Pastoral Perspectives

Hard Truths and the Grace of God

            At our recent English Presbytery Co-Workers Fellowship talk, someone asked the speaker, “People usually struggle with giving up wealth. What helped you give up a well-paying job to be a missionary doctor?” The speaker said in jest, “I’m quite rich actually!” Then he replied, “It’s a question of how much is enough.” I nodded in agreement and thanked God for the reminder. Unlike the speaker, my resolve on “how much is enough” came from a rebuke in the Bible (the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:16-21) before I left a high-paying job for theological studies in 2003. Savouring a hard truth learned, my mind is ready to digest another hard truth in the Bible.

          John Stott, in his Bible studies on the Beatitudes, noted that no comment could be more hurtful to the Christian than the words “But you are no different from anybody else.” At the gate of heaven, I think nothing could be more horrific to the Christian than the words “I never knew you” from our Lord Jesus Christ. We may be able to recite the Beatitudes and perform remarkable religious deeds, but if we have not done the will of God, we will not enter the kingdom of God on the Day of Judgement. Jesus said, “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, emphasis added).

          In the context of salvation, to do the will of God is to believe in Jesus. The Bible tells us clearly in John 6:40, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” The Bible is also clear that while we are saved by faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9), we can see the evidence of salvation – doing the Father’s work (Ephesians 2:10), Christlikeness (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18) and bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24). On the other hand, we can do pious things out of habit but our hearts are not really involved (Isaiah 29:13) and rebellious people may “profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works” (Titus 1:16). 

          So what will help us on the Day of Judgement? Dr Robert Solomon, in The Sermon of Jesus, points out that obedience to God, both externally and internally, is the one criterion that separates the sheep from the goats. And true obedience is not possible without an active relationship with Jesus Christ. South African pastor and writer Andrew Murray makes this observation on the heart of obedience:

          The secret of true obedience… the clear and close personal relationship to God. All our attempts after full obedience will be failures until we get access to his abiding fellowship. It is God’s holy presence consciously abiding with us that keeps us from disobeying Him. I must consciously include the Lord in every thought, activity and conversation until the habit is established.

          How do we grow the desire to obey God? Dr Robert Solomon, in Finding Rest for the Soul, describes the process of discovering ever deeper motives for obeying God and doing His will:

          Most of us begin obeying God out of fear (Deuteronomy 10:12). We fear what God would do to us if we disobey, just like we obey figures in authority because we fear punishment. In other words, we obey because we want to avoid pain. As we learn to obey God, however, we start to realise that He can be trusted – that He will not punish us unnecessarily. We start to see that He always keeps His promises, and that He will reward us with a sense of peace when we obey Him..……..This growing trust in God, His character, and His ways – rather than fear – then becomes the primary motive for doing His will (Psalm 9:10; 22:4-5). Next, we discover that when we obey God, we feel a deep joy and sense of satisfaction; we find ourselves obeying God because it is such a joyful thing to do (Psalm 5:11; 19:8). This joy will grow into love for Him, which ultimately becomes our primary motive for doing God’s will (1 John 5:3; 2 John 1:6). This goes to the heart of our relationship with God. By this point, we will do God’s will even if it brings pain or fails to bring pleasure, simply because we love Him. Our love for Him keeps us on the straight and narrow road, in the valley of the shadow of death, and on the way of the cross as we follow the One who said to the Father, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

            Jesus knows that not all who call Him “Lord” are His true disciples.  So He warns us about false discipleship and tells us what He will look for on the Day of Judgement. This is the grace of God! To prepare for the ultimate test at the gate of heaven, we need to do periodic “health checks” on our relationship with Jesus asking ourselves this question – Do I have a living relationship with Jesus that is marked clearly by my obedience and love for the Lord?

Ms Chan Suet Fong

July 23, 2017