Partial Obedience

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My latest weekly book reading has been Patrick Morley’s, Seven Seasons of a Man’s Life. It’s been sitting on my shelf for years and I finally got around to picking it up for the weekend.

Part of Morley’s thesis points out the difference between what he calls “Cultural Christianity,” and “Biblical Christianity.” At the same time my regular Bible reading took me through the II Kings story of Jehu, king of Israel.

Jehu is portrayed in the scriptures as a bloodthirsty man, though he was implementing the prophetic word pronounced about him by Elijah. Jehu executed God’s judgement on the house of Ahab. He wiped out Jezebel, Ahab’s seventy sons, and eradicated the worship of Baal. At each stage Jehu acknowledged that he was fulfilling the word spoken many years earlier by Elijah; that he was God’s instrument to do these things. Yet at the same time there was a problem—his obedience to God’s call was only partial. It made me wonder, as I often do when reading such biblical accounts, how it was the Jehu knew he was fulfilling the word of God yet at the same time only surrender to God a partial obedience? Jehu did not turn fully to God. Rather he continued in idol worship and led Israel astray in the worship of other gods—just not Baal.

What does Partrick Morley’s book have to do with Jehu? Nothing directly, though there is a connection between partial obedience and cultural Christianity.

I’ve learned a lot about cultural Christianity since I moved to Mongolia. I’ve observed that some of the expressions of Christianity in Mongolia are often rooted in Mongolian culture as opposed to a biblically inspired model. Of course, this is normal for any culture, but especially in ones where the church is so young.

Seeing these things over many years has helped me turn an introspective eye to my own expressions of the faith. How much of what I express of Christ in my life is really an expression of my own Southwest American culture and how much is more properly biblically based? That’s a hard question to answer since no matter how hard I try to look at things objectively I still wear a pair of Arizona sunglasses over my spiritual eyes.

Are we Christian by culture or are we Christian because of Christ? I suppose that depends upon who you are. Reformed Christianity teaches that there is what is known as a “Covenant Community.” Both believers and unbelievers may be a part of the covenant community. Just as Israel was a covenant community with a mixture of true believers and not, so too in churches (the covenant community) such a mixture exists. A person may believe in the Bible and their local church without having made a true commitment to Christ. Church life is simply part of their cultural expression, though they may personally be void of any commitment to the person of Jesus.

Jehu was such a king. He recognized that the God of Israel existed and foretold of his work through the prophet Elijah. But he also worshiped the golden calves (which were originally establish for the northern tribes for political and cultural reasons, not spiritual). Jehu was not fully dedicated to the God of Israel. Thus, he had partial obedience which resulted in a partial blessing by God. But ultimately the word spoken about him was a word against him: “But Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord.” How could such a man, like so many others in scripture, see, hear, and do the works of the Lord but still turn away so easily to that which is not God? It is the mystery of human sin.

This is the part where I turn my eyes introspectively, inside myself. Lord Jesus, where do I maintain only a partial obedience? Is not partial obedience also a kind way of saying “disobedience?” How much of my expression of Christ in me is an expression of cultural Christianity as opposed to a heart-felt expression of the person of Christ as portrayed in the scriptures? This is, without a doubt, a lifelong pursuit, to understand more about my own nature and the nature of Christ.

How about you? How do you view your outward expression of Christ in you? Where does your culture fit into your faith? When must you (and I) reject an expression of culture in lieu of the expression of Christ in us? In your own self-examination, where do you find partial obedience as opposed to a full obedience to Him?

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