This week I’d (Kim) like to focus on a verse from the Old Testament; 1 Samuel 15:22. I’m specifically thinking on the portion, "to obey is better than sacrifice." This statement was Samuel's response to Saul when he realized the Saul had failed to utterly destroy a certain city, saving “all that was good” for himself. Saul first tried to blame the people and then claimed the reason was that he saved the "best animals to sacrifice to the Lord." Of course God knew Saul's heart...the result of Saul's actions? He would no longer be king.
Since we can't identify with the Old Testament rituals of animal sacrifice, how can we apply this verse to our modern lives and experiences? We can think of those we know that are very giving, maybe even putting professing Christians to shame. They feed the poor, give a lot of money to charities, sacrifice their time to certain causes, etc. However, these same folks will never bow the knee to Christ. In Matthew 7:22 Jesus tells His followers, “many will say in that day “Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name? And then I will declare to them, I never knew you…”
That said, I agree that works are important, God calls us to good works (James 2:14) but to offer works without faith in Christ is empty. I spent many years proudly boasting of the many things I didn't do. I had a neat little list; I didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t listen to “worldly” music. The problem? I don't believe that I was trusting in Christ; I was merely worshipping myself and my list of man made rules. Had God not truly changed my heart, I would have been one of the ones He confessed to not know.
My study Bible has this to say on faith and works, "...(there are those) that know the gospel and even agree with it, but fall short of trust in God. Failure to grow, develop, and bear the fruits of righteousness shows that the free gift of Christ has never been received. The answer for those with such a faith is not to save themselves by establishing a righteousness of their own, as if they could create faith by their own efforts, but to call on the name of the Lord (Rom. 10:13)."
All that we do is acceptable to God only because of the mercy of Christ (Rom. 7:13-20). Christ changes our hearts so that we express love for God by doing what pleases Him and He in His kindness promises to reward us for what we do (Phil. 3:12-14, 2 Tim. 4:7, 8).
May God enable us to cling to Christ and His righteousness as we seek to serve those around us.