When we consider how important the Bible is as our “Guide to God’s Will”, we inevitably start to think about those Biblical verses that we don’t understand; find difficult to apply, or that we may not even want to apply. Some Christians do everything “the way the Bible says”. Some Christians don’t even wish to own a copy of the Bible, relying solely on teachings they receive from others. Why should we look to the (our!) Bible for guidance?
Good or bad?
When God specified the so-called food laws to Moses, this wasn’t to be unfair to the Israelites by not allowing them to eat everything they wanted, or how they wanted. But the Law’s cleanliness requirements prevented many illnesses and food poisonings in times when food hygiene was not on the agenda in most, if not all, other nations. When God said: An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (quoted in Matthew 5:38 but originally from Exodus 21:24) this was not to command dreadful punishment, but to restrict the punishment (so that those carrying out the punishment, would not make the punishment worse than the offense).
Whenever God was harsh on the nation of Israel, this wasn’t to make the people suffer, but to guide them back to His will where He could shower them with blessings. God always had their benefit in mind, and He always has our benefit in mind. We have a GOOD God!
But why should I listen to God?
Before we consider our own benefit, there is one major reason why we should listen to God that is more important than any other motivation. In John 14:15, Jesus says: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments”. And in, “Whoever has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” Basically, Jesus says that ignoring His words is not a sign of our love. If we love Him, we are called to show Him this – by keeping His commandments. Similar verses are in James 1:22; 2 John 1:6; 1 John 5:3, and many others. How do we know what His commandments are? – we read the New Testament.
We should keep in mind that obedience is very important to God. Jesus was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, as we are reminded by Philippians 2:8. Considering that God has eternal goodness in His presence in store for us, obedience is a natural way to honor Him in response to our salvation which, after all, we receive as a free gift…!
Why would God care what I do, or don’t do?
God is not a distant God. He didn’t just create earth and mankind, only to disappear until we die and meet Him face to face. God’s Spirit is with us every day, and He takes an interest in us, every day. In verses such as John 15:16, Jesus reveals that He specifically chose His disciples. And as we are His sheep, He, as our Shepherd, knows us, too (John 10:27). In Matthew 10:29-31, Jesus explains that God knows of every sparrow that falls to the ground, but that we are of more value than many sparrows. So does God care? – indeed He does. Ideally, He would want to protect us from any evil or sadness, illness or wrongdoing, and keep us in (the palm of) His hand (John 10:28 and others).
Why doesn’t He just allow us everything?
Actions have consequences, and so do our choices and behavior. God knows that many choices and actions lead to bad things: bad health, injuries, poverty, etc. Because He is omniscient, He knows how our wrong choices will affect our future. We should also not forget that He is a righteous God, as much as He is a loving God. Righteous means that He cannot continue to shower us with blessings if all we do is disobey and reject Him. By ignoring Him and disobeying Him, we extract ourselves from His blessing. That is not what He wants.
So, we are encouraged to listen to what God says, because the life that we will lead without His blessing, is so much less than what He has envisaged for us. Are those blessings always abundantly clear to us? No! Sometimes God’s words “invade” areas of our lives that we really want to have autonomy over. We have difficulty in perceiving that He might actually be right, in the long term; we think it is none of His business.
Surely as we have free will, we can do what we like?
Well, yes. Even Adam and Eve were given free will by God. Sadly, they used it to go against God’s precise wishes, and as a result, none of us is now in the Garden of Eden. We also have free will, but our free will is not as innocent as Adam and Eve’s was. The Fall – the moment in the history of mankind when sin entered the world through one man (Romans 5:12), when Adam and Eve ate from the fruit that God had forbidden them to eat – is affecting our free will, making us tend towards sin. We mustn’t underestimate this tendency.
We are not “neutral” anymore; John 12:46 describes us as being in darkness, a description that is repeated in Acts 26:18. Quite literally, we need Jesus to turn us from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God (Acts 26:18), to the light of the Lord (Ephesians 5:8). So, we have to be careful with our free will. We can, potentially, use our free will to make the same mistake as Adam and Eve – although our “forbidden fruit” will probably be different from an apple!
We might even ask: can relying on our free will, ever be better than listening to God? The darkness of the world might convince us that it is a good idea to use our free will to go against God’s wishes. But we will never “know better than God.” God knows whatever is “around the corner” in our lives. We might think that we absolutely need something, or really shouldn’t do something else, but God has already seen the outcome. He knows. And we can trust His Word to guide us to the best of our potential.