Read the Instructions First

Have you ever bought something for one of your kids, only to discover, once it is home, those dreaded words on the side of the box: “Some Assembly Required”? You probably opened up the box and emptied all the pieces out on the floor, sorted through it all to make sure all the pieces were there, and then began reading the assembly instructions. Maybe it even said, “Read instructions completely before beginning assembly.” Maybe you read through it enough that you felt overwhelmed, and just decided to wing it.

      At some point after you begin the assembly, though, you discover there was another part that needed to be attached or connected to some other part first, so you had to partially disassemble it, go back and assemble the missed part, and then begin where you left off. Maybe you found out later that there were even more parts that should have been assembled before you got to that point. Maybe you realized those instructions were there to help you assemble it correctly and that you really should have read all the instructions first, and then followed the instructions in the proper order. Maybe those instructions were actually meant to help?

      Such occasions help us to realize that even the best instruction will do no good unless read and followed. For example, if you are setting out for a destination, plug in the address to your GPS, and then head out, you probably won’t get there if you ignore the GPS and go the way you merely feel is correct. All the work of the mapmakers, the GPS programmers and designers, and the vocal instruction of the device will do no good unless followed. You’ve wasted time and money purchasing the GPS if you don’t actually follow its directives.

      Or, maybe a man was not feeling well and decided he needed to go to the doctor, made an appointment, showed up and had a thorough examination and numerous tests, and discovered he had an infection that was making him feel poorly. What we would think if the doctor correctly identified the problem, prescribed the proper medicine and outlined the proper actions for the man to overcome the infection, and the man buys the medicine and takes it home, only to leave the medicine sitting on the shelf, unused? Again, all the proper instruction and the proper prescription medicine will do him no good unless he takes the medicine and follows the doctor’s instructions. But who would be so foolish?

      Well, a great number of people do just this with God’s word — the Bible. Think about it: God had the plan for man’s salvation in place even before man was created (2 Tim. 1:8-10; 1 Pet. 1:20), sent Christ to make the plan effective, sent the Holy Spirit to certain ones to reveal that plan and to write it down for all men of all time (Eph. 3:3-6; 1 Cor. 2:7-13), and has preserved that written word to this day (1 Pet. 1:25; Matt. 24:35); it is said that over 100 million Bibles are sold or given away each year, but how many people are actually following its instructions that they might be saved?

      There is a reason Jesus said, more than once, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matt. 13:9); it is because some will hear or read His words, but do nothing with them; such will not help us to overcome sin, be forgiven, or obtain salvation! He knew this would be a common habit of man, for as he began to close out the Sermon on the Mount, He would tell of those who would come to Him in the end, saying, “Lord, Lord,” and boast to Him, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” But He will say to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” He will say this to them because, as he said earlier, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21-23).

      He would further emphasize the need for obedience of the Father’s will [doing it, rather than merely hearing or reading it], telling the story of two men who built a house — one on sand and the other on rock. In the story, Jesus points to the man who built his house on sand and how the rains came and the winds blew and that house fell, while the house built on the rock stood firm. Jesus explains the foolish man who built on sand as “everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them,” while He explains the wise man who built on rock as “whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them” (Matt. 7:24-27). Let’s not overlook the fact Jesus equated His sayings with the will of the Father!

      The point is, and the lesson we must learn, is that we cannot simply hear the words of Jesus, praise those words and even praise Him, but then do nothing or simply do whatever we want to do, and then expect the rewards of forgiveness and eternal life in heaven. It doesn’t work that way, any more than ignoring the assembly instructions or the doctor’s instructions and not taking medicine will work as they were intended. I know you can find some religious instructor who will tell you man has to do nothing [or can do nothing] because God has done it all, but that is one of the greatest lies the devil has ever told. Unfortunately, because so few people actually read what God has said [in the Bible], they actually believe it!

      For example, we have already noted that God had a plan in place for man’s salvation before time began, but that did not mean man was already saved. No, for if that was the case, why did Christ die? Why did the Holy Spirit have to reveal that plan to certain men? Why did those certain men have to write down God’s plan? And why did Jesus send out men into the world to preach the message of the gospel (Mark 16:15) — the revelation of that plan God had in place before time began? And why did Jesus then say, immediately after He sent them out to preach the gospel, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16)? If man has to do nothing, this would all be a colossal waste of time and pure nonsense or a sham to demand something of man.

      We are merely fooling ourselves if we profess to heed the words of Jesus and the inspired writers when, in reality, we are following the creeds, doctrines, and traditions of uninspired men. Untold millions have lived and died, and live today, as ones who know little about what God’s word actually says, but follow or have followed the doctrines and traditions of men — words that are akin to faulty instructions that, if followed, would not allow assembly of that toy, or faulty medicine or a faulty diagnosis that will never cure what ails a man. While those instructions or the diagnoses may sound legitimate and seem to be effective, it will often be too late before one realizes they have been deceived.

      Let’s be clear: The gospel is “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16) — not any creed or tradition or opinion of man. The gospel is “words by which you…will be saved” (Acts 11:14) if you believe and obey. And Jesus is “the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Heb. 5:9) — not to anyone who merely makes the claim, or who instead follow creeds or human traditions.

            One day, we will all give an account  to Him for what we’ve done (2 Cor. 5:10), and His words will judge us (John 12:48). Read the instructions first!            — Steven Harper