Despite the title of this post, I really do try to avoid taking spiritual lessons from Disney movies but I’ll make an exception for this one.
In Disney’s The Lion King, the climactic moment comes as Simba is confronted by a choice: continue to run from his responsibility as the rightful king or return to the Pridelands to lead his people to overthrow his tyrant uncle, Scar. He wallows in indecision and self-focused muttering until an old baboon, Rafiki, shows up. Rafiki, in addition to being crazy as a loon, speaks some pretty profound truth into Simba’s life: if you want to know what to do, you start by knowing who you are.
On the surface, that just sounds like standard, milquetoast, Disney-fied philosophy. But it’s remarkably consistent with biblical teaching on Christian decision-making. Only instead of looking to ourselves, our family, or our desires, we are called to look to our Creator for the self-knowledge that clarifies our decisions.
And we constantly have to decide what we will do. But before we rush off half-cocked in one direction or another, our time is well-spent by first asking, “Who are we? Who are you? Who am I?”
Those questions will, oftentimes, produce subjective answers. Frankly, if you asked ten different people, you’d probably get eleven different answers. Why? Because everyone is different. We all have different backgrounds, different teachers we’ve learned under, and we all have different hopes and dreams. So a bit of confusion is natural.
But a good deal of that confusion is clarified for those who follow Christ. Because who we are is clarified by Scripture’s witness of who we are: we who claim the name of Christ are those who seek obey what he has said.
At least that’s Jesus’ definition of a disciple: someone who does what he says to do. Look at the passage we commonly call the Great Commission:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
If we’re going to make disciples, we need to know what one looks like. Jesus tells us right there. And he had already simplified the list of commands he expected disciples to be defined by:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:36-40
Who you are governs what you do. And if you are a follower of Jesus, the starting point for your decision-making is in your identity as a disciples, as someone who has committed to obeying Jesus.
I’m right there with you, though. While it sounds easy to make decisions based on who we are as disciples who seek to obey Jesus, our decisions tend to get confused because we so easily forget that fundamental element of who we are. Feelings, logic, profit, comfort, all of these are considerations we begin to take into account before we even consider our status as disciples when we’re faced with a choice.
But the last thing we need to do is to try to make decisions based on how we feel, what we prefer, what we’ve always done, or what we want to do: we need to submit everything we feel, prefer, used to do, and want to do to the Word of God.
Why? I’ll give you two reasons: 1) I’ve tried living life without doing obeying Jesus teaching in God’s Word and it doesn’t work and, 2) Nothing other than the Word of God is sufficient to guide those of us who follow the Son of God.
In other words, disciples of Jesus base their decision making on who they are in Jesus because only the Word that reveals Jesus is efficient and sufficient.
In other, other words, only God’s Word works and only God’s Word is enough to ground our lives in.
Peter points this out for Jesus’ followers through the centuries:
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire…For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:3-21
Did you catch what Peter is saying? He is saying that everything we need for “life and godliness” as Christians is found in the eyewitness testimony of the apostles and in the “prophetic word”. Where do we find the eyewitness testimony of the apostles? In the New Testament. Where do we find the “prophetic word”? In the Old Testament. So where do we find everything we need for “life and godliness”? In the Bible.
We should submit everything in our lives to the Word of God!
Why should we submit everything to the Word of God?
Because it’s all we need to live God-honoring lives.
But that doesn’t mean we always understand how to do it.
What does it mean to submit everything to the Word of God?
It means that our first task when determining who we are or what we ought to do is not to ask what is most efficient, most useful, most traditional, or most comfortable but what is most biblical.
If you are an employee, you do not have to ask yourself if you “feel” like working hard at your job: Scripture says “whatever you do, do as unto the Lord.”
If you are a business owner, you do not have to ask yourself if it is more “profitable” to cheat your workers and customers: Scripture is clear in its condemnation of owners who put their own gain ahead of the well-being of those around them.
If you are a parent, you do not have to raise your kids exactly the same or exactly the opposite of how your parents raised you: you are to “bring your children up in the fear and admonition of the Lord.”
To submit everything to the Word of God means that it is the first place we go to make a decision, the only source we trust implicitly, and the only standard we measure ourselves against.
When presented with a decision we who bear the name of Christ should study the Word of God, all the while asking the Spirit of God to guide us to wisdom and truth.
What we do as disciples of Jesus is governed by who we are according to the Gospel revealed in Scripture.
“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go. The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds.” Acts 17:1-13
What a difference it makes when the “people of God” go to the Word of God for direction! The text presents these two groups of people and their respective responses to Paul’s message in an intentional contrast:
The Thessalonian Jews heard Paul’s interpretation of scripture (Jesus is the Messiah foretold in the law and the prophets). Some of them were convinced and believed the gospel, but most of them were outraged. Why? Because Paul’s message from the Word didn’t square with their traditions. They were so outraged that Paul would dare question them, that they followed him to the next town and tried to cause problems there too. They filtered the decision Paul’s message called them to through their personal thoughts, traditions, and feelings.
Contrast that response with that of the Berean Jews. They heard Paul’s interpretation of scripture just like the Thessalonians, but Luke (the author of Acts) uses an interesting phrase to describe them in contrast to the Jews of Thessalonica: “more noble”. Why were they more noble? Because when they heard Paul’s message they checked it against the Scripture. They were more noble than those in Thessalonica who just took Paul’s word for it and believed: they checked what he said against the Word. They were more noble than those who rejected Paul’s word because it didn’t square with their tradition: they submitted their tradition to the testimony of Scripture.
When you are called to or faced with a decision, go to the Word! Don’t go to your thoughts, feelings, traditions, wishes, etc. Don’t just believe something because some preacher tells you. Don’t just reject something because it doesn’t square with your tradition. Go to the Word! It reveals Jesus, it reveals who you are in him, and it’s the only sure ground for your “life and godliness.”
When deciding what to do, start with who you are according to the Word of God and go from there.