What should define a healthy church? (Part 2: Hear and Obey the Word)
We are spending a few weeks answering the question, “What should define a healthy church?” Last week we talked about the idea of being centered on the gospel - that the gospel isn’t just a get out of jail free card, but that it defines everything that we should say and do as churches and as followers of Christ.
Summarized, as we grow in our walk with Jesus, we have a deeper understanding of how holy God truly is and a more profound realization of how wretched we are without Christ. As that gap between a sinful people and a holy God gets bigger and bigger, the cross that bridges that gap becomes all the more glorious. As the gospel and the cross become more glorious, we are changed and we are transformed. We find ourselves trusting more in his goodness and less in ourselves and leaning more on him instead of on our own abilities. That is the essence of being centered on the gospel - constantly coming back to the beauty of Jesus and the cross. As individuals need this, so do churches.
Today, I want to talk about the need to hear and obey the Word of God. Simply stated, it is impossible to be a healthy church or a healthy Christian if you are not constantly and continuously coming back to the Word of God as the manual for your life.
It is quite common in many churches today to view the Word of God in a few faulty ways. Some churches view the Bible as an outdated, culturally irrelevant book. For churches like this, the Bible holds no real authority, but simply is man’s thoughts about God. These churches tend to value traditional rituals and the opinions of the day as just as valid as anything that the Bible teaches. As such, the Bible isn’t proclaimed on Sunday, but the morning sermon is more of a motivational talk. The Bible, in their mind, doesn’t deserve to be heard.
Another common view is that the Bible is just a book worth studying. These churches can tell you every nuance about the Bible’s history, the geography surrounding the Scriptures, and can quickly point out every error that another person might ascribe to. The problem, however, is that the Bible rarely drops from their mind to their heart, and it never makes it to their hands. For churches like this, they might teach the Bible, but they aren’t striving to obey the Bible. The Bible is a book to be taught, a book to read, but they buy into the false idea that maturity = knowledge. In their mind, the Bible isn’t a book to be obeyed.
In the original language of the Old Testament - Hebrew - the word for hear and the word for obey are the same word. There is no separate word for obeying someone. To hear and to listen to someone is to obey them.
We understand this tension. In our own culture, we say things like, “You aren’t listening! That went in one ear and out the other.” Through the scriptures, God continues to say that people are hearing without listening. They are hearing and not obeying.
A healthy church must both hear the word and obey the Word. The Bible is a mirror to our soul - it shows us who we truly are and who God truly is. We see ourselves laid bare before the Scriptures. They reveal our selfishness, our pride, our arrogance, our lack of compassion, our anger and so much more. At the same time, the Bible shows us a God who is holy, worthy of worship, the One True God, a God of love and a God of wrath. If we are to be healthy - as people and as churches - we must be exposed to these realities by hearing what the Bible honestly teaches, not just what we wish it taught.
At the same time, if we look in the mirror of the Word, see what we are truly like, and then walk away and do nothing, we are fools. The Bible actually uses this exact metaphor about itself, saying that anyone who looks at the word of God and doesn’t obey it is a like a fool he sees himself in the mirror and then forgets what he looks like. The Bible isn’t just a book to be heard, it is a book to be obeyed.
I am convinced that perhaps the greatest need in the church in the United States today is that we would become churches that hear and obey the Word of God. A process of hearing and obeying is the solution for legalism (obeying without hearing) and hypocrisy (hearing without obeying). It is a solution for hyper-liberalism (refusing to hear truth) and dead-orthodoxy (loveless faith).
We are desperate to both hear and obey the Word of God and we cannot be healthy as individuals or churches until we do so. How about you? Are you listening? Are you obeying? How about your church?