Obedience.

Any mentioning of the word in Christian circles will conjure up diverse emotion. In many corners of Christianity, it has become a word of obscenity. Whether the context is obeying Jesus or learning to obey spiritual authority—no matter the context, this word has become problematic on many levels. A linguistic parriah. 

Don’t get me wrong; I get it. I really do. It seems that reports of sexual abuse and corruption from those in places of leadership in the Church are coming out by the week as more brave women and men step forward. The result is a large distrust of the church as we have known it as well as leaders within the church. Obedience and human spiritual authority is an entirely separate topic. Again, I understand. I have lamented for many hours in prayer over it.

Combine this with the origin story of my homeland, the USA, and we can understand on another level why this word is hard for us. The USA has a deep and innate obsession with individualism, autonomy, and freedom. It has come at a great price. There are positives to this part of our national identity. For the Christian though, if we are not careful, those positives can become problematic to our allegiance to Christ if not kept in check. If not kept in check, obedience in any form, drops into our ears like a threat to everything we hold dear.  

Though for the Christian, obedience is very much a foundational principle to live by, regardless of where we call home. Following and obeying Jesus in Scripture was never based on our emotional disposition or ease of comfort. There was never a standard to be met before we could obey. Following Jesus has forever hinged on pure obedience. Not the kind of obedience that comes across legalistic. Costly, yes. Difficult, yes. Painful even, yes. But never legalistic or shameful. The way Jesus speaks of it, is tied to a deeper submission of the heart to that which we are following. 

The Promises of Obedience to Jesus

This can be seen when Jesus, in John 14:15-15:16 includes or alludes to twelve promises which accrue to those who love and… obey God. 

  • 14:15-17: If you keep my commandments, I will send you the Helper, who will abide with you forever.
  • 14:18: I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
  • 14:21: He who loves me will keep my commandments.
  • 14:23: We will come to him who obeys and make Our home with him.
  • 14:26: The Holy Spirit will teach you all things and remind you of my words.
  • 14:27: Do not be afraid, I give you my peace.
  • 15:7: If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.
  • 15:8: My Father is glorified when you bear much fruit.
  • 15:9-10: If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love.
  • 15:14: You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.
  • 15:15: I no longer call you servants, but friends.
  • 15:16: You did not choose me; I chose you–that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain.

Do you see how the above Scriptures highlight the role of obedience and it being for our ultimate good as Christians? This is what the unbelieving and secular society needs to see: indiviudals who walk out their faith at all costs. 

Unbelievers find faith in Jesus not because of a mental ascent to certain beliefs. They find faith in Jesus because they stepped out of their current existence and into a new one by faith; doing and following what they see within the Gospel of Jesus. Of course belief has a part to play.

But remember, Jesus first called out, “Follow me” to the disciples. Not, “Believe me.” 

Apart from unbelievers, followers of Jesus are renewed and find fresh faith themselves, not because they devoured books or went a week without a certain sin. They find renewal by obeying what they know to be true but have ignored for some time. That which we have read again and again but have been slow to put into action.

Following Jesus is not built on our terms. Following Jesus is built on his. He calls us to obey; submitting our whole hearts to him.

I pray that today you find yourself desiring to live out your faith in fresh and new ways. Seeking to crucify your own flesh and ego and with childlike faith, trusting the planted seed of the Gospel which has been planted within you. 

Lest you fear obeying Jesus like he desires is attainable, remember you have been given his Holy Spirit to lead you to a rediscovery of the deep things of God. In doing so, you will discover that obeying Jesus is not an adventure into drudgery. Obeying Jesus becomes a doorway into a hope and future that finds meaning in the present. It brings our faith to life!

To the point where, like the Apostle Paul, we are are able to say, “For I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Those things God has been calling / commanding / inviting / requesting you to do; those dreams which require you to put action to your lips, its time to move. Nothing will ever come by theorizing, talking, and dreaming. The things God destines for our lives come through our obedience to his Gospel truth. You can do this; the Holy Spirit is with you. The greatest transformations I have ever experienced have been the direct result of time of prayer when I know, read, and hear what God is inviting me to–and with fear and stumbling I step out and obey. I wish I was better at it. But I am learning. Learning to obey his voice above all others. Joy is found in no other place than obedience to Christ.

The Challenge of Obedience and Trust in the Christian Journey

This is a sculpture located on a prayer path at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. It shows Jesus in the garden crying out to God. One of the phrases recorded that Jesus prayed was, "Not they will; but yours."

This is a sculpture located on a prayer path at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. It shows Jesus in the garden crying out to God. One of the phrases recorded that Jesus prayed was, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” (Matt. 26:42 NRS)

Wisdom from an unlikely source

While it may be ignored by most Protestants, Wisdom of Solomon may be one of the most intriguing and raw books of Scripture. It is a book found in the Apocrypha which is included in the Orthodox and Catholic bible but not in the Protestant. The reasons for this merits another post of its own. (For now, click here)

Written between Malachi and Matthew, it is the best introduction to the era of Jesus and the early church. It was also a huge influence on Paul of the New Testament as well as other biblical writers (compare Romans 1:29-32 with Wisdom 13:8-9; 14:25-26).

With that being said, from the very first line of this book we read something powerful, bold, and to the point. The author says in 1:1, “Love righteousness, you rulers of the earth, think of the Lord in goodness and seek him with sincerity of heart…”

This first verse is filled with tremendous imperatives which are commands to be obeyed and followed through on. He says to “love righteousness (justice), think of the Lord in goodness (lit. set your mind upon the Lord), and seek him with sincerity of heart. Or as the NEB translation puts it, “seek him in simplicity of your heart.” While these bold statements are enough to think about for some time, it is what follows these commands that we should never forget.

Wisdom 1:2 states, because he is found by those who do not put him to the test, and manifests [reveals] himself to those who do not distrust him.”

What follows verse 1 is the answer to many “So what?” questions we may have from hearing such commands. The word connecting these two verses is the Greek conjunction “ho-ti.” The manner in which it is used here refers to what was previously said. This word is often used to introduce a cause or reason based on an evident fact that precedes it. (See John 20:29) In the present example it is giving the reason for the commands that precede it. It answers the “so what?” question that the commands bring to the surface.

I am supposed to love justice? Why? So what?
I am supposed to seek God? Ok, why?
Set my mind on Him? For what reason? Why?

Often these thoughts and questions come from a stubborn place within us that want all the answers and facts before we seek to be obedient.

Why do we seek to trust and obey?

So why do we as Christians seek to be obedient and trusting of Scripture? Why do we seek to obey Jesus in his commands and desires of us? Or the rest of the bible? To love others. To seek the Kingdom. To refrain from greed. To turn the other cheek. To not look lustfully after a woman. To share our goods with others. To not use violence. To not pursue materialism. To not…(you get it). Why ought we be obedient to the commands of Scripture? (When contextually appropriate of course)

Because in doing so we find God in the midst of our obedience and trust. When we obey and trust Him we can count on what the author says above, that he is found by those who trust and seek him (See Jeremiah 29). Somehow on the other end of our obedience and trust, there the Father waits to deepen our wisdom, Christlikeness, and growth. Because we took steps of faith and trust.

That even in our moments of confusion, angst, and doubt; when we cry out, as Jesus did, “nevertheless, your will not mine” there He is. When we exclaim, “I don’t understand! But I still trust you!” There He is with grace to accompany our raw obedience and trust. He doesn’t give us what we want or all the answers we think we may need in order to be obedient to the gospel. He gives to us just enough to spur us on to simple love and trust. Even if that “enough” is complete silence. It is healthy and encouraged to continue to wrestle and seek to understand God’s ways and the Scriptures. But never at the price of obedience and trust. Like a fine tuned instrument, there must always be a healthy tension.

In our life of following Christ, believing in this good news, trusting and obeying are two primary ingredients. We seek to obey His teaching. We put our entire lives into this truth of Christ seeking to practically walk that out. All of which requires a seeking and trusting heart.

What is God seeking from us?

Let us remember that what God is not seeking from us a mastery of all questions and issues of the Christian life. What he is seeking from us is a simplistic trust and obedience that reveals itself as we lean upon Him, trust in Him, and obey Him. Not simplistic people void of depth and a passion for understanding. Rather people longing to obey and trust Him on their journey. No matter the cost. This is the Christian life. “Deny yourself; take up your cross and follow me…” Mark 8:34

For in doing so, we find him. He makes Himself known to us in mysterious ways. Right where we already are. Because we trust and obey.