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Obedience is not a popular word today. For generations we have been taught to avoid such words. One result has been a lack of discipline in our homes and schools, which is an important factor in the progressive decline of our students in every objective test of performance.
Scripture, however, makes it very clear that obedience is a necessary and crucially important part of our life as Christians.
I believe the key to obedience is submission to God. What matters is, not external adherence to specific rules, but a heart that is submitted to God. If our heart is submitted to God, then we will obey his specific requirements. It is the heart attitude that is crucial.
What is our motive for this obedience, or submission? At the risk of oversimplification, let me say that I see three basic motives.
We obey because we fear someone who is more powerful than we are. This does enter into our obedience. Scripture tells us to fear the Lord, and, indeed, he is a God of awesome power. He is capable of great wrath. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). (Also see Romans 1:18; Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:6; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Revelation 6:16-17.) At a minimum, we obey him to avoid his wrath and punishment. But there are better motives for obedience.
God told Joshua, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8).
Let me use a simple analogy. When we buy an automobile, we receive an owner’s manual in which the manufacturer tells us the conditions under which his product must be operated if it is to function well. If we do not follow these instructions, we are apt to have something bad happen to the automobile. I sometimes think of the Bible as an owner’s manual in which our Creator has told us the conditions under which his creation, man, will function best. If we follow the instructions, we will prosper; in Biblical terms, we will be blessed. If we do not follow the instructions, bad things will happen; in Biblical terms, we will be cursed. So if we want to prosper and live fruitful lives, we will follow our Creator’s instructions. It’s a simple matter of self-interest.
But God does not want us to submit to him just because of the benefits we hope to get. That was the issue in the book of Job, where God allowed satan to test Job to see if he loved him only because of what God had done for him. (See Job, chapters 1 and 2.) God wants us to love him, and to obey him, for who he is, and not just for what he does for us.
Our relationship with the automobile manufacturer is impersonal; we do not even know him. Our relationship with God is, or should be, highly personal. God loves us and we love him. When you love someone, you want to do what pleases him. Scripture makes it inescapably clear that we show our love by our obedience. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). “He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me” (John 14:21). John wrote, “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 John 5:3). The primary motive we have for obeying God is that we love him, we want to do what pleases him, and we want to become like him in character.
While all three of these motives enter into our obedience, I suggest that, particularly since Jesus Christ has come on earth, our primary motive for obedience is and should be our love for God and for his only son Jesus Christ. One of the best ways we can show that love is by obedience.
I, personally, am a long way from the obedience that I describe in this chapter. I doubt that any one, other than Jesus Christ, can be said to have achieved perfect obedience. We are all working towards it, and are at various stages in our pursuit of it. From my study of Scripture, I think I have been able to form a fairly clear picture of where we need to be, and I hope that picture will be of value to all of us who are working on this essential aspect of our lives in Christ.
The usual Old Testament word translated “obey” is shama. It literally means “to hear.” Strong’s Dictionary of the Hebrew Bible defines shama as “to hear intelligently, often with implication of attention, obedience, etc.” Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words defines it as “to hear, hearken, listen, obey, publish”, and says that it appears about 1,160 times in the Old Testament.The principal New Testament word for obey is hupakouo, from hupo, “under” and akouo, “to hear.” Strong’s Dictionary of the Greek Bible defines it as “to listen attentively, by implication, to heed or conform to a command or authority.” Many other New Testament words for “obey” have the idea of hearing.
In both the Old and New Testaments, the central idea of “obey” is “to hear, to listen attentively.” I think this is significant. It suggests that, when we speak of obedience to God, we are speaking of more than just observing and following the words written in Scripture, important as they are. We are also speaking of seeking and obeying the specific guidance of God in our daily lives, and following out the calling he has placed on our lives. Paul speaks of living a life controlled by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:6-14) and of having the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). Jesus speaks of doing the will of God (Matthew 7:21, 12:50). I believe this includes responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, as well as obeying God’s general will expressed in Scripture.
OBEDIENCE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
The people of Israel were a covenant people; they had a covenant relationship with their God. That relationship was stated in various terms at various times, but its essence is expressed thus, “Obey my voice and I will be your God, and you shall be My people” (Jeremiah 7:23). If the people of Israel wanted God to guide them, protect them, provide for them, bless them, and cause them to prosper, they had to obey God’s voice and be his people. God “…keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands” (Daniel 9:4 NIV).
I think it can be said that the history of the nation of Israel, as recorded in the Old Testament, revolves around the issue of obedience to God’s commands. Repeatedly God told them to obey, repeatedly they disobeyed, repeatedly God warned them that their disobedience would bring disaster, repeatedly they ignored the warning, and finally their disobedience caused the destruction of both Israel and Judah.
God warned his people of the consequences of disobedience, but they refused to listen. “When I called, you did not answer; when I spoke, you did not hear” (Isaiah 65:12). (Also see 66:4.) “The LORD warned Israel and Judah through all his prophets and seers: ‘Turn from your evil ways. Observe my commands and decrees, in accordance with the entire Law that I commanded your fathers to obey and that I delivered to you through my servants the prophets.’ But they would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their fathers, who did not trust in the LORD their God. They rejected his decrees and the covenants he had made with their fathers and the warnings he had given them…” (2 Kings 17:13-15 NIV).
I want to note one thing about this Old Testament record. The emphasis in most of the texts is on keeping God’s commands and laws. Do not do what God has told you not to do. But there are quite a few times when it is clear that the obedience called for is to do the affirmative things God has called on you to do. God told Noah to build an ark, and “Noah did according to all that the LORD commanded him” (Genesis 7:5). God told Abraham to take his family and household on a long and difficult journey to a country he did not know, and Abraham obeyed (Genesis 12:1-5). God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, in whom all God’s promises rested; Abraham raised the knife, and then God spared his son. God said that “because you have obeyed My voice” (Genesis 22:18), all nations would be blessed through Abraham’s offspring. God called Moses, Joshua, the judges and others to specific tasks, and they obeyed him.
Two of the most serious acts of disobedience in the Old Testament consisted of refusing or failing to do what God told someone to do. God told the Israelites to take the land of Canaan and promised that they would succeed. They refused (Numbers, chapters 13-14), and had to wander in the wilderness for forty years. This refusal is referred to in Scripture as an act of unbelief, disobedience, rebellion, and contempt for God (Hebrews 3:12-19, 4:6; Numbers 14:11, 23). God told King Saul to destroy the Amalekites totally, but Saul did not fully obey him. Samuel told him, “You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel” (1 Samuel 15:26). Obedience, even in the Old Testament, is more than just obeying rules. It is doing what God tells you to do.
OBEDIENCE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
The central importance of obedience in the New Testament is dramatically shown by Romans 5:19, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” Through Adam’s disobedience, sin came into the world. With it came sickness and death. By it man’s dominion over the world was handed over to satan, and satan became the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4). Then through the obedience of Jesus, the Kingdom of God came into the world, man was freed from the burden of sin, and satan’s authority was overthrown. Through the obedience of Jesus, God established a “new covenant” (Matthew 26:28) with his people that is based on our obedience to Jesus. It was disobedience that caused the Fall; it was obedience that undid its effects.
Jesus’ victory at the Cross was based on his obedience. He said, “…I do exactly what my Father has commanded me…” (John 14:31 NIV). Before the Crucifixion, he prayed three times to his Father, “Not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). Paul tells us that Jesus “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:8-9). Hebrews says that Jesus “learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:8-9). It was by his obedience that he was able to become the source of eternal salvation for those who obey him. The whole “new covenant” (or “new testament” KJV) is based on Jesus’ perfect obedience to his Father. And it calls on us to obey. If we are to be imitators of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 1:6), and walk as Jesus did (1 John 2:6), we need to be obedient.
Jesus Is Lord
“…If you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 NIV). Jesus is not just our Savior, wonderful as that is. He is our Lord. Unless we make him Lord of our lives, our salvation is not complete.
Jesus is above everything. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. He has the supremacy in everything. Every knee will bow to him and every tongue confess that he is Lord. When Thomas saw the resurrected Jesus, he said, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). When John saw Jesus in his glory, he “fell at His feet as dead” (Revelation 1:17). I am sure that will be the reaction of all believers when we see him as he truly is. (See Chapter 6.)
Jesus Expects Us to Obey Him
Jesus told his disciples, and hence us, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me” (John 14:21). “…If anyone loves me he will obey my teaching…” (John 14:23 NIV). “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10). He said, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). He said that when the storms come (when difficulties come), everyone who hears his words and puts them into practice will remain standing, while everyone who hears his words and does not put them into practice will fall with a great crash (Matthew 7:24-29). He wrote the church at Sardis, “Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent…” (Revelation 3:3 NIV). Revelation speaks of “…patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus” (Revelation 14:12 NIV). “Those who obey his commands live in him [Jesus], and he in them” (1 John 3:24 NIV).
Paul defined his ministry as that of calling “…people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith” (Romans 1:5 NIV). (Also see Romans 15:18, 16:26.) Peter tells believers that they have been “…chosen according to the foreknowledge of God… for obedience to Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 1:2 NIV).
The Principle of Authority
Authority is a basic principle in God’s Kingdom. Jesus was obedient to God, and thus became the source of salvation to those who obey him (Hebrews 5:8-9). Jesus said to his disciples, “…All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV). A disciple (mathetes) is a pupil. He is one under discipline, or at least in New Testament days he was. “Mathetes means more in the New Testament than a mere pupil or learner. It means an adherent who accepts the instruction given to him and makes it his rule of conduct.” 29 It was because Jesus had been given all authority that he could authorize and commission his disciples to raise up other disciples who would raise up still others, etc.
It is the power of God working in us that enables us to be effective (Ephesians 1:19, 6:10). Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens Me” (Philippians 4:13). How do we get this power? Paul had it because he was a servant (or slave) of Jesus Christ. We receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon us (Acts 1:8), and the Holy Spirit is given to those who obey God (Acts 5:32). (Also see John 14:15-16.) God empowers those who obey him.
The centurion understood authority. He said, “I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me” (Matthew 8:9). (See verses 5-10.) Because he understood authority, he believed that Jesus could heal his servant by a word. Jesus praised him, saying, “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel” (Matthew 8:10).
The New Life
Jesus has given us a new life as the result of our salvation. Let us look at the part that obedience plays in this process of transformation. I shall do this briefly, because much of this has been dealt with in other chapters.
SALVATION —Hebrews 5:9 says that Jesus “became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” You may say, “Wait a minute, I thought we were saved by faith and only by faith.” We are saved by faith. That is what Ephesians 2:8-9 and many other Scriptures say. But Scripture does not contradict itself. As I shall develop more fully in chapter 18, faith, or belief, as used in Scripture, implies obedience.
RECEIVING THE HOLY SPIRIT —A crucial part of the new life is that we receive the Holy Spirit and allow him to take up residence inside us. The Holy Spirit comes only to those who obey God (Acts 5:32). Jesus told his disciples, “If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father and he will give you another Helper [the Holy Spirit], that He may abide with you forever” (John 14:15-16). God gives the Holy Spirit to those who keep Jesus’ commandments, to those who obey God. If we want the Holy Spirit to live within us, guide us, teach us, and empower us, we need to obey God. As John said, “Those who obey his [God’s] commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us” (1 John 3:24 NIV).
LIVING BY THE SPIRIT— The key to the new life that we have been promised, is that we should live by the Holy Spirit. (See Chapter 15.) To live by the spirit is to be controlled by the spirit, to submit your soul and body to the control of the Holy Spirit. The new life is a life that is lived in submission to the Holy Spirit who is within us.
Note that what Paul is talking about is not an obedience that is imposed on us by force. It arises because we have chosen to offer ourselves to God and to obey him. It is a willing obedience.
KNOWING GOD —Knowing God is essential to our new life. But we cannot know him unless we obey him. “By this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps his word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:3-6). Paul spoke of those who “profess to know God, but in works they deny Him” (Titus 1:16).
FREEDOM —Jesus told his disciples, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). As we continue to dwell in Jesus’ word, and hold fast to his teachings, we become his disciples, his mathetes, his followers, who are taught to “obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:29). And it is this commitment to his word, this obedience to his word, that sets us free. Obedience to Jesus, far from being a burden, is something that frees us.
Colossians 1:13 says, “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.” We have been freed from satan’s power by accepting the greater power and authority of Jesus Christ. (Also see Romans 6:15-19.)
PRAYER —Jesus taught us to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). He gave us the example in Gethsemane, when he asked that he not have to endure the Crucifixion, but then, in agony, prayed, “not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). I believe this is at the heart of all true prayer. In prayer, we seek to know God’s will, and then unite ourselves to his will to pray that his will shall be done. “Whatever we ask we receive from Him [God], because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22). “Now this is the confidence we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that he hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:14-15).
WORSHIP —An essential part of the new life is to worship God. We worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). To worship (proskuneo) is to prostrate oneself before in homage, to do reverence to, to adore. It is, among other things, an act of submission.
Our worship is not just an act we do at certain specified times and places. It is, or should be, a continuous state of submission. As Samuel told King Saul, “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). True worship is giving God the priority in our life. It is seeking first God’s kingdom and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33). It is fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), and setting our hearts and minds “on those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1-2). (Also see 2 Corinthians 4:18.)
Paul defines worship in these terms, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1 NIV). To worship is to surrender our lives totally to God. It is to die to self and live for God. (See Chapter 16.)
DOING THE WILL OF GOD
“The primary concern in Christian living is doing the will of God.”30 This was Jesus’ purpose. “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34). “I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent me” (John 5:30). “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38). In the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed, “not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). (Also see Matthew 26:42, 44.)
If we are to be imitators of Jesus, if we are to do the things he was doing, should we not seek to do the will of God in everything? That is exactly what Scripture says. Jesus taught us to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). He said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?… Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:48, 50). He said, “Not every one who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Paul prayed that “you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, that you may have a walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him” (Colossians 1:9-10). (Also see Ephesians 6:6.) The author of Hebrews prayed that God would “make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight” (Hebrews 13:21). John wrote, “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:17 NIV).
Doing the will of God is much more than obeying a set of external rules. God has a purpose for the life of each one of us. “We are His [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). “‘For I know the plans I have for you’ declares the LORD ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV). He wants to be able to say to each one of us, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). To say “yes” to the things God is calling you to do may often be more important than to say “no” to the things God has told you not to do.
There are three things that try to keep us from doing the will of God: the world, the flesh and the devil.
THE WORLD —If we would know what God’s will is for us, we must not conform to the pattern of this world. (See Chapter 13.) This means that we should seek to please God and not people. Jesus even warned, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). I believe one of the greatest blocks in this nation, today, to our doing the will of God is our desire to please all people, and our fear of their disapproval or ridicule.
A major weakness in the body of Christ today is that we are too much conformed to the pattern of this world. Many who profess to believe in Christ live lives that are almost indistinguishable from those of non-believers. Many churches have conformed in great measure to the pattern of this world. Some have adopted theologies that are not based on the word of God, and even deny much that Scripture teaches; some have gotten into New Age philosophy and practices. Many have adopted for themselves worldly standards of emphasis on material success and pursuit of human agendas. We need to stop conforming to the pattern of this world.
THE FLESH —If we would be controlled by the Spirit, we need to put to death the desires of the flesh. (See Chapter 15.) We need, as I have said earlier, to die to self and live for God. Today I’m afraid there are quite a few who call themselves Christians but who are basically self-centered rather than God-centered. Self-centeredness is a problem for most of us, and it is encouraged by our modern culture.
THE DEVIL —The devil and his evil spirits come to steal and kill and destroy (John 10: 10). (See Chapter 12.) He tries to exalt himself against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5). Whenever we give in to the world or the flesh, whenever we focus on ourselves rather than on God, we invite the devil to attack us. We need to avoid giving him a foothold. We need to be alert to his schemes. We need, at every turn, to submit ourselves to God and resist the devil.
HOW IS IT THAT WE SHOULD OBEY?
In this section I can only sketch out what I believe to be the basic approach that is called for in this matter of obedience.
Under the Old Testament, the emphasis tended to be on outward obedience to a prescribed set of detailed rules—the many laws and commands which God gave through Moses, as recorded in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, and the words God gave the writing prophets. There are exceptions to this. But the primary emphasis is on outward observance. “If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands…” you will be blessed (Deuteronomy 28:1 NIV). (Also see Deuteronomy 28:15.) “Observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left” (Joshua 1:7). This got to the point that the apostle James could say, “Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).
Jesus changed this emphasis. Twice in the Sermon on the Mount he took a command that related to outward actions and extended it to a condition of the heart. “You shall not murder” (Matthew 5:21) became “Do not be angry.” “You shall not commit adultery” (Matthew 5:27) became “Do not look at a woman lustfully.” (See Matthew 5:21-30.) When the Pharisees spoke to him about outward ceremony, Jesus said that it is the things that come from the heart that make a man unclean, and not outward observances (Matthew 15:16-21). He told the teachers and legalists of his time, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin [herbs], and have rejected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith” (Matthew 23:23). In New Testament obedience, the primary emphasis is on a totally submitted heart, rather than on detailed adherence to a mass of regulations.
Paul made it clear that the Mosaic law was powerless to free us from sin because no one could obey it completely. “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering…” (Romans 8:3 NIV). We are not justified by observing the law, but by belief in Jesus Christ. We are no longer under bondage to the law (Galatians chapters 1-5). We have an obligation, but it is to be led and controlled by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:13-26; Romans 8:4-17).
Paul also made it very clear that in the moral realm believers are not free to do as they choose. “…do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature” (Galatians 5:13 NIV). (Also see Romans 6:1, 15.) Scripture commands us to “be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15). Without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
Jesus has given some specific commands in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere in the Gospels. Paul has listed acts of the sinful nature which we must avoid (Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 4:29-31, 5:3-7; Colossians 3:5-9). The epistles contain other specific indications of God’s will for us. But over and above these specifics are the general commands. We are to be imitators of Christ, be like Christ, have the mind of Christ. We are to fix our eyes on Christ, fix our minds on things above. We are to live by the Holy Spirit, be led and controlled by the Holy Spirit. This means, I believe, that we need to be receptive to what the Holy Spirit shows us, and to follow whatever guidance he gives us.
If we are Biblically obedient, then we will seek to know God’s will in each situation we are in, and we will do our best to act according to his will. Such obedience leads us to listen to the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit, and to follow those promptings. This may start out as something we do self-consciously from time to time, but it should grow beyond that to habitual obedience that is so normal that we hardly notice it. It is in God that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). The ideal of obedience would be to achieve what Jesus had achieved when he told us that he did only what he saw the Father doing and said only what the Father told him to say. As we are transformed into God’s image, we can hope to come closer to this ideal.
As I see it, New Testament obedience is primarily a matter of attitude, of desiring to please God, to be like Jesus Christ, to be controlled by the Holy Spirit. Following specific rules is less important than growing to maturity and carrying out the calling that God has placed on your life. Where there are specific rules, we follow them as the clearest evidence of what God would have us do. But in all things we need to have an attitude of submission to his will. Perhaps the clearest expression of this is the following:
Where the Old Testament called for obedience to a host of specific requirements, the New Testament calls for such total submission to God that Paul could say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
HINDRANCES TO OBEDIENCE
Some of the things that hinder us from obeying God are obvious: pride, rebellion, self-centeredness. But I think the greatest thing that keeps people from obeying him is that we just don’t take seriously the need to obey.
We live in a permissive society where many have not been taught to obey parents, teachers, or others in authority. We live in a society where many do not understand the laws of cause and effect. Many of us have not been taught to understand that our actions or inactions have consequences, and that we are responsible for what we do and do not do. And so we tend too easily to think that it does not matter whether we obey God or not, or that we can obey him in some things and not others, or that “a little” disobedience now and then is all right.
That is why I have thought it important to emphasize the many Scriptures that talk about obedience. If we will read them, and take them seriously, I think we will see that obedience is an essential part of our Christian life. Our God is an awesome God. He is a mighty, and a powerful God. When he tells us to obey him, we had better take him very seriously. When he tells us that those who do not obey him cannot know him, we had better believe him. Scripture tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Part of that fear means that we don’t fool around with God, we don’t presume on God, we pay close attention when he says something in his Scripture. We need to take this issue of obedience very seriously.
Some years ago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, that extraordinary Russian dissenter from Communism, in a speech at Harvard University, said that in the Soviet Union they had rejected God, and in the West we had forgotten God. Of the two, he thought what the West had done was the more dangerous.
There are many things in our nation today that are spiritually wrong. One could mention abortion, the “sexual revolution,” the high divorce rate, the high rate of children born out of wedlock, high crime rates, drug addiction and the drug traffic, pornography, and the like. One could mention business and government corruption. More basic, I believe, are such things as a preoccupation with material concerns, a basic selfishness (“What’s in it for me?”), a prevalent philosophy that there are no objective moral laws and no such thing as objective truth, an objection to every form of discipline, and a constant blame-shifting that denies one’s personal responsibility. There is a prevalent pride that says, “Look at all we have accomplished by our own abilities,” and fails to give thanks to God. Underlying all of this is the fact that for many (perhaps most) Americans, God and God’s will are simply not seen as significant elements in our decisions and actions.
There has been considerable outright rejection of God. But I believe Solzhenitsyn was right that the major problem has been that we have forgotten God.
God has said, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD” (Psalm 33:12). Do we want that blessing for our nation, or do we not?
I believe that our nation, like Israel, has been favored by God for several centuries, but that we are now close to a point where God may judge us. And I believe that he will first judge his church, especially those who profess to believe in him but have gotten to the point where he no longer has much, if any, importance in their lives.
God still wants to give us an opportunity to come back to him. I believe he is saying to us, as he did to the people of Israel almost 3,000 years ago, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). (Also see Jeremiah 18:7-10.) This humbling process must start with “my people,” those who profess to believe in him. Then it can extend to the rest of the nation.
God still wants to be able to say that we are his people and he is our God. For him to do this, we must submit ourselves to him, individually, as the body of Christ, and then as a nation. I believe that a fuller understanding of what it means to obey God, to submit to him, can help bring us to the point where we can indeed return to God and serve him, and he can heal our land.