Now that I have your attention, the real title of this blog entry is “Obedience”.
But…. Ugh…. who likes the word Obedience? Especially when you think of it in relation to Christianity, God and the church. For some people it might conjure up memories of an overly constricting religion with a litany of rules that no one could ever keep and judgmental eyes constantly watching. And, frankly, if you’re like me, you simply just don’t like being told what to do. Can I get an “Amen”?
But, like it or not, obedience is an issue that needs to be discussed. In fact, as I have been considering this word these last few months, I have come to the conclusion that from the beginning of creation, all God ever desired from us is our obedience, an allegiance to Him born out of a love for Him that places Him far above everything else in our heart.
In the Garden of Eden, God tested Adam and Eve. He said, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17). In the garden, God provided for Adam and Eve’s every need. He made sure that Adam wasn’t alone, he protected them, He nourished them, and He walked alongside of them with loving companionship. In return, God expected only one thing—Loving obedience. Would Adam and Eve love God and obey Him or would they chase after their own desires, despite all of the good that God had done for them? Unfortunately we know the answer:
“But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:4-6)
The temptation for Adam and Eve to be more and to have more than what God had already provided was too great to overcome. Notice how the serpent (Satan) seduced Adam and Eve with the idea that they would no longer have to subject to or under the authority of God once their eyes were opened because they would “be like God.” As we see in this example, disobedience is to act without regard to God’s authority and sometimes it is even a declaration of repulsion to that authority.
And, as the title of this blog suggests, I have also had another thought these last few months that might be challenging for some Christians to accept. But please, bear with me.
It wasn’t Jesus’ love for us that led Him to the cross.
O.K. I’ll let that sink in a little bit …. One more time ….
It wasn’t Jesus’ love for us that led Him to the cross.
Jesus chose to die on the cross because He was obedient to His Father, not because He loved us (even though we know that He did love us and He still does!) Consider the following with me. Just before His death, Jesus says: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)
And then the Apostle Paul states:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)
Did you notice the stark contrast between Adam and Eve’s disobedience and Jesus’ obedience? Jesus completely submitted to God’s authority in His life. It was Jesus’ great love for the Father, and not for Himself, that caused humble obedience. He had no desire to take the place of God’s authority.
When Jesus made the decision to take up the cross and lay His life down as a sacrifice for ours, He was not focused on His love for us, as great as it was, instead he was focused on being obedient to the will of His Father. Think about it. If it wasn’t for Jesus’ unwavering obedience to God, we would be utterly without hope! And, if we are being made into the likeness of Christ, doesn’t that mean we should be in pursuit of that same obedience in our own lives?
Ugh!! But what about grace?!! Of course I believe in grace. Without grace we would be forever separated from God and without grace we would never have the capacity to even begin to love and obey God. Grace gives us the power, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, to be obedient. We therefore seek an obedience that manifests itself after forgiveness, after we believe, and after we have faith that our sins are no longer counted against us through the redeeming power of Jesus’ death and resurrection! Praise be to God! The fact that we even have the option to be obedient is not just good news … it’s great news! It is the Gospel. And most of all, it gives back to God what He has wanted from us all along, our obedience.
When speaking to Israel, God says:
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” (Ezekiel 36:26-28)
And then Jesus says to us: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
But, unfortunately, obedience is not about simply about following a list of rules. If it were only that easy….
Consider with me:
There is no rule that states you should take your first born up to Mount Moriah to be sacrificed to the Lord, but Abraham’s act of obedience required that.
There is no rule that states you should marry a prostitute, but Hosea’s act of obedience required that.
There is no rule that states you should build a really big boat for you and your family to live in for over a year with a bunch of animals, but Noah’s act of obedience required that.
There is no rule that states you should should marry a woman pregnant with baby that is not yours, but Joseph’s act of obedience required that.
And most of all, there is no rule that states an exhaustive list of everything you should do. So, if your Christian existence is just about following a list of rules, you’re missing out on so much!
Obedience for you might look very different than obedience for me. Yes, there are general guidelines that we ought to follow and we have the great privilege of having them written down in our Bibles. We need to know and understand God’s written Word, but obedience is so much more than that. It is discovering what God wants you to do and then doing it, even if it costs you everything. Even if it costs you your life. That is what faith looks like and the author of Hebrews makes it clear, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6). (If you get a chance, read further in Hebrews 11 and see how genuine faith leads to so many unique calls of obedience!)
So, obedience is a faith journey, but an exciting one! I can’t promise that obedience will bring you happiness or blessing in this life, but I know that it is the place to be. If you are unsure what God is asking you to do remember that true obedience will always be a result of your love for God and your love for others.
“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
Discovering God’s will for your life can seem like a daunting task. I encourage you to immerse yourself in God’s Word. Spend time with Him. Sit at His feet. Seek Him with your whole heart and then listen to His voice. If you do these things, I am confident that you will know what He wants you to do.
“And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (I Samuel 15:22)
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
And always remember, despite the title of this blog entry, God loves you more than you could ever imagine:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)