By Dennis Abernathy
As we look around us today we see disobedience on every hand. With many, obedience seems to be a thing of the past. Disobedience is in evidence in homes, in the schools, with regard to the civil authorities, and even in the church of our Lord. It may help to read such passages as Ephesians 6:1-3; Romans 13:1-7 and Hebrews 13:17.
In Hebrews 5:8-9, the Hebrew writer says that “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” Salvation, then, is predicated on obedience. One must obey God; i.e., do His will. “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Let us now notice five ways in which man disobeys God.
1. We may do what He has forbidden us to do. Adam and Eve were guilty of this very thing. “And the woman said unto the serpent, we may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die” (Gen. 3:2-3). Adam and Eve knew God’s will in this regard (Eve stated it to the serpent), but being deceived through the serpent’s lie, they did what God had forbidden them to do. “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (v. 6).
Another clear case of doing that which God has forbidden is that of Lot’s wife. God’s instructions are given plainly in Genesis 19:17. “And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said: escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.” In verses 24-26 we read: “Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and He overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.” Jesus said in Luke 17:32, “Remember Lot’s wife.” She therefore become a monument of warning for all time concerning doing that which God has forbidden.
Shall we leave out Jeroboam as another example of this particular kind of disobedience? Read 1 Kings 12:25-33. We have the kingdom dividing with the two tribes staying with Rehoboam, and thereafter being referred to as Judah and the ten tribes going away with Jeroboam and being referred to as Israel. Jeroboam knew what God required of His people concerning their religious activity and the feasts and festivals that were to take place at Jerusalem. He felt that if the people were to go back up to Jerusalem to do sacrifice that they would be influenced to stay with Rehoboam, so he devised a wicked plan clearly involving things which God had forbidden! He set up idols (golden calves), making the same claim for them that Aaron had made for the golden calf at Mt. Sinai (Ex. 32:4). “Behold, thy gods, 0 Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt” (v. 28). He played upon the longing of the people for convenience by saying, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem” (v. 28).
God had forbidden idols, and they were to worship in Jerusalem in the temple. The priests were to come from the tribe of Levi and they were to make their offerings on the altar God had erected, and observe the feast days which God had set up. But Jeroboam changed everything! Just here, it would be well for you to read 2 Chronicles 11:13-17. The tribe of Levi had rebelled against the House of David with Jeroboam, but when he devised his own system of religion, and the Levites were rejected and cast out, they returned to Rehoboam and Judah.
As you read this account of Jeroboam in 1 Kings 12, notice the phrases: “He set,” “he made,” “he offered,””so did he,” “he placed,” “which he had made,” “he ordained,” “which he had devised of his own heart.” But God said, “and this thing became a sin. . . ” (v. 30).
One last example will suffice. The young prophet we read of in 2 Kings 13 disobeyed God by doing what God forbade him to do. They both did what God said not to do and they were punished for it. When God directs us and forbids us to do a certain thing, we peril our very souls when we do it. Brethren, take heed!
2. We may refuse or fail to do what he has commanded. Jonah is guilty of this very thing – at least the first time the Lord appeared to him. In Jonah 1:1-3, we read: “‘And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” At this point, God clearly outlined to the prophet Jonah what He wanted him to do. But Jonah refused to do it! God said go one way and Jonah went the other. He disobeyed God! You know what happened to Jonah, and so after his experience in the belly of the great fish, God came to Him a second time. God’s instruction was the same as it was at the first, but this time the Bible says “. . . Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. . .” (Jon. 3:3).
Friend, Jonah refused to do what he was commanded, because he did not like the mission he was given. He did not want the Assyrians spared, and he knew that if they heeded his preaching that God would spare them (read 4:1-3). Will we be guilty of refusing to do what God says because we do not like what He tells us to do? Remember Jonah. He had to learn some very valuable lessons and the learning process was not too easy for him.
One more example will be enough on this point. Read I Samuel 15. This is the account of Saul and God’s instructions to him concerning the Amalekites. God’s instructions were clearly outlined to Saul. “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” (v. 3). But in verse 9, we see Saul refusing to do what God had commanded! “But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. . . . ” Saul was disobedient to the Lord and his trying to “pass the buck” didn’t help him one bit. The Lord accepts no excuses or alibis for disobedience. Some may reason that it is alright to do “part” of what God says, or refuse or fail to do what He says as long as the failure is well intentioned, i.e. “to offer sacrifice.” But what does God say? “It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. . . ” (v. 11) Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He hath also rejected thee from being king” (w. 22-23). When we fail to do what God has commanded, He sees us as stubborn and rebellious!
Now, let us read 1 John 2:3-6 – “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. ” That one who claims fellowship with God while refusing to do His will is characterized as a liar and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” That one who claims fellowship with God while refusing to do His will is characterized as a liar! It is one thing to “claim” to know God and another thing altogether to actually know Him. Paul writes of those who “profess that they know God; but by their works they deny Him. . . ” (Tit. 1: 16).
With these things in mind, does one know God or is he found a liar with regard to the following:
(1) God commands us to “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb. 10:25). But I refuse to obey that command, while claiming fellowship with Him.
(2) Christians are commanded to be modest in their dress (1 Tim. 2:9-10). Rather than obey this command of God I conform to the standards of styles of this world. Does God hear my affirmations of “knowing Him” when He can see that I am a “liar” due to my rebellion?
(3) God commands people to be baptized to be saved (Mk. 16:16). Can one “know” God and claim to love Him and be closely acquainted with Him and rebel against this plain command? Will sincerity and good intentions be enough?
(4) God commands that we sing in worship to Him (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). What about one who refuses to obey and adds mechanical instruments? Does he know God? Are his claims found to be false?
When we refuse to obey God’s commands, we become stubborn and rebellious people! We turn our backs upon God and regardless of all of the claims to the contrary, our profession of fellowship with God becomes a lie!
3. One may add to His word The Bible is filled with warnings about adding to the words and commandments of God. We put our souls in jeopardy when we presume to add to the Word of the Almighty.
In Deuteronomy 4:2, Moses said: “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you. . . that ye may keep the commandments of the’Lord your God which I command you.” The only way to keep the commandments of the Lord is to do it exactly. When we add our “think-so’s” and presumptions, when we apply our own human wisdom to the matter we wind up not keeping the commandments of the Lord at all! Moses states again in 12:32: “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it; thou shalt not add thereto. . . . ” I can well remember my mother telling me as a child: “When I tell you to do something, I mean do it!” I knew what that meant, and we had better understand this truth with regard to God’s law as well.
Joshua, who took over as leader for God’s people after Moses, reiterates the same thing when he says in Joshua 1:7: “Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law which Moses my servant commanded thee, turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper withersoever thou goest.” Emphasis is placed upon “all” the law “commanded” thee. He did not say “part” of the law, neither did he say some “additional” laws. In other words, if you want to prosper, do not deviate from My law! True wisdom dictates that we “add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar” (Prov. 30:6). Any person who adds to the word of God and claims God’s approval in doing so, is found to be a liar.
Two passages from the New Testament will suffice on this point. In 2 John 9, we read: “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.” When one “goes too far” he “does not abide” in the Lord’s teaching. To add to the Word of the Lord is to go too far, and thus one is guilty of not abiding in His teaching and loses God! That person who abides in the teaching of Christ is one who veers neither to the right nor the left of it. He does not add anything to it. He regards it as God’s complete and sufficient standard insofar as his life is concerned. Adding to the Word of God is serious business and results in the loss of God Himself.
In Revelation 22:18 we find the following words: “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophesy of this book, if any man shall add unto these things. God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.” What book in all of the Bible has been more abused than has the book of Revelation? Men have added this and that — speculation upon speculation — all without any proof whatsoever. Friend, be warned. The same principle that applies to the Revelation letter applies to any other part of God’s word. Take heed. God warns!
May we never be guilty of adding to the word of God. Accept it as it is, “not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13). Any who seek to add the doctrines of men or feign some new latter-day revelation stand condemned of God and cursed in His sight.
4. One may take from His word. In Deuteronomy 4:2, Moses said: “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you. ” Then in Revelation 22:19, we read: “And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophesy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” The prophet Jeremiah echoed the same sentiment: “. . . all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word” (Jer. 26:2).
Our obedience to God must be complete. God will never accept a partial obedience. We need not think that we can please God by altering, mutilating, adding to, or substracting from His will. Jesus said: “Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Doing the will involves all of the will. Paul said: “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Paul understood that nothing was to be taken away or substracted from God’s word. He stated in Acts 20:20: “. . . I kept back nothing that was helpful. . . . ” Friend, let us learn when we take anything away from the revealed will of God we sin!
5. One may substitutefor God’s word. The classic example of this would be Aaron’s two boys, Nadab and Abihu. This is found in Leviticus 10:1-2. They “offered strange fire before the Lord, which He commanded them not.” Just exactly what was involved in this violation, I’m not definitely sure. Perhaps it was taking the fire from the wrong place (16:12) or maybe it involved the incense also (Ex. 30:9). But one thing I do know. Nadab and Abihu did that “which he commanded them not. ” We learn that “fire is not fire” when the Lord has specified a certain thing. We do not hastily offer just any kind of service and expect the Lord to accept it, for He will not! He did not then and He will not today.
Other examples could be cited, such as David transporting the ark and Uzzah touching it and losing his life because of it. Substitution is certainly involved here for the things and ways of God (read 1 Chron. 13; 15:13; Num. 4:15; Exo. 25:14-15). Also the account of Naaman the leper, who when told to dip seven times in the river Jordan became wroth and thought to substitute two others rivers that he surmised “would do just as well.” Had he not gotten over his anger and listened to reason and finally obeyed the commands of God, he would have forever remained a leper. Listen friend, it is no small thing to substitute for God’s word.
Brethren, look around you today. Churches are substituting for God’s word in every realm; substituting human institutions for God’s divine institution, the church, substituting the patterns of men for God’s pattern revealed in His will, corrupting His worship by substituting the things of men for the simple worship outlined in His Holy will (Matt. 15:8-9). The organization of our Savior’s church is prostrated before the world because ungodly men who have no respect for His way have substituted their own organizational structures for His. I can assure you brethren, a day of reckoning is surely coming, and what a sad day it will be for those who would tamper with God’s will.
We must never disobey God in any of these five ways. God is dear to us and very good to us, but He demands that we obey Him in all things (Matt. 7:21; Heb. 5:8-9). Honesty and sincerity are honorable and necessary, but they alone are not enough, without obedience. God does not “wink at ignorance” no matter how sincere one may be (Acts 17:30). We must know God’s will and we must do God’s will.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 22, pp. 682-683, 692
November 21, 1985