Is Jesus Your Lord or Your Advisor?

Tim Keller once said that our society determines what is right and wrong based on two questions: 1. Do I want to do it? and 2. Does it hurt anybody? And if the answer to the first question is “yes,” and the answer to the second is “no,” then it can’t possibly be wrong. It’s a simple enough rubric, but it’s terribly incomplete. Would life be better if all of us tried to avoid hurting each other? Certainly. Is that the sum total of right and wrong? Hardly.

We have this assumption in modern society—even in the church—that if we feel like we don’t see the wrong in something, it can’t possibly be wrong. I literally talk to people all the time—again, in the church—who say things like this. They explain away God’s laws by appealing to their own felt sense of right and wrong: Seems fine to me, so it must be okay! But here’s the deal: God’s way isn’t our way, and when he declares something wrong, it’s wrong—no matter how we rationalize it.

It’s important for us to remember that when God declares something wrong, it’s not arbitrary—like filling out the wrong tax form or parking in a “no parking” zone. God declares wrong wrong because, ultimately, it’s harmful. Sometimes we can see that harm: God tells us not to murder because murder takes someone else’s life; God tells us not to lie because it hurts others to withhold the truth from them.

The trouble is, we simply don’t have enough knowledge to be able to see the consequences all the time. If we go through life evaluating moral choices based on whether we think it does or doesn’t hurt somebody, we are assuming God-like knowledge for ourselves. And in case you haven’t noticed, you and I aren’t God.

Think about a 7-year-old who sees nothing wrong with watching YouTube for 11 hours straight and eating Oreos for every meal. He likes watching cat videos. And Oreos taste great. Nothing seems off to him. But most of us adults would recognize that these aren’t healthy habits. We could try to explain our reasoning to our second-grader (we probably should), and he might grasp it. But he might not: It’s just tougher for him to see because he lacks life experience and wisdom.

So let me ask you: Is there a bigger gap between your wisdom and that of your 7-year-old, or between God’s wisdom and yours?

Toward the end of King David’s life, we read about a census he initiated. For readers like you and me, we probably don’t see much wrong with a census. It seems harmless, responsible even, from the outside. God isn’t always opposed to census-taking. But God had said not to take this one. Which meant that this census wasn’t responsible and harmless; it was a sin.

Joab, the commander of Israel’s armies, even called David out, saying, “‘May the LORD your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see it, but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?’” (2 Samuel 24:3 ESV). David’s motivations for the census, it seems, were all wrong. It was about pride, security, and aggression—not obedience to God.

David pushed through Joab’s objection and completed the census anyway. But afterward, David was convicted. Scripture says, “But David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the LORD, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly’” (2 Samuel 24:10).

Was the problem here David’s pride and security in his own numbers? That was part of it, I think. David should have been finding his security in God. But the bigger issue is that David decided he knew best based on what seemed best to him. God’s law felt arbitrary, so David gave himself permission to ignore it.

Who is best to determine what humanity really needs? Us or our Creator? To act like we know what is best for ourselves and a society based on our limited knowledge is the height of pride.

If we only obey Jesus when he makes sense to us, then he’s not our Lord; he’s our advisor. Obeying God only when he makes sense to us is not obedience; it’s agreement. Have we invited God to submit his suggestions to us for consideration, or have we submitted ourselves to him because he’s God, who reigns and knows what is best?