What’s the point of loving God’s Word with our heart, soul, and mind if we don’t apply it with all our strength?
Real quick—my last several posts have turned into a four-part series of loving God’s Word with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Each post stands on its own, but in case you want to read the others, here’s the link:
As a teenager, I often spent afternoons listening to Francis Chan sermons. Don’t applaud just yet. This righteous habit was more of a holy (read “not healthy”) addiction. Listening to one sermon a day was normal; listening to two or even three a day wasn’t uncommon. In a matter of months, I devoured years of sermons.
And then one day a sermon stopped me cold in my tracks.
“Some of you listen to these messages online,” Francis said, “and that’s all you do. All you do is listen, but you never apply.”
The conviction hit deep. I see now what I didn’t then: Listening to God’s Word without the intention of applying it is worse than not listening to God’s Word.
Hearing and Doing the Word of God
The Bible is filled with promises—for good or for bad—about listening to God’s promises. James says if we listen to the Word but don’t obey it, we deceive ourselves (James 1:22-25). Psalm 103 talks about God’s promised love and faithfulness for generations toward those who not only keep His covenant but also “remember to do his commandments” (vv. 17-18). Jesus couldn’t say it any clearer: “If you love me, you will obey my commandments” (John 14:15).
Perhaps the best illustration is the man who built his house on a rock. We all know the story—don’t be the guy who built his house on the sand. But when I hear this passage, I assume the man who built his house on the beach was ignorant of God. That’s simply not true.
Jesus said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand” (Matthew 7:26).
In other words, both the wise man and the foolish man heard the words of God. Both may have felt convicted. But only one applied them. Conviction validates spirituality, but action builds a house.
Here are three simple points I take away from these passages:
- Jesus leaves no middle ground. He doesn’t talk about the weekly churchgoer who feels pretty convicted during the pastor’s sermon and considers for about 30 seconds whether something in their life should change. You either build your house on the rock or you build it on the sand. We’re all building houses.
- Obedience requires intentionality. In other words, you will never accidentally obey Jesus. We need to “remember to do His commandments.” Houses don’t get built on the rock on accident.
- Obedience benefits us. If you view God as a slavedriver, then obeying God is a burden. But if you see obedience as the truest path to our joy and flourishing, then we should desire a heart that obeys God, even if it’s contrary to how we feel. Obedience now leads to stability when the storm comes.
The Burden of Learning
It was William Wilberforce who famously said, “Having heard all of this, you may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say you did not know.”
This is the reality every time we read the Bible or listen to a sermon. And I fear the church is trapped in-between. We love listening to a good sermon. We love conviction because it validates our spirituality. Yet I fear we’ve become addicts of conviction and cowards of action.
Many people who go to Bible studies and church services bear this weakness. We study and talk about God’s commandments, and that’s good. But it’s better to do them. On the last Day, none of us are going to hear God say, “Well said, good and faithful servant.” Well done is always better than well said.
On the last Day, none of us are going to hear God say, “Well said, good and faithful servant.” Well done is always better than well said.
God’s Word is valuable to us only insofar as it renews and changes our lives. Yes—I believe the very act of listening to God’s Word is valuable, and not every sermon or quiet time is going to lead to radical transformation. My concern, however, is for a church who feels convicted at God’s Word but doesn’t do anything about it.
You might be thinking, “Wait a minute—is following Jesus always about doing something?” And the answer is no. I’ll dive into this question next week, but for now I want to leave us with a simple application.
I appreciated this note from Pastor Rick Warren on not only listening but applying God’s Word to our lives:
The best way to become a doer of the Word is to always write out an action step as a result of your reading or studying or reflecting on God’s Word. Develop the habit of writing down exactly what you intend to do. This action step should be personal (involving you), practical (something you can do), and provable (with a deadline to do it). Every application will involve either your relationship to God, your relationship to others, or your personal character.
Being a doer of the Word isn’t easy because it will always require intentional effort from us. But God wouldn’t tell us to build a house on the rock if it was already built. When you hear or read God’s Word, choose to be intentional with it. “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17).