What rises up in you when you hear the word obedience? Is it fear? Contempt? Refusal? Rebellion? Indifference? Trust? Perhaps you flash back to a childhood memory. Or maybe you begin to wrestle with an unhealed and unresolved trauma that resulted from something you know you shouldn’t have been doing. Or maybe there’s an immense sadness that peaks into your mind, about a time where you did the right thing, but ended up hurt, rejected, manipulated, or looked down upon for choosing Jesus’s way over the world’s way.
The reality is that in each cultural moment there are some aspects of God’s law that fit comfortably with a given culture, but others that look to be flat wrong. Obedience is not something our culture values. Where does that leave us? Can we trust God, invisible and mysterious, over what is plain to see? Over what intuitively feels right? Over what seems senseless?
Why would we even want to?
This week, I was at dinner on Monday night at a friend’s house. We were finishing up dinner, when their little, two-year-old girl (who had already had a cookie for dessert) grabbed a chair from the dinner table, drug it over to the kitchen counter, grabbed her second cookie for dessert (round two), and looked up as her dad called her name, telling her that she couldn’t have that second cookie in her hand because she had already had one. Cue the meltdown.
As she was crying, begging her dad to let her have the cookie, he looked at her gently and said, “Jess, I’m just trying to protect you. One cookie is okay. Two cookies, though, that could make your tummy upset. I love you, and I’m trying to protect you from that hurt.” And she stopped crying. Right then and there.
That’s when the Lord gave me a beautiful picture of obedience.
When we strive toward obedience in our own strength and in our own will, trying to doing everything the Bible says, we won’t be able to do it. It seems overwhelming. We feel defeated when we inevitably fail. We don’t get why we can’t do what everyone else is doing – go to that party – drink that drink – go further than we know we should because we think physical lust will fully satisfy the longing in our hearts for acceptance – pull up that website on our phone because the temptation is just too much, it’s 1 AM, and nobody will ever know – gossip about that guy on the football team because everyone else on your team is doing it, anyway – completely disregard what our parent’s say because they’re “old” and “they just don’t get it.”
The beautiful thing is, though, that looking at Jesus changes everything.
How do we do it? How can we show obedience to God’s word even when it often makes no sense considering the current cultural moment?
Jesus changes everything. There are many possible answers; the most compelling for me is the goodness and trustworthiness of God in Jesus Christ. God is under no compulsion to save me. Absolutely none. I have acted treacherously in my own life, and I think God would be right to punish my arrogance, hatred, pride, and lying. But instead of choosing the morally good option of justly condemning me, God chose to send his Son to die in my place. And Jesus himself chose to come.
We can never know what a shock leaving perfect joy and fellowship must have been for God’s eternal Son. He willingly chose a life of poverty, in a politically occupied country, with an earthly father who probably died young. Jesus’s friends constantly misunderstood him, and those who should’ve recognized him schemed against him. He was a homeless wanderer. Then, He submitted to the humiliation and raw pain of a false trial and crucifixion. He never had to do any of it, but He chose it for our sake. Jesus became poor to make us rich. He suffered and died for us, in our place. If the good news of the Gospel has become just another story to you, I beg you to look at it again.
Jesus was under no compulsion to save YOU. Absolutely none. Yet, He did.
Now, let me be clear – I believe with all my heart that we can do nothing to merit an eternity with Jesus. We are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. God accepts and declares us righteous not because of our good deeds, but because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We cannot earn God’s favor. We depend entirely on his gospel grace. That’s the Good News.
Full stop. Period. New paragraph.
But… we can also be obedient. Not flawlessly. Not without continuing repentance. Not without facing temptation. Not without needing forgiveness. But we can be obedient.
Obedience is not about control; it’s about protection. I’ve really come to believe that I can be obedient because I can trust the person of Jesus. He’s proven forever that he has my good at heart, that he loves me—so much so that he paid a scandalous personal cost. Outside of a relationship with this person, I can’t take the risk of trusting what goes against my cultural instincts. But as I know him more and more—his power, his intelligence, his goodness, his love—I can trust. I can obey. Even before I understand; even if I never quite do.
You and I have no natural ability to rise and do what God calls us to do, but He refused to leave us to our own resources. He is not so unwise, unkind, or unfaithful as to ever call us to a task without enabling us to do it. Think about it. I am not able to love my husband and respond to him like the Church is called to respond to Christ, because I am quicker to speak than I am listen, and I’m inherently selfish in the little, mundane things. But thankfully I am not left by God to my own character and strength. I am not able to keep my heart pure, so God fills me with His empowering Spirit. You see, what 2 Peter 1:3 says is really true: we have been given everything we need for life and godliness. The God who calls us to a radical new way of living meets us with radical empowering grace. Have courage. Be active. He is your strength and He’s given you everything you need.
Written by AFL Ministry Coordinator and Abundant Life: You Were Made for More author Sammie Gallo. This article is part of a monthly series, Truth Talk, focusing on digging into Scriptural concepts and putting them into practical action. You can read all the articles in this series on the Abundant Life blog.