The In’s and Outs of Obedience

If you have been a follower of Jesus very long you have heard or read multiple times about the importance of being an obedient believer. If you are like me, the question in my mind has been, “What does it mean to be obedient to the Lord?” In other words, other than obeying the commands of Scripture, what does obedience look like?

There is a lot written on the subject of obedience and the more you read on the subject the more confusing it gets. On one hand you could develop a law mentality and fall into religious legalism. The other extreme is you could become so passive that you never encounter or connect with God’s leading.

So in this devotional I would like to give you my view of what it means to be obedient to God. I am wired to be practical so my bend on obedience is from a practical standpoint. I don’t do well with complicated theological definitions, so my approach is to break it down into a practical but accurate definition.

Legal side of obedience
I view obedience from two perspectives. One is the legal side of obedience. These are God’s clear commands like we read from the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount or the epistles. These are clear-cut instructions given to us by God for us to obey. For instance, it’s never a question if we are to love our neighbor. We understand that lying is something that obedient believers don’t do. The Scripture plainly tells us not to lie or hate our neighbor. We don’t have to pray about if its ok to hate our neighbor or tell a lie because the Scripture is clear.

Practical side of obedience
This side of obedience is what trips up most believers. It’s more subjective and not quiet as clear as the written Word. We see an example of this principle when the rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked him how to obtain eternal life. Jesus told him, “You know the commandments…”. The rich man replied, “ All these things I have kept from my youth.” Then Jesus replied, “One thing you still lack, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and then you shall have treasure in Heaven, and come and follow me. “

This is an example of a man who had followed only the legal aspect of obedience. He missed the practical and heart side of what it means to be fully committed to God. Jesus wasn’t saying it was wrong to be rich or prosperous. He was teaching that even though the man had kept the letter of the law in his personal behavior, his money and wealth had become a God to him. He wasn’t willing to trade his wealth for peace with God.

One of the indicators that a person is really born again is they are connected to both the legal and the practical side of obedience. It is an inward thing. It’s more than keeping the commandments, it’s being willing to allow your life to be a living sacrifice.

We are sometimes like the little boy who was placed in the corner sitting in a chair for being disobedient. His mom told him to stay seated in the chair and not to get up until he was given permission. He then looked at his mom and said, “I may be sitting down in this chair, but on the inside I am standing up.” He looked like he was being obedient but on the inside he was still rebellious.

Three aspects of practical obedience
There are several aspects of practical obedience but I want to highlight three key components that most believers deal with on a day to day basis.

Obeying the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. When we were born again we received the Holy Spirit within us. This is the promised comforter and teacher that Jesus promised his disciples before he ascended to heaven. (John 16:5-15) It is the spirit of the living Christ living His life through us. This is what Jesus meant when He said that He would always be with them. The Holy Spirit is in us to not only be our teacher but also to reveal to us the will of the Father. It’s that inner conscience. Practical obedience is listening to and obeying the inner voice of the Holy Spirit. I call it intentional listening. As you commune with God through prayer and Bible reading, the voice will be clearer.

Practical obedience involves placing our trust in God during every crisis, situation or decision. This is when we give every situation to God and trust Him to show us direction. During my life, I would like to say that every major decision I’ve made was in line with God’s will. But I am sorry to say that I haven’t always made the right decision. Out of fear or rebellion I chose to do it in my own strength and wisdom rather than trusting God and following His leadership. But in those times when I trusted God to show me the way, He never failed to give me direction and peace in the midst of the storm.

Practical obedience is learning to wait on God. When I think back to the times that I made a bad decision it was because I didn’t have the patience to wait on an answer from God. We have all heard the familiar phrase that God has two answers when we pray, “yes or no”. I have found that there are actually three answers, “yes, no and wait”. I can handle the “yes and no” answers fairly well, it’s the “wait” that I struggle with. Learning to wait on God is a spiritual virtue that results in practical obedience.

Bottom Line

Obedience involves two aspects, following the written commands of God (the Legal) and the practical aspect (a practical living out of the commands). God didn’t give us the commands and then throw us to the wolves, hoping that we can persevere. He gave us the indwelling Christ to enable us to fulfill both the legal as well as the practical aspect of obedience. The Scripture tells us that we are made complete in Christ. (Colossians 2) His life is in us, enabling us to live in obedience. (Romans 8:1-10) It’s not just up to us to do the best we can, but rather it is Christ, who is the fulfillment of the law, living His life through us empowering us to be obedient. As a result, our obedience allows us to fulfill the will of God.

“The quality of our character is directly related to the level of our obedience. “

Doing Something for God

Doesn’t it seem natural for a follower of Jesus to live his/her life committed to “doing something for God”? Isn’t this what we are supposed to do, help God reach the world? Matter of fact, there have been numerous gospel songs written with that in mind. One song that comes to my mind contains a line like this, “If working and praying has any reward, then surely some morning I will meet my dear Lord…if anyone makes it all the way home, Lord surely I will.”

The implication of the song is that our self-effort and good works get us to heaven. Those of us who believe that “Jesus is the way, the truth and life…” would quickly condemn that belief system and say it smacks of salvation by works.

However, many of us live our Christian life promoting a similar belief system. We live as if our security and spiritual well-being is related to how much “we do for God”. We may believe that our salvation is “by grace through faith” but we live our Christian life driven by self-effort “attempting to do something for God.” Living in this manner is like an empty vessel trying to fill itself.

You can spot those who live with this belief system. They are constantly trying to measure up to some sort of spiritual performance but always feeling that they are falling short.

Or another example would be someone needing some sort of spiritual experience every Sunday, so that they can feel close to God. It’s as if drinking from the fountain that Jesus gives is not enough. Jesus said that if we drink from His fountain we would thirst no more because His fountain is a fountain springing from within, like an artesian well. “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give them shall never thirst; but the water I give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

The Christian life is not about “doing things for God”. Think about these questions: What does God need? Does He really need us? How much work for God is enough? How will you know when you have done enough? How do you know when you have measured up?

God never intended for us to “do things for Him” in order to measure up to His acceptance. That’s because He already accepts us. The moment we were placed in Christ at salvation, we were eternally accepted by God, all without an ounce of self-effort.

Bottom Line

Then how do we serve God? First we must come to the point that “apart from Him we can do nothing.” God is waiting for us to acknowledge that we can’t live the Christian life. When we accept that we can’t, God reveals that Christ can. God’s design is for us to stop striving and start resting.

As a result, the will of God will be done through us. Instead of attempting to “do something for God”, we allow Christ to live His life through us, and then watch as God does “exceeding, abundantly beyond all that we ask or think…” (Ephesians 3:20)

Six Spiritual Truths That Guide My Life – Part 2

4. A Biblical World View.

There is a century- old belief that says you are the books you read and the people you hang-out with. While that may be an indicator of where your system of thinking comes from, I think it goes deeper than that. I believe you are a product of your “Worldview”.

A Worldview is a belief system that forms your foundation for decision making. Down through the centuries, society has formed many different belief systems, but all belief systems stem from only two Worldviews, a secular Worldview and a Biblical or Christ-centered Worldview. Each Worldview is a system and standard for morality, behavior and decision making.

A Secular Worldview is based on a man-centered logic that everything is relative. It is driven by societal and cultural changes. The sense of right and wrong is based on cultural patterns that change with the belief system of the current culture

In other words, there are no moral absolutes. Anything goes as long as society thinks its ok. A recent example is the redefinition of marriage and the status of an unborn child. Who would have ever thought that our country would murder over 6o million babies through abortion? It is a secular worldview that causes a society to eventually make the decision for what is morally right and wrong.

A Biblical/Christ-centered Worldview is based on, and guided by a set of moral absolutes. God, through the Holy Scriptures, gives us moral absolutes that guide and direct our life. As followers of Christ, we have the Holy Spirit, and the life of Christ within us, to make the written Word alive. That enables us to live with a sense of peace and joy, even though the world around us is falling apart. We no longer have to fall victim to a world system that brings us moral confusion. We know who we serve, who we are, how we are to live and where we are going.

5. Expect the light of Christ to affect those around me.

Sociologists say that every person influences at least 5 people. That means that at least five people are influenced by what I say, what I do and how I treat other people. They are influenced by the decisions I make and how I respond to adversity and disappointments. They watch our response when we don’t get our way. They observe how we react when someone disagrees with us.

The Scriptures teach that we are to be “Salt and Light” to the world. Even though salt can be an irritant, its primary function in the end is to bring healing and flavor. Our life should bring healing to those who are hurting and are looking for answers.

Our life is to bring light to a dark world. It is not necessarily our words that bring light but the inner glow of Jesus that draws others to the light.

I have been preaching and teaching for several decades and the best sermons and lessons I have ever delivered are given without a word spoken. It’s the light of the risen Christ shining through me, emanating the Light of the world. Wherever I go, every stranger I meet could be a recipient of His light through me. That’s the reason we should never underestimate the power of a smile or a kind word.

6. Develop moral absolutes.

Moral absolutes are lines you have predetermined not to cross. These may be lines that our culture says is OK, but because of my Biblical/Christ-centered Worldview, these are lines that we have decided not to cross. It’s having a set of moral absolutes that act as a daily guide for your life. It’s not a law but rather a discipline based on the absolutes of God’s Word. It keeps us from crossing a line that would cause us to have regrets. (Titus 2:11-13)

Bottom Line
God has given us everything we need to live a victorious and happy life. But we must allow God’s truth to drive us to the sufficiency of Christ. Do you have some moral absolutes? If not, think about developing your own set of biblical moral absolutes that will serve as a guide to your daily walk with God (Colossians 3)

(See last week’s post to read part 1.)