It seems that in my generation, commitment is a dirty word. Obligation is even worse. We are incredibly busy and more than that we value our comfort a little too much. Often we confuse feelings of obligation with legalism. We run scared from the threat of becoming legalistic, but we miss the fruit that comes from being wholeheartedly committed to the things of God. Legalism is excessive rule-following and condemnation when you mess up. It’s connecting your behavior or works with your salvation or right standing before God. Commitment, even when it’s hard, is different than that.
I believe the value of commitment is illustrated in Scripture. God is committed to his people, Jesus was committed to his ministry and mission, the disciples were committed to following Christ, and the apostles were committed to their mission of making disciples and sharing the good news. Within each of these big commitments were small ones. Small choices that were made that had big impacts.
My purpose here is not to say that we are all called to the same commitments and that your life should look like mine. However, I think there are things given to us through God’s Word that require commitment and apply to every believer. I believe that the gospel actually compels us to commitment and devotion. It frees us from the restraints of the law and it fulfills its requirements – and it frees us to devotion to Christ. The commitments the Bible illustrates for us are for our good. They are not to shackle us to burdens or to place weight. They are not because we need to please God. God’s mission of sanctifying His people and furthering His kingdom is accomplished through the commitments of His people. We do not grow in godliness or make disciples passively.
I would like to outline three of these commitments that I think are universal among Christians.
Commitment to Personal Spiritual Disciplines
What I’ve found to be true is that God cares about what is in our hearts. Before I can go on and write the things I believe we are to be committed to outside of ourselves, I must start inward. It matters what we believe about who God is. It matters how we come to God in prayer.
My mind is drawn to the story in Judges 6. The Israelites were oppressed by the Midianites, but when they cried out to God before He called up Gideon as a judge, He sent a prophet to remind them of who God is and what He had done. God cared about their idols. He cared about who they thought He was. At this moment, He was more concerned with their inward being than their physical needs. It was important enough to answer their cry with a prophet instead of an immediate rescue.
Through time in God’s Word and prayer, we look to God for inward renewal. We surrender and admit that we cannot do anything of eternal value on our own. The work of change that must take place in us is a work that is done through the Holy Spirit.
In the gospels we see Jesus go off on his own to pray (Luke 5:16). The disciples, by nature of being a disciple, were committed to imitate Jesus and learn from Him. 1 Timothy 4:16 says to train yourself for godliness. We are often turned off by hearing the word commitment or obligation, but knowing the end game helps. We are being made holy. We are not pleasing the Lord by our actions, but He is using our actions through the power of the Holy Spirit to sanctify us. The feeling of obligation in and of itself isn’t actually a bad thing. It’s by God’s grace that I feel like I need to read my Bible and pray. He could let me go through my day feeling self-sufficient and free to do whatever I’d like. But there is a nagging in my soul to turn to Him in tangible ways, like setting aside time alone to read. This is a blessing.
Let us commit ourselves to form habits that please the Lord. Let us learn about God’s character from His Word so that we know who He is and what He has done. This drives us to pray and creates in us a desire to know Him more.
Commitment to the Local Church and Community
I’ve learned this is a touchy subject for some. There are people committed to their avoidance of church. I’ve had conversations with folks who are hostile toward the idea of corporate services. Some of this stems, I’m sure, from past negative experiences. Some comes from the issue of being non-committal. Wherever the avoidance comes from, separating ourselves from a local body of believers, I believe, is detrimental to our spiritual health. I believe that Christ alone is our hope in salvation – and that going to church does not save you or determine your eternity. But the more I lean into who Jesus is, the more I commit myself to the Word - the more I am compelled to be with people and to see the local church as God’s plan to reach a lost and broken world.
There has never been a perfect local church. The pastor, the people, the leadership are flawed. The only perfect thing about the church is the God we worship. There are many things about the traditional structure of church programs and services that I think need reform and there are many cases where people have been hurt by the people in a church, including people in leadership. I’m not excusing bad or unethical behavior or condoning someone stay in a situation where they are being mistreated or hurt. I’m trying to make the case that the local church – a body of believers that gather to worship, to learn, and have community – is an integral part of God’s plan for his kids. I think we were designed for this type of gathering. We were designed to live in community, not isolation. I believe those believers who choose to separate themselves from gathering are missing out on the fullness of what God has to offer them on earth.
The New Testament is full of letters that were written to churches. While the apostles were on their mission to spread the good news of the gospel, they planted churches. We are given guidelines in the Scriptures for worship services and for elders and leadership and teaching. In Luke 4:16 we are told that it was Jesus’ custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath Day. It was his routine, his habit, his ritual. When we make it our custom to observe the Sabbath day by gathering with one another we are imitating Jesus.
I believe it is through faithful local churches, who have committed themselves to the Lord, to make disciples, to bear one another’s burdens, to gather, to stir one another up to good works– that God’s kingdom will be furthered and the ends of the earth will be reached.
I would encourage you to set aside the search for a perfect congregation, with the nicest people, the perfect pastor, in the perfect location. You won’t find it. Set aside feelings of offense when community doesn’t look or feel like what you’ve imagined. Because it won’t. Commitment to community can be hard and messy. But the fruit of bearing burdens and confession and learning together is worth the difficulty. If you find yourself devoid of desire or love for the local church, ask yourself why and pray that God would grow that in you. True love for Jesus results in love for his bride.
Commitment to Discipleship
There is a lot that falls under this heading of discipleship, but I want to boil it down to two factors. Discipleship within the church – teaching and training the younger generations of believers and discipleship outside the church – sharing the good news of Christ with a lost world.
First, discipleship within the church. We are given examples throughout the New Testament of this type of relationship. Specifically, in Titus 2 we see a mandate for believers to teach and train the younger generations in godliness. When that happens within the church it’s beautiful. Younger Christians are hungry for knowledge and guidance. Older Christians may not feel equipped or able to pass on wisdom, but we were created for it. Commitment to raise up the younger generations in Christ is incredibly valuable.
Second, discipleship outside the church. The last thing that Jesus said on earth was to go and make disciples (Matthew 28). The more I read God’s Word, the more I lean into His presence, the more I am convinced that our collective purpose as believers in Christ is to make Him known. Again, you may feel ill-equipped for this task. To be honest, you are. The power and grace of God are what bring salvation to people, but he uses us to do so. The weight of trying to save someone is off of our shoulders, we just have to be willing to go where we are sent. The letters in the New Testament were written by men who were sent. What a privilege it is to be a part of God’s mission!
Committing ourselves to these things can be hard. But I don’t believe God would call us to do something without allotting us the time and grace to do so. When we devote ourselves to the things that matter through even difficult seasons or situations we reflect the beauty of God’s commitment to us. I fear my generation will be known for jumping ship, for getting tired of the same old thing and chasing something new, for never knowing the depth and beauty of community because we’ve settled for an online substitute. Let’s change this narrative. Let us be known for our devotion to Christ and His Word, for our love and commitment to the local church, for our embrace of the generations under us, and for our undying passion to see the name of Christ be made known.
There are many other things I could have included here. This is not an exhaustive list of commitments we are called to as believers. And there are so many nuances and things we could talk about under each of these points I’ve included. Entire books have been written on just one point! My aim is to start a conversation. Do we fear commitment or run from it? Do we embrace the commitments that God has illustrated for us in His Word? Are we guilty of making excuses to avoid feelings of obligation?
Be honest with yourself when answering these questions. My purpose is not to condemn, but to move us to a place of deeper devotion and alignment with the pattern for which we were created. To encourage us to search the Scriptures and weigh what I’ve written, to talk to each other, and to ask the Lord to lead us to the kind of commitment that leads us to know him and love Him more.