When children first learn to talk, they often rely on gestures and sounds to communicate. Often a parent needs to remind a toddler to “use your words.” Words are more effective than pointing, grunting, or whining.
As grownups, we constantly use our words to teach, advise, warn, nag and sometimes blow up in exasperation. Our words have no power to change behavior. But God’s Words do.
As a child I was an extremely slow learner—in part because I didn’t WANT to learn what my parents were trying to teach. I had no desire to obey them or God. I thought my parents and God should get in line with what I wanted.
One of the Bible passages that will forever stand out when I think of my childhood is 1 Samuel 15. God used Samuel (the prophet) to tell Saul (the king) to wipe out the enemy. The instructions were clear. Destroy all people. Destroy all animals.
The next time the king and prophet meet, Saul said, “I’ve done what [God] directed me to do.”
Oh, how much I was like Saul! I was quick to assure my parents that I had obeyed. However, my parents learned not to take my word for it. They checked up to see if I had done what they told me to do. Usually, I hadn’t. At that point they would sit me down and (again) open a Bible to 1 Samuel 15.
When Saul said he had destroyed the enemy, Samuel asked—“Then why do I hear the baaing of sheep? Why do I hear the mooing of cattle?” (1 Samuel 15:14)
Samuel had hard evidence of disobedience. Saul had excuses. Those sheep and cattle? The people wanted them to sacrifice to the Lord. Saul blamed others and offered his “good reason” for why he had not completely obeyed.
Saul and I both had to learn a crucial lesson:
Partial obedience + excuses = total disobedience.
My parents usually made me read Samuel’s response to Saul.
“What pleases the Lord more?
Burnt offerings and sacrifices, or obeying the Lord?
It is better to obey than to offer a sacrifice.
It is better to do what he says than to offer the fat of rams.
Refusing to obey the Lord is as sinful as using evil magic.
Being proud is as evil as worshiping statues of gods.
You have refused to do what the Lord told you to do.
So he has refused to have you as king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23)
Partial obedience is refusing to obey.
Refusing to obey is rebellion.
Rebellion is as anti-God as witchcraft.
Conclusion? Partial obedience is anti-God.
I thought God would give me at least a C for partial obedience. Actually, Satan was giving me an A for obeying him.
God’s decision was to wipe out the enemy. However, Saul made his own decision about God’s decision. By doing that—Saul exalted himself above God. Saul was saying: MY will—not Yours—be done.
And me? For years I was right there with Saul.
Saul’s story doesn’t have a happy ending. Thanks to the power of God’s Word—my story does.
God’s Word kept convicting me until I realized that I was a rebel against God. It didn’t matter that I prayed a prayer long ago and taught Sunday school. My ongoing partial obedience + excuses were evidence that I was not a Christ-follower.
When Jesus opened my eyes to my sin, I had to turn away from my excuses in order to turn to Christ. I needed His life and death in my place to save me. Jesus Christ rescued me and changed my rebellion against Him into a desire to love and follow Him.
Do I obey perfectly now? I wish. And that’s the difference. The Holy Spirit convicts me when I try to make excuses. He keeps showing me my sin for what it is. He keeps helping me confess it and turn back to Christ. I no longer pass judgment on what God decides. All of this is clear evidence that Christ rescued me and that He continues to change me.
Thank God for such a Savior! Thank God for parents who used His Words.