We hate people telling us what to do! Small children withstand their parents, pupils defy their teachers, teenagers disregard the establishment, and the supposedly sophisticated are motivated to accumulate wealth that provides them with the freedom to ‘do their own thing’ without constraint. UK readers may remember the Barclays Bank advert which said, ‘Wealth means being able to tell the world to get lost.’
Disobedience and independence are at the root of the human problem. If we all obeyed our Creator and embraced His instructions, the world would be a happier place. Sadly, our natural disposition is to make our own choices and demand our own freedom or even ‘our rights’. We all want our personal space.
Submitting to authority is regarded as a desperately negative concept. ‘Submission’ is associated with sweaty wrestlers forcing one another to the canvas. ‘Do you submit?’ – ‘OK, I submit’ means you lost! How negative can it get?
Who has the whip hand?
People tend to resent the ‘powers that be’, the establishment, the ruling classes or anything that smacks of the superiority of some who then dominate and subject others to their whim. Authority tends to be a dirty word.
But what about God’s authority? Should He not expect to be obeyed? It is His world after all. He made us. We are ultimately answerable to Him.
The Scriptures reveal that by nature we are all children of disobedience, but as Christians we of all people should surely live lives of obedience and submission to His authority. God’s closing word to His people in the Old Testament can be found in the book of Malachi, where He says, ‘A son honours his father and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is my honour? If I am a master, where is my respect?’ (Mal. 1:6). God expects honour, respect and obedience, but the kind of obedience He craves is not cold, reluctant submission. He is looking for something that comes from the heart. God hates lip service from people whose hearts are far from Him (Isa. 29:13). Externalism doesn’t score any points with God. What He really wants to hear is, ‘I delight to do your will, O my God’ (Ps.40:8).
The Lord Jesus modelled a lifestyle in stark contrast to reluctant servitude. He unveiled his life secret to those close to him when he confessed, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent me’ (John 4:34).
He found fulfilment not limitation, nourishment not restriction in actually obeying God and doing what God wanted. His great ambition, and the driving force of his life, was to please his Father. His claim was that he always did what pleased Him.
He did not please himself (Rom. 15:3) and even when the terrifying and agonising decision of Gethsemane was embraced, his priority was the Father’s will. Jesus is our model of sonship. Surely God is worthy not of reluctant obedience but enthusiastic embracing of His will.
Our fallen state
The human race is an enigma to the philosopher, but the Bible teaches that man, originally created in the image of God, for God’s pleasure and glory, chose to believe the tempter when he lied and claimed that God was holding out against him.
Adam was told that he could be like God (Gen. 3:5). Instead of simply obeying his Creator he could independently evaluate what was good and evil. Instead of blindly yielding to God, he could make his own assessments, express his own opinions, reach his own conclusions and enjoy his own self-expression.
At the root of Satan’s temptation was the outrageous suggestion introduced into God’s world that God could not be trusted. As Jesus would later judge, he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).
Adam’s acceptance of the lie, and its resulting disobedience expressed in eating the forbidden fruit, led to the downfall of the human race. Now disobedience is ingrained in us. By nature we defy authority.
God’s purpose is to bring us back to obedience, but not by imposing His will upon us, nor even by placing us under law, but by a gospel of grace that brings about obedience from the heart based on faith (Rom. 5:17). Paul began and closed his great letter to the Romans by referring to his call and goal to ‘call people from among all the gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith’ (Rom. 1:5 NIV).
God should be obeyed. Paul was setting out for the nations to bring about that obedience, but his method would not be by forceful imposition. He wanted to win obedience that was rooted in faith. In other words, he wanted to gain converts and establish communities of believers who gladly chose to obey God from their hearts because they had been fully restored to God. Having received a revelation of God through Christ and his cross and work of redemption, they would joyfully trust and obey Him.
Your danger is that you do not actually follow this truth through to its logical conclusion. Sadly you can become a Christian and then obey somewhat reluctantly because that is what other Christians seem to do.
It seems to be the norm! Or perhaps you obey when somebody else is watching but when alone you revert to your old style of making your own choices because you have not become completely persuaded that God is fully to be trusted and therefore joyfully obeyed, even when no one is watching.
To develop obedience as a consistent lifestyle, you need to be thoroughly persuaded that God expects and deserves obedience and indeed that ultimately you will give account to Him for every detail of your life.
Obedience makes sense
As a result of a revelation of His grace and truth, you need to embrace the fact that God can be thoroughly trusted and that obedience makes sense, even when you don’t understand why God makes certain requirements of you and perhaps the world, your flesh and the devil oppose you.
God doesn’t want reluctant obedience from a people who merely keep the rules and even give the watching world the impression that you are pretty miserable about it. It’s easy for Christians to suggest that we don’t join in their excesses because, as Christians, we are not allowed to!
Even worse is the possibility of not joining in publicly because of the shame factor, but when no one is watching, still secretly choosing sin and thereby demonstrating that your heart is still far from God and you let your flesh dictate your actions.
Faith, not law, made Moses chose
Living a godly life is achieved by consistently making good choices, rooted in obedience to God. Obedience requires continual faith. By faith Moses refused all the pleasures of sin that Egypt offered (Heb. 11:24, 25). His choice was based on faith and genuine personal conviction, not law. No one required it of him. He made his choice alone and fully persuaded that God’s way was best. He gave up life as a prince in a pagan country with all the independence and possibility of self-expression that offered him.
By faith he refused it all. He recklessly risked everything on trusting God. He genuinely believed that God knows best and that it makes sense to live God’s way. Let me invite you to the same adventure. Will you try it and then consistently live out such a lifestyle for the glory of God? Why don’t you obey Him and prove Him absolutely trustworthy in the midst of an unbelieving world that has been lied to?
That’s what Jesus did. Let’s run after