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.
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. “