made (the children of Israel), and how they were behaving (poorly). To really understand God’s love for them, you must understand that the promise of Jeremiah 29:11 is made to a group who was behaving miserably toward God…just like we often do. Yet, in His incredible love, God still had great plans for their welfare and future. However, God’s great love for them did not quicken the delivery of His blessings…their behavior delayed the delivery.
God never responds slowly in blessing us because He is busy or inattentive. He’s never taken off guard when we behave as if His commands are negotiable based on our whims and circumstances. I am quite convinced that God responds to us with blessings in direct correlation to our obedience to His commands.
There’s a story in God’s Word, told in 1 Samuel, about the disobedience to an explicit command of a sovereign God. I won’t retell the story here, but you can find it in 1 Samuel, chapter 15. There’s a verse within this passage that says…
“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.”– 1 Samuel 15:22 (ESV)
Our obedience is important to God. Disobedience is a manifestation of our sin nature striving to lead us in a direction of independence from God. Disobedience is an act of rebellion; it is sin, it is a form of idolatry, and it disrespects the commands of Scripture. We may try to cover up our disobedient nature with acts of goodness, more church attendance, greater sacrifice, etc…, and we may often try to find some false and assuring security in bathing the consequences of our disobedience in “feel good” phrases of God’s love. But know this; there are consequences for disobedience to God, and there are even greater consequences to continued disobedience. God loves us unconditionally; consequently, He’s not going to open the floodgates of blessing into the lives of those who are purposefully, and continually, living in disobedience to His commands.
There has to be a moment of clarity for us when we realize that God loves us enough to pursue us through discipline. He loves us enough to withhold His best during the times when we have placed our best on a pedestal of worship in our life. In our disobedience, we are literally running away from God (leaving the garden), and believing Satan’s lie that there exists greener pastures other than those found within God’s will. And, in this disobedience, God is not leading, and we are certainly not headed into something better. Here, in our disobedience, the light at the end of the tunnel is a train.
God’s intention for us is to obey Him! He’s a loving God who understands our sinfully defiant nature. Christ, as well, understood this as He died on the cross to pay the cost for sin’s detrimental impact on our eternity. But, what about today? What about Monday at 6:00 PM, or next month…What are we to do with our disobedient nature right now in the real world?
Here are some thoughts on obedience taken directly out of Scripture. If you’re seeking assurances, you can find them here…although, be warned, they are not always pleasant for the disobedient.
Our obedience to God is a reflection of our love for Him…
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
– John 14:15 ESV
Our obedience to God brings the assurance of blessings…
“But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’”
– Luke 11:28 ESV
Obedience to God was never promised to be easy…
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."
– Matthew 7:13-14 ESV
God, through Scripture, defines what our obedience should look like, and it is Scripture that will reveal our disobedience…
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
– Hebrews 4:12 ESV
Our “sacrifices, acts of service, and rehearsed religion” do not necessarily translate into obedience in the eyes of God…
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
– Matthew 7:21-23 ESV
Being disobedient brings bad assurances…
“Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God.”
– Deuteronomy 8:20 NIV
“Indeed all Israel has transgressed Your law and turned aside, not obeying Your voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him.”
– Daniel 9:11 NASB
Being obedient brings good assurances…
“By loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”
– Deuteronomy 30:20 NASB
Let’s be clear, God can destroy nations. He has in the past. When a nation fails to obey the commands of God, they can expect assurances from God…assurances of bad things. Just like nations, we can’t seriously claim the blessed assurances of God when we are living a life of deliberate and sinful disobedience to God’s commands. When we are obedient, we can expect God to bless us in the ways of His choosing. He knows what we want, but He also knows what we need. Expect the blessings of God to be in accordance with His perfect will and not our imperfect desires.
Here are the facts…
We should step back and take an honest assessment of our own personal walk with our Lord. Regardless of our sincerity, we are always going to struggle with a sinfully defiant nature, and we will always have times of disobedience. When we are disobedient to God, we must endure the redirecting discipline, brought about by God’s love for us, and repent of our independent nature. When we’re disobedient, we should expect discipline, and we should not be angered or frustrated when it arrives.
Our circumstances are not always caused by our disobedience to God. Sometimes God does, in fact, allow us to undergo trial and persecution. Let’s be sure to not allow these times of testing by God to catalyze disobedience in our life and further complicate our situation. In the middle of a storm that is not the result of disobedience to God, remain obedient!
God loves us! He is good! He has great plans for our today, our tomorrow, and our future! Understanding these truths should compel us to become increasingly more obedient to God daily. But, understanding the depth of God’s great love for us, we must also understand the loving relevance of His disciplining of our disobedient nature. When we behave poorly, and find ourselves in circumstances that are less than desirable, let’s be sure to do more than claim catchy phrases about God’s love…Let’s examine the reasons why we find ourselves in these circumstances.
In my own life, more often than not, I find that I’m in a particularly bad circumstance because I led myself there. I placed my obedience to God on the back burner, and I rallied my life around my own will. I defied God’s plan, and I’m reaping the gifts of defiance. God loves me, and He will deliver me when I’ve endured enough discipline to refresh my mind of His commands.
I thank God that He loves me enough to disciple me through discipline. I thank God that my bad behavior is already forgiven. But, we should all remind ourselves that high degrees of Christian assurance are simply not compatible with low levels of obedience.
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!