If ever there was a word that makes us cringe, it would be obedience. For a lot of folks, obedience has a negative connotation. Maybe it reminds you of your failures, your inability to measure up to some standard. Maybe it reminds you of someone in your past (a parent, or a pastor) who used religion to manipulate you.
As Parents you want your children to “obey” you. Not because they are afraid of you, but because they trust you. Lots of kids rebel against authority, especially their parents. They experiment on how far they can push it. They want to go their own way, even if you as the parent know better. Honestly many adults are also rebelling, doing their own thing and not obeying authority figures, especially God.
When it comes to obeying someone, it’s a lot easier to obey someone you trust and feel loved by. However, not everyone who insists on obedience does so out of love for us. Some people throw this word around like a hand grenade, and do a lot of damage in the name of God. Obedience is a power word. Usually when someone insists on our obedience it’s a “red flag.” Some people use this word to conceal their ambitions, hidden agenda, and selfishness. Emotionally abusive people love to use this word as they tread all over us like a doormat.
From a Biblical perspective, we’re always living in obedience to someone, or something. And so our obedience can be directed toward God, or it can be dislocated away from God.
“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” Romans 6:16
We can be mastered by sin just as readily as anything. So we obey our addictions. We obey our lusts. We obey our appetite for caffeine, alcohol, sugars, carbs. We obey our materialistic impulses–the idol of bigger, better, faster, newer, shinier. We obey our tech impulses, new and better devices. Few masters are more ruthless than our desires.
At first our lusts isolate us from others. We withdrawal to do our thing. Then they demand greater commitment. Time, energy, resources, relationships, life. At first we try to manage them, until they finally consume us, destroying us in the end.
In Mark 7:8 Jesus observes how we “lay aside the commands of God to obey the traditions of men.”
We can identify as a certain denomination instead of a follower of Jesus. We obey the traditions we learned instead of the person we love, Jesus. Instead of serving God, sometimes we can become servants of our religious/political ideologies.
The masses didn’t crucify Jesus because he was the Son of God, or was obeying God. They killed him because he didn’t obey their traditions. In John 12:43 he describes how people “love human praise more than praise from God.” How many times have you felt conviction about some great thing God put on your heart, only to realize that your spouse, a boyfriend/ girlfriend, your kids, a friend was not on board, or disagreed with you? So instead of pressing forward, you relented, and gave in to the pressure. Our need for affirmation, and approval is so strong, we will cave rather than risk the disapproval of others. It’s like a law has been passed: “I have to be liked.” I need a Facebook thumbs up, a Twitter retweet, to have the validation I need in life. Do we obey men, or do we obey God?
Galatians 2:16 says, “…we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law” (NLT).
The Bible describes how people believe they are accepted by God by obeying all the laws God has given. So like the Rich Young Ruler, people try to establish their own righteousness before God. Our checklists become a source of pride for us, and they become a sort of litmus test by which we gauge other’s sincerity, spirituality, or faith. “I don’t ever miss church. I read my Bible. I’ve been baptized. I tithe. I volunteer. I go to Bible study. I go on missions trips. I care about orphans, widows, prisoners, the hungry, the sick. . . I, I, I…” Our selective, cherry-picked lists can give us a false sense of confidence before God.
God’s standard is Galatians 3:10, “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”
Who or what do you most obey? Jesus’ obedience wasn’t oriented around things… it was oriented to Father. Look at how Jesus obeyed. In John 8:28-30 Jesus says, “… I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. “ And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.”
Philippians 2:8, “… being found in the appearance as a man, Jesus humbled himself by becoming obedient to death–even death on a cross!”
To Obey Like Jesus: First, obedience is all about relationship. “Obedience or trusting obedience is God’s love language.” The “heart” of obedience is pleasing the Father in everything–i.e. in all we say and do. He is pleased when we obey because he knows that means we trust him. When we trust God we want to obey God, When we have a relationship with Jesus and are intimate with our Father God we don’t obey out of fear, it’s out of love. 2 John 1:6 says, “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” 1 John 5:3, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.”
Second, grace is the basis for our relationship with God. We are saved through faith in Christ alone, by virtue of Christ’s sacrifice, His perfect righteousness, His blood. The best we can do is respond to God’s offer of mercy. We can confess Jesus as Lord. We can repent and turn to God. We can pledge our lives to him in baptism. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast.” Faith in Jesus Christ leads to being born again spiritually. You are a new person and that new person begins to grow in love for Jesus. As that love grows, trust increases and obedience increases.
Third, obedience is God’s prescription for blessing. God’s commands carry a blessing, a promise, a reward. God’s promise to the children of Abraham is that if they obeyed God, it would go well for them, they would live a long life, and receive inheritance. If we sow obedience, we reap God’s very best in our lives. In Luke 11:28 Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” I even noticed in 1 John 3:22 that obedience makes our prayers more powerful. John says, “If our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.”
Last, obedience is evidence our faith is alive, not dead. James says faith without works is DOA (James 2:17). 1 John 2:5-6 says, “But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus lived.” If our faith is alive, real, vibrant, sincere, it will show itself in how we live. Obedience is the inevitable fruit of saving faith. In the end, God judges our faith by every word spoken, and every deed done, whether in public or private.
Who will you obey?