Just recently I was teaching one of our [email protected] groups on the topic of “Developing Your Personal Integrity Principles.” The goal was to lead our members in a process to determine and establish the principles by which they will respond to future challenges and opportunities. Of course, the principles being sought were those that best capture the biblical perspective.
In the course of this exercise it occurred to me that we are often planning and trying to choose a way that best aligns with biblical principles. On the surface this may seem easy but I submit that what we often perceive as the biblical way is often nothing more than the worldly way dressed up in piety and justified by familiarity and personal experience. What we often fail to do is listen for and hear the voice of God. Instead, we reason, evaluate, and decide based on what seems right but in fact may not be consistent with life lived under the rule and reign of God.
While this inclination is deeply rooted in our sin nature, I think we are also further encouraged to do so by the condition of modernity—we are inclined to rely on reason and ignore anything that sounds too “mystical,” such as listening to God. Secondly, our lives are so distracted by the frenetic pace of striving, so common to our culture, that we are never still long enough to listen—much less hear—the “still small voice” of God.
However, God is there and he is not silent, to use the late Francis Schaeffer’s phrase. God began his relationship to mankind by speaking creation into being (Genesis 1:3) and he spoke directly with Adam and Eve, giving them instructions on what they were to do (see Genesis 1:26–28) and what they were not to do (see Genesis 2:16–17). God dwelt with Adam and Eve and they listened to God until another voice entered the world.
When Satan began speaking to Adam and Eve, his point of address was centered on arousing their selfish desires reinforced by a challenge to God’s character. In essence, Satan said, “God is trying to keep you from a knowledge that will make you like Him!” It is here that man stops listening to God and starts listening to another. Man, who was once shielded from evil, is consumed by sin. Everything is ruined and mankind suffers a break in his relationship with God, himself, others and the rest of creation (see Genesis 3: 8–19). Mankind is now alone and alienated, cut off from fellowship with God as he is driven out of the Garden (see Genesis 3:23–24).
However, God, being rich in mercy, does not utterly abandon man. He speaks again but now in small and seemingly obscure ways. Consider that God chose a single man, Noah, and spoke to him (see Genesis 6:3–13). He chose another, Abraham (Abram), and spoke again, telling Abraham of the covenant by which he will bless “all the families of the earth” (see Genesis 12:1–3). God spoke to Isaac (see Genesis 26:2–5) and Jacob (35:9–13) and reiterated this covenant. Some four to five hundred years later, God continued to remember his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (see Exodus 2:24) and spoke to a prince-turned-sheepherder named Moses (see Exodus 3:4). On and on it goes throughout history as God speaks—quietly working out his redemptive plan for creation until his Word actually becomes flesh and dwells once again among men (see John 1:1–14). God once again speaks to all men, inviting them to repent and receive salvation that he himself has secured through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the promised Savior of the world.
Unfortunately, sin has dulled our hearing and obscured the voice of God. Thus we listen to our own voice and that of the world—that system of life and understanding that exists in opposition to the kingdom of God. The fact is, we are predisposed to listen to every other voice but God’s precisely because these other voices (including our own) appeal to and resonate with our nature.
Fortunately, God knows our limitations and he puts to silence these other voices and raises the volume until we hear his. Upon hearing the voice of God, one repents and enters the kingdom of God. This is precisely where the Christian finds themselves, between the already and not yet. The kingdom has indeed come, but not fully; thus while we do begin to hear the voice of God speaking through the Scriptures and into our hearts through his Holy Spirit, we persist in our sin nature that wants to keep listening to the world and the way that seems right to us but in the end, leads to death (see Romans 7:15–16).
This is the crux of the matter; as creatures who have received a new life, we vacillate between choosing the way that brings forth life and continuing in the way of death. This is the choice we are empowered by the Spirit to make each and every day as expressed in the words of Joshua when speaking to the Israelites:
I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it (Deuteronomy 30:15–16, ESV).
This “life” to which the Bible refers is not just our eternal life with God in heaven after we die. The gospel of the kingdom brings life both now (abundantly) and for eternity while sin maintains death both in this world and eternally. Notice that the passage above connects life with good and death with evil. Life in Christ restores what is true, good, and beautiful, bringing joy, peace, and flourishing while death delivers sorrow, grief, and ruin. As his church, we are to spread the aroma of life by offering a sign and foretaste of the kingdom as we cheerfully follow in the way of our great King!
In part two of this article, I will offer some suggestions to help us first open our ears to hear the voice of God and thereby mute the voices of this world. In addition, we will examine and contrast the very practical aspects of living in the way that leads to life with the way that leads to death, which will hopefully strengthen our desire to choose the way of life.
© 2012 by S. Michael Craven
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S. Michael Craven is the president of Battle for Truth and the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress, 2009). Michael's ministry is dedicated to equipping the church to engage the culture with the redemptive mission of Christ. For more information on Battle for Truth and the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit www.battlefortruth.org.