The Christian life is one of obedience. It is what one author has brilliantly described as “a long obedience in the same direction.” Those who have turned to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith prove the authenticity of their conversion by their obedience. No sooner have they made their profession than they begin to willingly and joyfully search out God’s will and to live in conformity to it. Like David, they learn to plead, “Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it” and find their hearts exclaiming, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:35, 97). Christians are taught the commandments of Christ so that they might obey them (Matthew 28:20). They learn they have a duty of prayer, so they pray; they learn they have a duty of forgiveness, so they forgive; they learn they have a duty of diligence, so they work hard and provide generously. Well and good.
But here’s the tricky thing: Duty is destructive when fueled by wicked motives. Hypocrites perform religious duties in order to convince themselves of their righteousness. They think, “Just look at all the good things I do. I must be a Christian!” Deceivers perform religious duties in order to convince others of their righteousness. They say, “Just look at all the good things I do. I’m better than you!” If the mark of true believers is that they joyfully perform all of their God-given duties, the mark of religious deceivers and hypocrites is that they selfishly pick and choose the ones they will perform. Sometimes they will cede only to the duties that are simple, that gratify their pride, or that assuage their guilt. They may be like the religious authorities of Jesus’s day who were sure to “tithe mint and dill and cumin” but “neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23). Religious hypocrites gloat in the handful of duties they have obeyed, blind to the countless areas where they desperately need God’s grace. The fact is, duty is good and necessary, but it is dangerous and deceptive when fueled by a wicked heart.
Today I am beginning a new series of articles that will examine “The 10 Duties of Every Christian,” but I begin it with some hesitation. I am aware of the ways duty can be misused and misapplied. I know this from reading the Bible, I know this from interacting with others, and I know this from my own life and experience. The danger in a list of 10 duties is that in the hands of sinful people it risks becoming little more than a trite checklist that fosters deception and insincerity. It can be used by hypocrites to further their self-deception and by deceivers to advance their deception of others.
I want to expose hypocrites, not foster them. I want to unmask deceivers, not cultivate them. And I want to expose and unmask any hypocrisy and deception that dwells within me. For this reason, I am going to proceed in a cautious, deliberate manner. While each of these 10 items will include biblical instruction and describe dutiful Christian living, they will also carefully distinguish between true obedience on the one hand and hypocrisy or deception on the other. In that way, this list of Christian duties will both teach and warn, it will both train and test. It is meant to be far more than a checklist of behaviors, but rather a series of touchstones, measures of the authenticity and quality of our faith. These are not 10 duties to hastily strike off a list but 10 duties to conscientiously perform in all of life.
Even as we begin, we must remind ourselves of the good news of the gospel. As we turn to the duties God expects of his people, we admit that we cannot perform them with perfection. At various times and in various ways we will inevitably fail. But we rejoice that our justification is found in the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ. Because of his righteousness and payment for our sins, God is willing to accept our incomplete obedience. Wherever we fall short, we have an advocate before the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. The Father is faithful to forgive us, to cleanse us, and to empower us by his Spirit to move forward in obedience. With that in mind, let’s turn to the first of 10 duties of every Christian: The duty of introspection.
(Notes: I discovered these 10 duties listed in Thomas Watson’s The Godly Man’s Picture.)