Jesus is a teacher like no other. Most religious teachers focus on how we should behave, or what we should believe about God. They offer us ethical or theological ideas that we weigh in our minds and either accept or reject.
But Jesus offers more than words. He offers himself. He is the ideal we should strive to imitate. He is the revelation of the Father that the ancient prophets longed to see. He is God’s Word, in the flesh. He is the truth that sets us free. That’s what Jesus means when he tells his disciples:
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.”
- John 14: 6-7
Obedience is the key to understanding Jesus. We only truly understand Jesus when we begin to obey him. When it comes to Jesus’s teachings, in other words, faith leads to obedience, and obedience leads to greater understanding.
That isn’t true of other religious teachers. You can understand the teachings of Martin Luther or C. S. Lewis without actually obeying them. Any seminarian knows that. You can read their books – you can listen to lectures explaining the themes in their writings – you can take written exams about them and even pass those exams with flying colors without believing anything that’s taught by Luther or Lewis, and without putting any of their ideas into practice.
The point is that we have a different kind of relationship with Jesus than we have with even our most respected teachers. Since Jesus himself is the truth, it isn’t possible to hear and understand him, and at the same time to disbelieve and disobey him. True understanding of Jesus’s teachings always inspires obedience. And obedience to Jesus’s teachings always yields a deeper, more intimate knowledge of God.
That’s what the Apostle John means when he makes this uncompromising declaration to the Church:
We know that we have come to know [Jesus] if we keep his commands. Those who say, “I know him,” but do not do what he commands are liars, and the truth is not in them… This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.
- 1 John 2: 3-6
When we truly understand Jesus, we enter into a new kind of relationship with God. We open our hearts to him and welcome him in as our Lord and Savior. He takes away our sin. He plants his eternal life in us. He begins to shape us into his character. And we discover the joy and peace of losing ourselves in his good work.
- Andy Wilson