As anyone who has spent even a little time in the Bible will tell you, there are some challenging verses in both the Old and New Testaments. Some are strict and speak of standards and requirements that must be met to be in right standing with God. Some are downright frightening as they describe the difficulty of the narrow path and the very small number who find it. This week as I pondered one such difficult verse, I was angrily attacked in the comment section of one of my older blogs. My offense was that I had asserted that God meant what He said.
The Comment in Question
The comment was on the blog 9 Reasons God Doesn’t Hear Our Prayers. It was a scriptural study in which I collected verses that addressed the times that the Bible said God wouldn’t (21 verses) and would (7 verses) hear prayers. In light of the scriptures, I suggested that it was up to us to examine ourselves and take steps to remove the barriers that the Bible said could cause God not to hear us. These were things like making sure we don’t have any unconfessed sins, idols, or unforgiveness, all mentioned in the New Testament. I maintained that we should always strive to submit ourselves and walk in right relationship with the Lord.
Here was the comment:
“Hath God Said?”
Does Christ’s death and resurrection now make God’s words to no effect? In the Garden of Eden, the devil asked Eve a question, “Hath God said?” In other words, “Did God really say that?” Eve knew that the Lord had said that the penalty of eating from the tree was death, but the devil convinced her not to take the Lord at His Word. Instead of what God SAID, he told her what God “really meant.”
In our society today, we seem to have a similar spirit pervading the hearts and minds of many professing Christians. They assume that the things that the Bible says can’t possibly be what the Lord really meant. They are just too difficult for us to do, and anyway, Jesus died so we don’t have to do them.
But the Bible was written for believers. It’s filled with scriptures that both encourage and challenge, promise and threaten. We can’t take the Lord at His Word for the things that pertain to His great love without believing what He says about the side of Him that will judge us on that Day. In Matthew 6:15, for example, Jesus says that if we don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive us. Did Jesus mean what He said? Or did His very own sacrifice make Him a liar? God forbid! Forgiving others is hard, but it’s not impossible with God (Luke 1:37). If we pray and ask Him to empower us through the Holy Spirit, we can do exactly that.
Not Law-Keeping or Legalism
Of course, when I say that we should take God at His Word, I’m not talking about following the 613 Mosaic laws that were physical representations of spiritual concepts. Jesus fulfilled that law and closed the book on the old system of ordinances and animal sacrifices. Now we follow their spiritual counter parts (for example, we no longer circumcise bodies but hearts).
I’m also not talking about legalism. The Pharisees followed all the rules of the Mosaic Law better than anybody, but they were still not right in the sight of the Lord. Why not? Because their hearts were far from Him. It wasn’t about pleasing the Lord but being better than everybody in their own strength. It was about man instead of God.
But it’s not legalism when the Bible tells us to “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only.” We can’t earn salvation or even keep it. It’s by God’s grace through our faith. But faith means we actually believe that God is God. And if God is God, He deserves our best efforts to live a life that lines up with what He asks of us in the Bible. We take Him at His Word and believe that He means what He says.
The Verse I was Contemplating
I don’t think it was a coincidence that the verse that I was grappling with before I saw the person’s comment was Matthew 5:48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” I don’t know about you, but I’m nowhere near perfect even on my best days. That had me thinking to myself, “How could God possibly mean that?”
But when I set myself to understanding, praying and asking for God to show me, the meaning became clear. In Matthew 19:21, Jesus tells the rich young ruler who already followed God’s commands, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Jesus told him to sell what he had because his wealth was the thing he held the tightest to in this world. Perfection is about dying to self and submitting to the Lord in every area. Getting ourselves out of the way leaves us with His perfection. God told us to be perfect, and then He told us what that looked like. Of course, like a lot of things in the Bible, submission to God is easier said than done sometimes. But by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, He will allow us to do just that.
Does Christ’s Finished Work Mean Ours is Finished Too?
Jesus paid the price for our sins and reconciled us to God. But does Jesus’ sacrifice mean that we have no responsibility to resist sin, obey what the Bible says, or strive to be holy? God forbid! It is true that every good thing comes from God, and apart from Him we can do nothing. It is the Holy Spirit who will empower us to do the things the Lord asks of us, but we have to set our minds and hearts to doing them.
God Means What He Says
The Bible is the inerrant Word of God, and God absolutely means what He says. Even when the words are hard to understand – or just plain hard — we have to take God at His Word. We can ask Him to show us what scriptures mean or how we, personally, can do what He asks us to do (or stop doing). We do our best to be pleasing to Him because we love Him and because He is our God. And when we fall short, we trust Him to help us. After all, God says that His strength is made perfect in our weakness; His grace is sufficient. And we believe that too.
Want more good questions? Try Where Do You Labor in the Harvest of Souls? Or, try The Desires of the Heart: What’s Your One Thing? Please sign up to receive my blog in your email inbox. You can find that at the upper right of your screen (or at the bottom on a phone). Also, check out my YouTube Channel where I read the blogs out loud. I also have a playlist of hymns from my church.