Our Favorite Wool Sweater

In any given story, one character to watch out for is the guy who is always being told what to do and always doing whatever he wants anyway. We’ve all seen this guy before. If he’s five, he keeps playing with his Legos until mom says it three more times. If he’s fifteen, he says, “Huh?” If he’s twenty-five, he begins a debate over the nature of authority and its appropriate application. If he’s fifty-five, he’s much more mature, so he nods and says, “That sounds like a great idea” before he goes back to his own business. There is one heart, although many faces, among those who avoid first time obedience.

Jesus told a story about a son who acted as if he was going to obey at first, but it was only that, an act. That son not only disobeyed the will of his father, but also missed out on the kingdom (Matthew 21:28-32). In a different context, James explained that those who only hear the word rather than hear and do deceive themselves (James 1:22-24). Their final condition is worse than their first because now they think themselves to be examples. They are examples.

John wrote in his gospel about the good Shepherd and His sheep. The refrain throughout chapter 10 is that Jesus’ sheep hear His voice and, when He calls them, they follow Him. The Shepherd’s voice is familiar. They have a relationship. They have history together. The true Shepherd knows His sheep, and we know the true sheep as those who follow the Shepherd.

The point is that we ought not make Him say it again, whatever “it” is. We shouldn’t act as if His will is an interruption. It’s unnecessary to negotiate about the extent of His authority. It’s inappropriate to appear as if we’re going to follow and then wander off our own way when He turns around. For Christ’s sheep, first time obedience is like our favorite wool sweater we always want to wear.

How Collected We Are

We are not usually good team players. We put the “-ism” in individualism. We’re big on personal freedom and individual rights, personal investment strategies and personal preferences, personal development and self-reliance.

As a nation, our bumper-stickers say “Be all that you can be,” and “Look out for #1.” There have been days of cosmetic unity in our history, usually during the Olympics or when we’re in a clear war. Then we come together and raise our common flag. Then we’re glad to be identified by something bigger than our driver’s license or Facebook profile.

Even in the church we’re usually more mindful of the person sitting in our seat (me) than the rest of the pew. But one leg can’t hold up a table; one finger can’t claim to be the whole hand, let alone the entire body.

As Christians we are many individual members. Each believer is saved and sanctified, personally responsible for sin and for spiritual warfare. But each believer is also part of the church–the Body–and should not think of himself otherwise. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).

There are things that the church does that a Christian cannot do by himself. God’s point to the universe is “through the church” (Ephesians 3:10), through the collected mess we are. The heavenly beings don’t learn anything by watching how messy we are, they know that. They’re watching how collected we are.

Like a Compass Points North

God takes His position as God seriously. He is not insecure or defensive, but He is jealous and promises to punish any who bow before knockoff gods. Commandment number one of ten made clear: “You shall have no other gods before me.” Worship of the LORD is to be exclusive; serve only Him. And worship of Him is to be done rightly: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image….” Worship of the LORD was to be unabridged, not limited by any distorted or dwarfish representation.

Why? The easy answer is that our Creator and Deliverer is infinitely worthy and deserves all our reverence. But that isn’t the only answer. Right worship is also important because men become like what they worship. Men were made from the beginning as image-bearers of God and true worship provides us with our bearings like a compass points north. Idolatry offends God, yes, and it also aims men in the wrong direction. The needle doesn’t need to be off by much before we’re soon headed off the cliff.

Failure to worship, or worship of another god, or off target worship of the true God, makes men miserable, not only because their God-given conscience is violated, but also because their God-given image is distorted. They cannot know truly who they are or what direction they should go because they believe and worship what is false. Even as Christians we can get lost a thousand different ways each week, so we confess our sin and get back to worship that keeps us oriented.

Mud All Over the Place

In John 13, Jesus began to wash the disciples feet as a demonstration of His love for them. When He came to Peter, Peter objected and, in a sense, we understand his objection because Jesus was the Master and the Master should be the one having his feet washed; He should not be the one washing. Jesus, of course, overcame Peter’s initial refusal, and then Peter reacted to the opposite extreme and told Jesus to give him a full-body bath. Jesus again corrected Peter’s misunderstanding by explaining that dirty feet didn’t necessarily mean his face was filthy.

The first lesson of John 13 is about service and Jesus taught His disciples to follow Him in this pattern of humility. But there is another issue as well, the issue of cleanliness.

We are Christians, and one of the things that means is that we are clean; our sins have been forgiven. Our body of sin has been washed in Christ. But our belief of this and our having confessed our sins for sake of salvation, does not mean that it was one confession and done. We, as Christians, get our feet dirty with sin. John teaches Christians in 1 John 1 that, for the sake of our ongoing fellowship with God and with each other, we must keep confessing our sins.

We ought to confess our sins each time we sin. And as a congregation, when we gather for sake of fellowship with God and each other, we do well to wipe our dirty feet at the door rather than track mud all over the place.

Tapering Off in Sin

At the prayer meeting, not many people ask for prayer so that they might taper off in their adulteries, or their thefts, or all the lies they are spreading around town. But [bitterness, envy, anger, and pride] are respectable—we have a delicate way of acknowledging them without really dealing with them. And one of the reasons we get away with touching on them lightly is that the main problem is clearly … the other guy’s.

—Doug Wilson, Getting Your Eyes Off the Other Guy