It is very common for people of today to have the “nobody is going to tell me what to do” attitude. It is a bold demand for freedom and liberty. It is a rebellion against rules and regulations set upon citizens that they so often believe to be infringements upon their liberty and freedom. It is true that for well over a half century, the citizens of the United States of America have been losing their freedom one rule and regulation at a time, to the point that we are indeed being told “what to do” much more than our founding fathers intended. However, the “nobody is going to tell me what to do” attitude is one that is certainly not a realistic one. We have always had people who would be telling us what to do in various aspects of our life. While children, our parents told us what to do. There is a big problem today concerning children who are disrespectful of others and involved in all kinds of things they should not be involved in because of parents not telling their children what to do. When we got old enough to enter school, which someone told us we had to do, we had teachers who told us what to do. If we didn’t do what the teachers told us to do, at the least we failed to get our diploma. Though more and more people have decided to opt out of working for a living and have instead decided to sponge off the government, most of us have to work for a living. Guess what? Most who work for a living have someone telling them what to do! Even the self-employed have to do whatever it is that their customers want, if they intend to get paid by the customer. And yes, we have always had to answer to the demands of our government. Though some of our laws and regulations of today are onerous, many are such as we would agree need to be enforced. Unless one wishes to live in a society of “might makes right”, wherein whoever is the strongest can take from all others, then one recognizes the need for laws that tell us what to do. Even if you did live in such a “might makes right” society, someone would be telling you what to do, unless you were the one with the most might.
But, let us now get to the application of these thoughts as they apply to our religious lives. Many have at times made statements concerning the church, the Bible or some religious leader saying, “They are not going to tell me what to do.” The fact is, each of us has free will when it comes to what we do in the realm of religion. But, just because we have the freedom to do or not do what we are told, does not mean that there is no one to tell us what to do. The prophet Jeremiah stated, “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23). Man cannot direct his own way to eternal life in heaven. He can direct whether he goes to heaven or hell, but not the means by which he can reach heaven. God is the ultimate director of those steps if we are to successfully reach a heavenly home. As the wise man Solomon said, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12). For the Christian age, Jesus Christ has been given absolute authority. Just prior to His ascension to sit upon His throne in heaven, He stated, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18). The Hebrew writer wrote, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son…” (Heb. 1:1-2).
Concerning preachers, teachers or any other person “telling us what to do” in our lives, there are two important things to consider. First, one needs to make sure that what these people are saying one must do is what God said one must do and is not just what these people say. When Paul taught God’s word to the people of Berea, the text says that, “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). Paul was a notable person and one with a high education, but they did the wise thing and checked for themselves if that which Paul was teaching was indeed the word of God as found in the scriptures. Paul told Timothy to, “Study to show thyself approved unto God…” (II Tim. 2:15) and John said, “…believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (I John 4:1). Second, it must be noted that the “what to do” must be connected to the words “in order to have eternal life”. In other words, one is free to not do what the person tells them to do, but the end result is they will not get what is promised for those who do what they are told to do. A secular example of how this works is: a cheating husband or wife is told by the spouse, “You must stop cheating on me if you want to stay married to me.” The cheating spouse does not have to stop cheating, but he or she must if they want to remain married to the one they are married to. No one has to do what anyone tells them to. However, there are consequences to disobedience, and the consequence of disobedience to God is no home in heaven.
Robert Oliver is pastor of The Church of Christ and a long-time columnist for The Sampson Independent. Send any questions or comments to: [email protected]