If you’ve always thought ‘it’s how you finish that matters’ , Andrew Murray says you might want to reconsider that – and make a fresh start…
Let me warn against a misunderstanding of the expression – ‘learning obedience’ (Hebrews 5: 8). We are apt to think that absolute obedience as a principle – obedience unto death – is a thing that can only be gradually learned in Christ's school. This is a great and most hurtful mistake...
What we have to learn, and do learn gradually, is the practice of obedience, in new and more difficult commands. But as to the principle, Christ wants us from the very entrance into His school to make the vow of entire obedience (Matthew 16:24).
Though externally Christ's obedience unto death came at the end of His life, the spirit of His obedience was the same from the beginning. Whole-hearted obedience is not the end, but the beginning of our school life. The end is fitness for God's service, when obedience has placed us fully at God's disposal. A heart yielded to God in unreserved obedience is the one condition of progress in Christ's school, and of growth in the spiritual knowledge of God's will.
Christian, do get this matter settled at once! Remember God's rule: all for all. Give Him all: He will give you all. Consecration avails nothing unless it means presenting yourself as a living sacrifice to do nothing but the will of God (Romans 12:2). The vow of entire obedience is the entrance fee for him who would be enrolled by no assistant teacher, but by Christ Himself, in the school of obedience.
How to know God's will!
This unreserved surrender to obey, as it is the first condition of entering Christ's school, is the only fitness for receiving instruction as to the will of God for us.
There is a general will of God for all His children, which we can, in some measure, learn out of the Bible. But there is a special individual application of these commands – God's will concerning each of us personally – which only the Holy Spirit can teach. And He will not teach it, except to those who have taken the vow of obedience.
This is the reason why there are so many unanswered prayers for God to make known His will. Jesus said, “If any man wills to do His will, he shall know of the teaching” , whether it be of God.' If a man's will is really set on doing God's will, that is, if his heart is given up to do, and he as a consequence does it as far as he knows it, he shall know what God has further to teach him. (In the John 7:17 context, Jesus explained that a heart committed and inclined to obedience is equipped to recognise the voice of God in His teaching. Conversely, the uncommitted, unstable, unresolved heart forfeits that relationship – Ed).
It is simply what is true of every scholar with the art he studies, of every apprentice with his trade, of every man in business: doing is the one condition of truly knowing. And so obedience, the doing of God's will as far as we know, and the will and the vow to do it all as He reveals it, is the spiritual organ, the capacity for receiving the true knowledge of what is God's will for each of us. In connection with this let me press upon you three things.
1. Seek to have a deep sense of your very great ignorance of God's will, and of your impotence by any self-effort to know it aright.
The consciousness of ignorance lies at the root of true teachableness. ‘The meek will He guide in the way' – those who humbly confess their need of teaching. Headknowledge only gives human thoughts without power. God by His Spirit gives a living knowledge that enters the love of the heart, and works effectually.
2. Cultivate a strong faith that God will make you know wisdom in the hidden part, in the heart.
You may have known so little of this in your Christian life hitherto that the thought appears strange. Learn that God's working, the place where He gives His life and light, is in the heart, deeper than all our thoughts. Any uncertainty about God's will makes a joyful obedience impossible. Believe most confidently that the Father is willing to make known what He wants you to do. Count upon Him for this. Expect it certainly.
3. In view of the darkness and deceitfulness of the flesh and fleshly mind, ask God very earnestly for the searching and convincing light of the Holy Spirit.
There may be many things which you have been accustomed to think lawful or allowable, which your Father wants different. To consider it settled that they are the will of God because others and you think so, may effectually shut you out from knowing God's will in other things (see the miserable outcome of this attitude at 2 Kings 12 - Ed). Bring everything, without reserve, to the judgment of the Word, explained and applied by the Holy Spirit. Wait on God to lead you to know that everything you are and do is pleasing in His sight.
Obedience unto death
There is one of the deeper and more spiritual aspects of this truth to which I have not alluded. It is something that as a rule does not come up in the early stages of the Christian life, and yet it is needful that every believer know what the privileges are that await him. There is an experience into which whole-hearted obedience will bring the believer, in which he will know that, as surely as with his Lord, obedience leads to death.
Let us see what this means. During our Lord's life, His resistance to sin and the world was perfect and complete. And yet His final deliverance from their temptations and His victory over their power, His obedience, was not complete until He had died to the earthly life and to sin. In that death He gave up His life in perfect helplessness into the Father's hands, waiting for Him to raise Him up. It was through death that He received the fullness of His life and glory. Through death alone (the giving up of the life He had) could obedience lead Him into the glory of God.
The believer shares with Christ in this death to sin. In regeneration he is baptized by the Holy Spirit into it. Owing to ignorance and unbelief he may know little experimentally of this entire death to sin. When the Holy Spirit reveals to him what he possesses in Christ, and he appropriates it in faith, the Spirit works in him the very same disposition which animated Christ in His death. With Christ it was an entire ceasing from His own life, a helpless committal of His spirit into the Father's hands. This was the complete fulfilment of the Father's command: ‘Lay down Thy life in My hands’ . Out of the perfect self-oblivion of the grave He entered the glory of the Father.
It is into the fellowship of this a believer is brought. He finds that in the most unreserved obedience for which God's Spirit fits him, there is still a secret element of self and self-will. He longs to be delivered from it. He is taught in God's Word that this can only be by death. The Spirit helps him to claim more fully that he is indeed dead to sin in Christ, and that the power of that death can work mightily in him. He is made willing to be obedient unto death, this entire death to self, which makes him truly nothing. In this he finds a full entrance into the life of Christ.
To see the need of this entire death to self, to be made willing for it, to be led into the entire self-emptying and humility of our Lord Jesus, – this is the highest lesson that our obedience has to learn – this is, indeed, the Christlike obedience unto death.
The voice of conscience
In regard to the knowledge of God's will, we must see and give conscience its place, and submit to its authority.
There are a thousand little things in which the law of nature or education teaches us what is right and good, and in regard to which even earnest Christians do not hold themselves bound to obey. Now, remember, if you are unfaithful in that which is least, who will entrust you with the greater? Not God. If the voice of conscience tells you of some course of action that is the nobler or the better, and you choose another because it is easier or pleasing to self, you unfit yourself for the teaching of the Spirit, by disobeying the voice of God in nature. A strong will always to do the right – to do the very best, as conscience points it out – is a will to do God's will. Paul writes, I lie not, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost…' (Romans 9:1) The Holy Ghost speaks through conscience: if you disobey and hurt conscience, you make it impossible for God to speak to you.
Obedience to God's will shows itself in tender regard for the voice of conscience. This holds good with regard to eating and drinking, sleeping and resting, spending money and seeking pleasure – let everything be brought into subjection to the will of God.
This leads to another thing of great importance in this connection. If you would live the life of true obedience, see that you maintain a good conscience before God (1 Timothy 1:18-20), and never knowingly indulge in anything which is contrary to His mind. George Muller attributed all his happiness during seventy years to this, along with his love of God's Word. He had maintained a good conscience in all things, not going on in a course he knew to be contrary to the will of God. Conscience is the guardian or monitor God has given you, to give warning when anything goes wrong. Up to the light you have, give heed to conscience. Ask God, by the teaching of His will, to give it more light. Seek the witness of conscience that you are acting up to that light. Conscience will become your encouragement and your helper, and give you the confidence, both that your obedience is accepted, and that your prayer for ever-increasing, knowledge of the will is heard.