The Sweetness of Christian Obedience
What if the word “obedience” wasn’t a trigger-word in church? Often times obedience talk is avoided because it becomes a rudimentary discussion of soteriology (how we are saved. Hint: by grace not through works), and brings up shame in us because we aren’t obeying.
Other times it just makes us cringe because we’re terrified that God is going to make us give up everything we love, do things we hate, and zap every little ounce of joy we have for the rest of our lives.
But what if obedience wasn’t a dirty word? What if talking about obedience had a certain sweetness to it?
I think it does. I think obedience, rightly understood, is the best thing ever. Since there’s such a lack of sweetness in our understanding of obedience, it can only communicate a lack of sweetness and goodness in our understanding of God’s own character.
There are three big misconceptions about God and Obedience.
First Misconception: Obedience isn’t fun and it always hurts.
Obedience isn’t God’s way of making sure we have no fun. This idea goes hand-in-hand with the idea that sin is fun. Yet, biblically, sin is death. Not because God has to wave a wand to kill sinner (fun fact: He doesn’t). Walking in what we call “sin” is walking outside the designed borders and parameters of your own humanity. It’s like putting water in a gas tank and revving the engine.
Sin is death. It kills. It debilitates. It enslaves. But walking within the boundaries of our design is life-giving.
Like David said, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” (Psalm 16:6, NIV). Walking within the parameters of our design, and being the people Jesus has called us to be is the healthiest thing for us.
Second Misconception: Obedience makes a person’s life dull and boring.
It’s almost never boring.
I think most of us also have this idea that obedience to Jesus’ words and the movements of the Spirit is going to create a boring life. We wonder what we’ll do with all the free time not spent doing ‘fun things’ (see #1). Maybe we envision a life filled with boring prayer meetings, avoiding rated R movies, and serving on the greeting team or at the church bake sales. Yet, Obedience is almost always more than “don’t do this”. Most of the times Jesus or Paul prohibit one thing, they actually put a better, proper thing in it’s place. “Instead of _____, actually do _______”.
Instead of stealing, use your hands to bless others. Instead of cursing your brother with your tongue, use your tongue to bless him and build him up. Instead of being greedy with your time and resources, give freely of those things to take care of those who have no means.
Obedience is always calling us into a greater adventure than we’ve envisioned for our own life. It’s so much more than Church bake sales and filtered netflix viewing.
Obedience calls for the service of those who are forgotten. Obedience calls for disciple-making. It calls for radical self-giving to any and all. It calls for feeding the poor, clothing the naked, visiting criminals in prison. It calls for forgiving your worst enemy and your best friend (and yourself).
Obedience calls some to Indonesia and others to Indianapolis. Some are in remote villages learning new languages. Others are actually becoming involved in the lives of their neighbors and co-workers, blessing them and praying for them, seeing darkness uprooted and lives changed.
Obedience calls you to die to yourself. It calls you to surrender every part of your brokenness. It calls you to give yourself over the renewing of your mind. If you let Him, the Holy Spirit will lead you to pray for healing and see results. He’ll lead you to talk to the barista behind the counter. He’ll lead you to care about every person around you, and to counteract and cast out every oppressive force of evil in your midst.
He might lead you to protest unrighteous civil systems. He might lead you to wash the feet of homeless. He might lead you to smuggle bibles into Syria. He might lead you to offer prayer to that lady in the parents meeting at your kids school, even though she’s “not really religious”. It might lead you to bring reconciliation to your estranged family.
No matter where it leads you, you can sure imagine finding yourself in a position where you don’t wish for anyone else’s life. You’ll love the adventure you’re on, and eagerly desire the turn around the corner. You can surely expect to see Kingdom breaking in to every corner, and New Creation manifesting in your day-to-day life.
Isn’t that what you really want for your life?
Third Misconception: God doesn’t understand the struggle of what we’re asked to do.
God will never ask you for something He wasn’t willing to give up Himself. He asked Abraham for His firstborn son (and didn’t even take him), but willingly gave Jesus. He let Job go through immense suffering, but Jesus too suffered a brutal crucifixion, beating, and mocking.
Jesus prayed. Jesus forgave. Jesus suffered temptation. Jesus was wronged. He was betrayed. He had awkward conversations with strangers about faith. He went hungry, and didn’t always get the best hotel rooms. He confronted people publicly about their unrighteousness. He fought against unjust social systems. He did crazy stuff like spit in mud and rub it on people’s eyes to heal their blindness.
He even died for the sake of a people who despised Him, even though He’d asked the Father for a different way.
Many of those things are genuinely terrifying, and make most of us want to settle for the “boring church bake sale and no explicit music” sort of obedience. Yet, how great and humble is it of Jesus to not ask for a single thing of us He was unwilling to do Himself? He can empathize with how hard it all is, and He can empower us to say “yes” even when every part of us is screaming “that’s insane, God, why would that ever work.”
Fourth (freebie): Obedience seems like a list of arbitrary tasks that have nothing to do with who I really am.
Obedience is less about the specific actions God has for you, and more about becoming the type of person He made you to be. There will be certain actions and specific things He asks, but His greatest desire is a heart which naturally delights in giving, serving, blessing, and worshipping.