Stories of the early church have filled my devotions recently. I’ve spent days pondering those exciting times and longing to see them again. Miracles on a routine basis, crowds of people coming to Jesus, miraculous healing. Where’s the power of our faith? Why don’t we see these miracles now?
It’s not because God ran out of wonder-working, disease-healing power. That’s for sure. He’s still the same God, but what about us? Are we the same disciples as the first-century church? I’m afraid not.
The importance of obedience
My morning’s reading was in Acts 9, the story of Saul’s conversion and the ministry of Ananias afterward. A note in the margin of the page made several years ago, reminded me of an important truth:
Obedience matters more than we realize.
I arrived at Acts 9 just as I finished memorizing John 1, and was surprised by how nicely the two passages dovetail. John tells us these beautiful words:
“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend (or overcome) it.” (John 1:3,4)
The invasion of light
Saul’s conversion is a dramatic example of the power of light’s invasion into the darkness of one man’s soul. You probably know this story, but here’s a quick refresher.
Saul, a noted Pharisee, and a religious leader headed toward Damascus with the authorization to arrest followers of Jesus, bind them, and transport them back to Jerusalem for trial. (Acts 9:1,2) The believers there were warned and wary.
Most people breathe air in order to gain the oxygen needed to preserve life and expel the carbon dioxide produced as waste from cell processes. Instead, threats and murder were as vital as breath to Saul. His inhalation of threats only served to preserve more threats, anger, and hatred. His exhalations were not the good service to God he expected, but purely murder.
Evil filled Saul. He was bad to the core but didn’t know it.
Suddenly, the light of God shone in his darkness and blocked his path. Just as John said, Saul did not comprehend it, nor did he overcome it. Instead, Jesus spoke to him from the light and, in just a few words, changed Saul’s life forever. (Acts 9:3-7)
Waiting in the dark
Saul was blinded by the light and spent the next three days in literal darkness, waiting. (Acts 9:8,9)
At the same time, Ananias, a faithful disciple of Jesus, heard the voice of God. “Go to the house of Judas and talk with Saul of Tarsus. I’ve already told him you’re coming to lay hands on him and restore his sight.” (Acts 9:10-12)
Ananias knew about Saul, and about the authorization he carried. He knew Saul was in his city to arrest him and persecute him for his faith in Jesus. (Leanna paraphrase coming up.) “I’ve heard about him, Lord. He’s brought death to believers in Jerusalem, and he’s here to get me. Is that the Saul you mean?”
“Yes. Go anyway. I’ve chosen him as an instrument of mine, and you have a part to play in this story.” (Acts 9:13-16) God was so certain of Ananias’ propensity for obedience that He’d already told Saul to expect him.
Ananias was frightened and anticipated certain arrest and probable death. A few hours earlier, that’s exactly what he would’ve faced. He obeyed anyway. Ananias prayed for Saul, scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Saul stayed “many days” in Damascus with the other disciples.
Perfect obedience yields a perfect result.
It would be easy to miss the fruit of Ananias’ obedience because it comes quite a few verses later. God used his willingness to obey in a frightening situation to give Saul a warm welcome and introduction to the body of Christ in Damascus. He spent “many days” and was first discipled there.
The time in Damascus was not only the beginning of Saul’s usefulness as an instrument in the hand of God but also the end of his fiery persecution toward the young churches.
Suddenly, the persecutor became the persecuted and other believers had a break.
“So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace…” Acts 9:31
The peaceful oasis the church enjoyed, with rapid growth and amazing moves of God, was only possible because of the “nevertheless” obedience of Ananias. He was more frightened of disobedience than of the results of obedience, so he did what God told him to do.
Where’s the power of our faith?
Today, let’s pause long enough to consider the difference between the first-century church and the church of the twenty-first century. It’s not God who’s changed. It’s us.
He has lost none of His power to save, heal physical illness, set captives free, or mend broken hearts. That’s what it means to be “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
The difference is in our willingness to forsake everything for Him and obey, no matter the cost. We’re poorer for our reticence. Most of us cherish our comfortable, danger-free lives in which our most costly act of faith is to tell someone we know about the Jesus who saved us from certain damnation.
The most difficult consequence we risk is the scorn of a friend. We face no threats of imprisonment, torture, or financial loss for the cause of Christ. Would our lives give enough evidence to convict us if we did?
Fear of obedience stands in our way.
Too often, we’re more frightened of what will happen if we obey than of the consequences of disobeying God. Maybe that’s because we’ve forgotten who He is: Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. Commander of the Angel Armies. Lord God Almighty. The One the Winds and Waves Obey.
Jesus is not our homeboy or our buddy. He’s our King and we are saved to serve, honor, and exalt Him, not the other way around.
Let’s chew on that a moment.
If we want a powerful faith life, we must get past our fear of obedience and proceed with the work of doing what God has said.
When He says go, we must go; when He says speak, we must speak. Though there may be difficulties in the obedience, there are sure to be consequences for disobedience.
I don’t want to try to explain to God that I failed to act because I wasn’t sure He could see me through or that I rejected the path He had chosen for me. Do you?
21st-Century obedience would bring 1st-century power
If we want the power and fruit Ananias experienced, we need to obey the way he did. Ananias consistently lived the life of a disciple in advance of a specific call. He recognized the voice of God and listened to hear what God said. He clarified God’s instructions, counted the cost, and obeyed despite his fear.
An important part of Ananias’ obedience was praying for his sworn enemy and blessings for the one who came to persecute him. He chose to welcome Saul into the family of God before Saul said even one word.
Seven Steps to First-Century Discipleship
Here are seven simple steps to first-century-style discipleship:
- Study God’s Word daily.
- Be still enough to hear God’s voice.
- Take action based on what you learn. Live what you say you believe.
- Let go of stuff in order to embrace the cross and the journey.
- Count the cost but obey anyway, even when it seems too high.
- Pray for our enemies. Bless those who curse us.
- Reject fear and obey.
The secret to the power of the first-century church is simple. Trust completely. Obey without reservation. No holding back. All in.
We serve the first-century risen Savior. Why not live as first-century redeemed disciples? They rocked their world with their faith, and we can, too. If we will.
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth. ” Acts 1:8 nasb
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