Imagine being a crew member on a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and being told the captain has decided to ignore the satellite navigation system because he or she knows better. You would probably be nervous with good reason because the satellite mapping the course for the ship has a far superior view of the ocean and the best route to its destination. As strange as the captain’s behaviour might seem, we make similar decisions in our lives. The psalmist, speaking of God’s word, says “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” [Psalm 119:105]. Yet, we often outrightly rebel against God’s word. Sometimes, we question its authority, rationalise our decision to ignore it or just do the bits we find convenient.
Anything other than perfect obedience to God is rebellion against God. It was rebellion that cost Adam and Eve Eden. It cost two million Hebrews the Promised Land and Saul his throne to name a few examples. I think of Moses who missed out on Canaan because he struck the rock at Meribah, instead of speaking to it as God commanded [Numbers 20:2-12]. I am often stunned by the irreverence of Christians in worship, with the Scriptures and ultimately, God Himself. Do we think God has changed? Or do we suppose that His love means He will compromise on His word or His justice? Oftentimes, we forget that God doesn’t ask for our opinion on how He runs the world and quite frankly, where His commands are clear, our opinions are irrelevant.
The truth is when we willfully choose to rebel, ignore or question what God has instructed, or pick and choose which instructions we obey, we’re saying we know better than God. We see this attitude played out in the life of King Saul. God explicitly commanded Saul to annihilate the Amalekites [1 Samuel 15:1-3]. This was to be a fulfilment of God’s promise to utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven because they waged war against Israel as they camped at Rephidim, shortly after the Exodus [Exodus 17]. Saul decided to spare the Amalekite king, Agag, and the best of the cattle [1 Samuel 15:9]. When confronted by Samuel the prophet, Saul tried to justify his partial obedience [1 Samuel 15:15].
How often we do the same? Paul, referring to the Old Testament, reminds us that their stories were written for our instruction [1 Corinthians 10:11]. I wonder, are we heeding the instruction? God rejected Saul as king that day. As Samuel told Saul and warns us, especially Christians who try to subvert the Scriptures to societal norms and make the Bible say what it doesn’t say: “Obedience is better than sacrifice…for rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft and arrogance like the evil of idolatry” [1 Samuel 15:22-24]. I’ve found that when we fail to take God seriously, we lack the reverence and awe due Him. We become wise in our eyes [Isaiah 5:21] and put the God who is a consuming fire [Hebrews 12:29] to the test. How foolish!
In my experience, the areas of life where we lack self-discipline are the areas we are most likely to struggle with obedience. Furthermore, when our passions aren’t subject to God’s word, they can become idols and lead us into disobedience. Wherever God isn’t preeminent in our lives is fertile soil for rebellion. Nevertheless, we can combat this rebellion through godliness. Paul draws an analogy between the Christian life and running a race. He reminds himself and us to show the same discipline as an athlete, disciplining our bodies and keeping it under control. He then adds: “so that after I have preached to others, I will not be disqualified for the prize” [1 Corinthians 9:24-27]. I believe Paul meant this as a warning to himself and anyone else who believes they cannot lose their salvation. We can and will lose out on heaven if we live a life of willful rebellion.
Paul explains this point in the next chapter as he reminds us of the fate of the Israelites who experienced the Exodus. They saw many miracles but perished in the wilderness without receiving their promised inheritance because of their rebellion. He warns us to abhor the evils they did so that the same fate doesn’t befall us [1 Corinthians 10:1-13]. I don’t know about you, but there are areas of my life where I struggle with rebellion. Previously, I rationalised my disobedience and chose to obey God’s word in part, blatantly taking God’s grace and mercy for granted. I now know I was wrong and I have a change of heart and attitude about my rebellion. It doesn’t mean I now live a life of perfect obedience because I don’t. However, I no longer exonerate myself when I am wrong. Instead, I ask God for forgiveness and earnestly resolve to do better. God is faithful, He always forgives a contrite heart [1 John 1:8-9].
At this point, I plead with you to examine your life. I see no record in Scripture of anyone who deliberately disobeyed God, even partially, and got away with it. We ignore God’s word at our peril because He will not renege on the consequences for disobedience He has outlined in His word [Isaiah 55:10-11]. Are you willfully rebellious in any aspect of your life, rendered restless by your conscience? Have you been confronted by others or convicted by the Scriptures of behaviours and attitudes where repentance is required? Are there areas where you have justified partial obedience? This is prevalent among Christians and all too often, we regard God’s grace as a licence to sin. While a ship may encounter disaster if its crew ignores the satnav, we will certainly be doomed, if we rebel, ignore or trifle with God’s instructions.