Following Jesus #5 - In the Way of Obedience
Dr. Kurt Bjorklund continues in the section of John known as "the upper room discourse" and looks at four ways the Holy Spirit comes alongside as we live in obedience to God.
Well, welcome. It's great to be together. Just before we jump into the teaching today, I'd like to take just a couple of moments and just highlight something that's coming. Every year, at the end of the year, toward the end of the year we do something around Orchard Hill that is a celebration of what God has done and then a chance to look forward to what we're anticipating in the year ahead. And this year we're having several events that we're calling Vision 2020, which is an opportunity for you just to come and celebrate how God has worked in the midst of this church in the last year and then look forward to next year. And so here in Wexford there'll be events on November 14th, 15th and 17th. You'll get some information about these in the days ahead and I just want you to see those and to prioritize that if you can. There's three so you can choose different ones, although they'll have different themes.
And if you're in Butler County, there's an event on November 6th, in the strip district, on November 21st and all of these will be, as I said, just an opportunity to celebrate what God has done and look forward to what He's going to do. And this has been one of the ways that our church has moved forward consistently over the years is people have come together and just prayed about how they can be engaged in what God is doing through the church. And one of the initiatives that we've talked about in the past, I want to just let you know that the auditorium project in Wexford is not happening this fall. At one point we had hoped maybe this fall, now we're hoping sometime in early 2020. There are still several things that need to happen for that to get the green light. But that project should be exciting. And so we'll talk some about that, but that won't be the whole of what is in front of us for 2020. And so when you see that, love for you just to make that a priority in your schedules in the days ahead.
Let's take a moment and pray together. Father, as we gather today in eight different services around Orchard Hill, I pray that you would just be our teacher. God, if I've prepared things that don't reflect your truth, I pray you'd keep me from saying them and if there are things that would be beneficial but I haven't prepared, I pray you'd prompt me even in these moments. And we pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.
We've been in a series that we've called Following Jesus and we're working through what is known as the upper room discourse, John 14 through 17. We actually started in John 13 and we've talked about following Jesus in the way of humility, the way of love, the way of hope, the way of power. And today in the passage you heard read the theme is really obedience. And I know that when I say that, that there are a lot of different reactions. In fact, some of us probably hear that and we think, oh great. I came to church to hear about obedience. In fact one of the reasons I don't like church or I haven't been around church for a long time, is whenever people talk about obedience, it just makes me feel lousy about myself and I don't want to feel lousy. And so I just avoid the subject or I don't like the idea of somebody having sway over my life. Obedience school is for dogs, not for people.
And if you're like me, there's a little piece of me that if somebody wants to tell me what to do, that I like to say, "Oh yeah," and do the opposite sometimes. And that's probably more about me than anybody else. But my point is this, and that is obedience isn't something that we go, I can't wait to talk about obedience. Please sign me up. Talk about hope, talk about love, even humility, talk about power and we can get excited. But when we talk about obedience, it isn't the first thing that we say, "That's awesome. I can't wait to talk about it."
And yet Jesus addresses it very clearly in these verses. And He addresses it along with, in a sense an introduction, and I say in a sense because He's been introduced before, but to the Holy Spirit here. Here's what is true and that is it's hard to relate to a divine being, to God, without surrendering to God, without obeying God. Because if you're relating to a God that you don't surrender to, that you don't bow your knee to, that you don't obey, at least on some level, it isn't God that then you're relating to. But what you're relating to is a being that you can control, that you can massage into the kind of being that you want the being to be.
Here's where we see this in this passage, in John 14. We read this in verse 15. It says, "If you love me, keep my commands." Really simple statement. Jesus says, "If you love me, here's what I want you to do. I want you to keep the commandments that I give you." And then in verse 21, which was the last verse that we heard read, it says, "Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father and I too will love them and show myself to them."
And then again in verse 23, "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them and will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching." Here in just a couple of verses, four times, there is this strong statement of saying love and obedience are tied together. If you love me, you will obey me. If you don't love me, you won't obey. That's Jesus' statement. In other words, without surrender to a divine being, you can't say that you have a loving relationship with that divine being.
And so what do we do then with how we relate to God? You see, there are probably some things that God commands that you like and agree with and there are probably some things if you're honest, that you dislike and maybe even argue with. And when I say argue, what I mean is you look at it and you say, "Well, I don't know that the Bible really says that or that that's really what it teaches." But Jesus' statement here is He says, "I'm not going to leave you as orphans." In other words, He's talking about his departure and He's saying, "I'm not going to leave you here alone, but instead I'm going to send you another advocate." That's what the NIV says. The NIV is the translation we generally use here, and that's the NIV that was translated in 2011. The NIV of 1984, which was the one that proceeded that, said another counselor. The English standard version, the ESV, says another helper. The authorized version, the AV says that they'll leave you another comforter.
And here's what's going on. Whenever you have a word that has so many different translations in so many different Bible translations, it means that the word that underlies it in the original language is hard for the translators to say, "This is a single English word that conveys its meaning." And this is one of those words. The Greek word is parakletos and the word is a word that means one who comes alongside, one who can serve like a defense lawyer or a helper, a counselor, a comforter, an advocate, somebody who's there to say, "I'm going to be with you in the hardest parts of your life." And so what Jesus does here is He says, "If you love me, keep my commandments and I'm sending you another."
And the word's almost too big for a single word. He's saying, "I'm sending you something, someone that is so significant that this spirit will help you manage your life." Now, if you've been around church or not around church, there's a chance that you've heard people talk about the Holy Spirit. And there are some people who will tell you that the Holy Spirit is given to people at the moment that you believe, but that there's a second work that the Holy Spirit does in people. Sometimes they'll refer to it as the baptism of the Holy Spirit or the filling of the Holy Spirit or something like this, and they'll say that you can start your Christian life without all the power of the spirit, but then you'll get the full spirit if you open yourself up to it. Usually manifested in some kind of experience that will take you to a new spiritual level.
Now, I just want to tell you that on my reading of the scripture, I don't believe that that understanding is warranted. Let me just show you one place that I think states this very clearly. This is Second Peter chapter 1, verse 3. It says, "His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness." Now, here's what that says. God has given you, as you sit here today, everything you need to live the life God calls you to live. It doesn't say that there's another experience that's out there that you need to have or another manifestation of the spirit that you need to have. What he's saying and what Jesus has promised here is He says, "I'm giving you the Holy Spirit, another advocate." And another, by the way, in the original language means not another of a different kind, but another of the same kind.
In other words, this is God himself given to His followers in his Holy Spirit to enable them to live the life that He calls them to live. If you're a follower of Jesus Christ, you have everything you need today to do everything God calls you to do. You don't need another something, you have it. Here's what I want to do is I want to look at this role of the Holy Spirit because I think we see that four ways in this passage that the spirit comes alongside of believers and helps them. And so if you're a follower of Jesus, these things are true for you. And if you aren't sure where you are, these are things that can be true for you if you'll come into a relationship with Jesus Christ.
The first is that the Holy Spirit guides us in truth. And we see this because right away after we're told that he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever, he identifies this. Verse 17, and it very simply says, "The spirit of truth, the spirit of truth." Now again, some versions will say that this is a counselor or somebody who's here to help you and age you along the way. And sometimes what will happen is we may say, "Well, I don't know what God wants. I don't know what God is telling me to do or what God has intended for me." But the truth is, most of the time it's not that hard to find. Now I realize if you're here and you're saying, "Well, I'm caught between options and I have so many things." The word of God, the Bible, gives us God's word and the spirit illumines the word.
And so saying that the spirit is the spirit of truth does not mean that you just sit kind of empty like and the Holy Spirit downloads stuff into you apart from God's word. What it means is as you study God's word, as you look at the Bible, as you understand the text, that God will reveal Himself to you through the text and points you in the direction that you need to go. And what this is referring to ultimately is that this is not some ethereal thing, but it's confirmed through the text. Here's what we need to understand and that is that truth is good. Now you know this, you know this in life in general, but sometimes when it comes to moral truth, we like to think that it's relative. Not good to say there's an absolute truth.
And here's why I say you know this, when you get on an airplane and the airplane person comes on, whoever it is that's talking in the airplane and they say, "We're going to be a few extra minutes because one of the safety checks didn't work out." Now, you might be annoyed that your plans are taking a little hit and you're going to be delayed, but by in large you say, "Well, I'm glad that there was somebody who designed an airplane who knew exactly how it should work, who said, these are all the safety things you should do so that this plane won't crash." In other words, you say, "Truth is good. It's good that the designer knows how this works and has made it so that if I ride this plane, I know that it will go in a good direction." And the truth is, you and I, when we bend our knee to the designer of the universe, what we're doing is we're saying, "I believe that you have a better plan for my life and for the world than my own ideas."
Now that's hard sometimes because sometimes we want to think that we have it all figured out, but to say that the spirit guides us in truth means that what we're saying is that if I have bent my knee to the God of the Bible, that there will be truth that the Holy Spirit will lead me in as I surrender to what it says.
Here's what Elizabeth Elliot once said. She was a missionary to Ecuador years ago and has written several really good books. She said, "We must quit bending the word to suit our situation. It is we who must be bent to the word." Sometimes it isn't that we don't know what the word says, it's that we don't like what it says, and so we try to bend our situation to fit so that we don't feel like we're in somehow violation. We can say, I still love God. I love Jesus, but we keep up a veneer of obedience rather than actually obeying. You see, the evidence of the spirit isn't some kind of miraculous utterance or something like that. We're told exactly what the evidence of the spirit is.
In Galatians chapter 5, this is what we see. This is Galatians 5, verse 22 and following it says, "But the fruit of the spirit," In other words, the result of the spirit, "working in your life is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control." And then it says this, it says, "Against such things there is no law." In other words, as you love God, obey God, you start to manifest the fruit of the spirit and then it says, and then there's no law that that holds these things together. In other words, you can't compel yourself to live according to the spirit as much as you can love God and then start to follow what He says and you'll see that it shows itself ultimately in just your obedience and in your fruit.
And just so we're clear, obedience, your obedience, my obedience does not pave our way with God to God's eternity. It doesn't help us to be more accepted by God. It doesn't even predispose God to treat us with favor. It is Jesus' obedience on the cross that predisposes God to treat us with favor and to pave our way to His eternity. That's a huge distinction. It's not my obedience, it's not your obedience that predisposes God, but it's the obedience of Jesus Christ in going to the cross that gives us standing. In other words, yes, Jesus and the Holy Spirit guide us in truth, but ultimately it's what Jesus did that helps us to live in the benefits of that obedience, not what we do or don't do.
Here's the second thing, and that is I believe that the Holy Spirit empowers for action, and I think this is caught up in the translation here that says, says that, "He's the helper, He'll give you another helper." This is how the ESV translates it. Now, last week we talked a little bit about some of the positive sides of the commands of God and the greater works that that Jesus talks about here where He says, "If you're my followers, you'll do greater works than me." See there's a positive side to obedience. And that is that as you follow Jesus Christ, what will happen is you will be empowered to act as God's emissary in the world in which you live, to bring goodness into the world. And sometimes that goodness is through the gospel of Jesus Christ, pointing people to eternity. Sometimes it's in helping this world to thrive. Simply going about your daily business in a way that's honoring to people, that's fair and just and kind and good, that's filled with the fruit of the spirit, that brings goodness into our world.
But the spirit also empowers us for obedience in terms of what I'm going to say is the resistance to our sinful impulses. In First Corinthians 10, verse 13 we're told that there's no temptation which is so strong that you and I have to yield to it. And here's why this is important. Sometimes people think that what grace means is that you can do whatever you want and God will forgive you later. And certainly God will forgive later every time. But if your understanding of grace is, I can do whatever I want, it's like getting an ultimate hall pass to do whatever I want and then God forgives me because God's just that kind of a God. What we do is we don't understand that once the other helper comes and lives inside of us, that we have the ability now to be able to say, "As I live my life, I've been being indwelt by the very spirit of God and I have power to be able to resist some or most or the temptations that are in my life."
I didn't say all and here's why, because there's still a sin nature inside of us. But sometimes what we do is we let this idea of the sin nature so overcome our thinking that we start to believe what I call the unable myth, which is I'm not able to have victory over that thing in my life. I can't help myself anymore. But what we need to do is we need to say, "I have all I need given to me in the spirit of God because God has told me so and that there's no temptation which is so strong that I have to yield to it." You see, sometimes when it comes to obedience, some of us will know what's right or what's good and what we'll do is we'll say, "Well, I can't do that. I'm not able to do that." And what we really mean is I'm not willing to surrender on that point. I'm not willing to do what I need to do.
In Romans chapter 6, verse 11 there's a verse that speaks very clearly about this idea of sin. It says, "In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus." Some versions say reckon yourself dead to sin and the word count or reckon appears in the original language as a present tense verb and it has a kind of connotation that says when you reckon you consider it to have been done in the past with continuing forward as results. But the present tense means you keep doing it over and over and over again. In other words, what will bring victory to your life, to my life, over the areas that we struggle with, whatever that is, is continuing to come back and say, "I need to count myself as dead to this sin."
Now what does that mean? Well, to be dead to something means it has no sway, no power over your life, that it has no ability to direct anything in your life. And so to count yourself dead to sin means that what you're doing is you're saying, "I am not giving this habit, this idea, this perspective, this thing that isn't right power over me any more." And you need to do that over and over and over again. I kind of like the acrostic for this DIE. The D stands for decide because a lot of times our biggest battle is just simply deciding that God's way is best. And then I identify, see, sometimes we'll say that we obey, but we aren't open to having our own sins pointed out to us by the Holy Spirit. We just go about our lives day after day thinking that we have it all right. And then E is the eliminate, which is the idea of saying, "I'm going to count myself dead. I'm not going to give that anymore sway."
Now here's what I want you to get before we move on. And that is the spirit will guide you in truth, show you what's real, if you'll study God's word with an open heart and mind, and He will empower you for action to both positively obey that and to make an impact and to resist the urges that derail us. There's something else, and this is part of why this is such a beautiful concept. And that is the Holy Spirit also defends us in failure. And I see this in the idea of the advocate because the word for advocate and this idea that's part of this parakletos, which is the Holy Spirit is the defense counselor who comes along beside you when you are about to be convicted of something.
And here's why this is important. You and I will ultimately fail from time to time despite all of God's power. And sometimes what we need is we need to know that God is going to be the one who fights for us in our failure. In fact, I love what Philip Yancey once wrote. He said, "I've come to know a God who has a soft spot for rebels who recruits people, like the adulterer David, the whiner Jeremiah, the traitor Peter and the human rights abuser Saul of Tarsus, have come to know a God whose Son made prodigals the heroes of his stories and the trophies of His ministry."
You see, if you and I fail and then we say, "God, you can't forgive me for where I've failed." Then we're not understanding the ministry of the spirit. Because although the ministry of the spirit is to lead us in truth and to empower us for action, it's also to defend us in failure because the Holy Spirit is the one who comes along and stands alongside of us when we fail and points us to the other advocate, Jesus Christ, the one who takes away our sin. First John 2:2 delineates that very clearly. And so what happens if you say, "God, you can't forgive me for what I've done," is what you're doing in essence is you're saying, "Well, because my sin couldn't be covered by what Jesus did on the cross. That's why I can't live with anything different than what I'm doing." But you see, we need to see that God is a God of incredible grace. His grace doesn't mean we have an excuse not to obey, but it means that when we fail to obey, that our God does not leave us there, but He's our defender in that moment.
Years ago when I was in high school, I lived in northern Wisconsin, that's where I grew up. And when you live in northern Wisconsin, you drive on ice and sleet all the time. It's just part of life there. And one night I was going out and I had the car, the family car, the family station wagon. This was before minivans and SUVs were cool. And my dad said, "Hey, it's really slick. Go slow tonight." And in my arrogance of being 18 I was like, "Yeah, yeah, whatever." And you know exactly what happened. I was out driving, I took a corner too fast, the car fishtailed and I slid and hit another car and we pulled over, called the police. This was before cellphones and so we had to find a phone and my dad came down to where I was and we exchanged all the information.
I got the ticket and when we went to leave my dad, I expected to get in the driver's seat and me to ride in the passenger seat because I had just smashed his car. And he said, "No, here you drive." And he gave me the keys and he said, "You know what? This is going to cost me and it's going to cost you." And it did cost me by the way. He made sure I paid, but he said, "You go ahead and drive home," he said, "because I think you've already learned your lesson." Now, that was a moment where at least for me in my 18 year old arrogance, my dad acted in a way that said, I'm not going to turn on you in your failure even though I told you what you needed to do. I guided you in truth. I gave you everything you needed to drive safely and you chose not to and when it didn't work out, what he did is he came along and he said, "You know what? I'm going to extend grace to you in this moment."
You see, that is what God does for us through the Holy Spirit and here's why this passage ties obedience to love because our obedience isn't obey or I'll get you. It's as you see the beauty and the wonder of what God has done on your behalf through Jesus Christ, then your heart says, "How could I do any other?" The next time I went out and it snowed and I was driving the family car, I was so careful because I did not want to take grace for granted.
See, if you've really experienced grace, your question won't be how much can I do and God will still forgive? It will be, how can I honor a God who has loved me like that? And part of what we do when we gather in all of our environments, all of our services is we sing as a way, not just to warm up before the teaching, but to say, "My heart is filled with wonder at what this God has done for me so that I am inspired to say the thing that makes the most sense is for me to bend my knee to this God." And if we don't understand the defends us in failure piece, then we don't fully understand who this God is. The spirit guides us in truth, the spirit defends us in our failure. He enables us for action, empowers us for action.
But there's one other thing that we see here and that is the spirit comforts us in distress. He says this, he says, "The spirit of truth, the world cannot accept Him because it neither sees Him nor knows Him, for He lives with you and will be in you." Now this is significant because what Jesus is saying is, "I'm leaving and I'm not going to leave you as orphans, but I'm giving you the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit will be in you." And in fact, He says, "He'll be in you forever." And here's the challenge, is that a lot of times if you've maybe been around church, maybe haven't, what happens is you say, "If I obey God, here's what will happen or won't happen in my life." And so we come with this idea that says, "If I do that, then this won't happen for me."
And it starts fairly young, where we say, "If I stand up for somebody in the school who's being picked on, then I'm going to be ostracized by the kids that I want to be well thought of by." And so we are quiet when that kid's picked on. And what happens is, is we say, "I can't trust or obey God, but the comforter comforts us in our distress when we say, "I can't trust God right now," and leads us to say, "I can be empowered for action." And it continues as we get a little older. Sometimes what happens is we get into our late teens, early twenties and we say, "If I wait for marriage then I will never be satisfied in my life because that seems so foreign, so out of step with our culture, with the way of doing things." But when we are walking in a sense with God, what He does is He comforts us in our distress and assures us that we're not crazy.
And we get older still and we take positions or views that seemed counter to our culture, to the things that are considered to be, kind of culturally aware in our day and age, it's like the spirit says, "No, if you obey and follow my teaching, then I'm going to lead you in a way in which you'll get it." And when it comes to our resources, we feel that sometimes because we say if I steward my resources in the way that the Bible seems to talk about, I won't have enough. It'll never work out for me. And it's like the spirit says, "I'm going to comfort you in your distress because you're not crazy and it's never going to escape my notice."
You see in this passage, obedience and love are tied together. And here's why. Because obedience grows out of love. Love is the key. Love comes because of a heart response to who this God is. Now, here's what I would guess, and that is there are some of us who are gathered this weekend who are saying, "Well, okay, I know this, I've been around, I get it." But the truth for you is God doesn't feel completely reliable because you've tried to obey and you say, "God, these things haven't worked the way I thought they should." But the place that you look is not for how your circumstances are looking, but to what Jesus has done on the cross because there you see His love fully and you can respond to His love and say, "God, whether it seems to be working or not, I'll continue to obey and to follow."
Maybe you're here and you're saying, "Look, I'm not sure about God. I'm just looking for maybe a little divine help along the way." But I want you to know that this obedience idea is not in the fine print and it's not obey or I'll get you, it's not obey and I'll owe you, it's see what Jesus has done on your behalf. He's obeyed for you. Fall in love with Jesus. And then you'll see that His way is best and you'll start to obey more fully. You see, this is really at the core in some ways of one of the things that I think makes Orchard Hill a unique place. I'm not saying that there's not other churches that teach like we do, but so often what I hear in messages and in implied teaching in churches is obey and then you can put God in your debt somehow.
Do these things and your life will go well, but you know what the real gospel message is? Jesus has already done for you. And if you'll love Him and obey Him, then you'll find that God to be trustworthy because He'll guide you in truth. He'll empower you for action, He'll defend you in failure and He will comfort you in distress. But as long as our hearts are cold, as long as we're resistant to what God wants, then what will happen is we will find ourselves saying, "I need to blaze my own path and God will seem like more and more of a distant reality rather than a present God who indwells us in the person of the Holy Spirit." And I realize that this is in some ways got more theology in it than maybe a typical weekend.
But I know that you're smart people and I know that if you're here, you want to know this God and this God is knowable because Jesus said, "I'm not going to leave you as orphans, but I want my Holy Spirit to be part of your every day life and to make a difference in how you live." And you can know that God, you can know Him because of Jesus' work on the cross. You can come to a point today of just saying, "God, I trust that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and so I am putting my trust and my faith in Him, and now I want the other advocate to become part of my life." And the way you do that is just simply saying to God, "I know I've sinned and I need a savior."
And if that's true for you, just even in the next few moments, you can just say, "God, I come to you this way today." And if you've been a person of faith for years, but you've been choosing your own path, the answer isn't to redouble your effort for obedience as much as it is to say, "Come back and fall in love with Jesus Christ and what He's done on your behalf." And then you will experience again, the desire to please and to serve and to obey the creator and ruler of this universe.
God, we pray today as we're gathered, that you would help each one of us to see and to savor what Jesus has done and to be filled with love. Love that leads to obedience. And we pray this in Jesus' name. Amen. Thanks for being here. Have a great evening.