Lessons in Obedience
by Aneel Aranha
Obedience is a word that not many like. It conjures images of subservience that makes people squirm, even if the subservience is to God. Yet, obedience is a critical element of the Christian journey, because it is inextricably linked to faith. Faith without obedience is like a cart with an unharnessed horse; it won't take you further than where you have reached.
Paul, both at the beginning and the end of his theological treatise to the Romans, defines faith in terms of obedience. Not surprising really, because the very first lesson in Christianity that Paul received was a lesson in obedience. Immediately on being thrown off his high horse on the road to Damascus, Jesus instructed Paul to go into the city where he would be told what to do. The rest of Paul's life was spent in simply following instructions.
It has been the same in my own life. Ever since my conversion, I have tried to be as obedient to God as possible, and soon discovered that it was the easiest and fastest way to travel on the Christian road. There was a strong correlation between spiritual growth and obedience, and the more consistently I obeyed God the faster I travelled. The instant I disobeyed, however, things began to slow down. And if I persisted in disobedience, everything ground to a halt. As I was in a great hurry to get to wherever God wanted to take me I felt it was stupid to disobey. Besides, obedience was a brainless exercise; I knew that whatever God asked of me was for my own good, so why not just fall in line?
Most of us do realize this truth, but persist in disobedience simply because what God asks us to do is often contrary to what we want to do. What we want to do is have "fun"—which, very often, is the same as saying we want to sin—and believe that listening to God will somehow ruin our fun for us. Consequently, we ignore God's commands, unless it is expedient, and simply go about doing our own thing unmindful of the fact that our very salvation might be in jeopardy.
Some theologians might say that such a statement smacks of legalism. Obedience, they argue, should follow out of love rather than duty and be a pleasurable act which results in joyful Christian living. Theologians are often like that. Like philosophers, they complicate simple things to make us believe they are smarter than everybody else. Obedience out of of love and obedience out of duty are not incompatible motives. One does not preempt the other. While we certainly ought to obey God out of a deep love for him, we should never think of obedience as something that isn't a sacred duty. We have always been required to obey God, both in old times and in new.
Jesus was quite explicit on the subject. “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching," he said. "My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching." (John 14:23-24)
Most Christians claim to love Jesus. Many try to show their love by engaging in passionate prayer, shuttling from prayer meeting to prayer meeting. But if we aren't obedient to God, we can sing Alleluia until we are blue in the face for all the worth it has. Imagine your child telling you what a great dad (or mum) you are and how much he adores you, but not doing what you tell him to do. Unless you are a total fool, you will realize that your kid is sucking up to you only to get what he can out of you. Jesus is no fool. He knows when you are being sycophantic and is very clear as to what he thinks of it.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21; emphasis mine)
Jesus, himself, lived a life in total obedience to the will of his Father. There was not a single action he undertook—from selecting his twelve apostles to raising Lazarus from the dead—without checking it out first with his Father in heaven. This is evidenced the most in the Gospel of Luke, which records him praying before every major thing he ever did, seeking out the will of his Father.
[Luke also records how his obedience extended to his earthly parents too! The little stunt he pulled when he decided to spend some time talking to the priests in the temple without telling mum and dad about it first was possibly the only time he caused them any anguish because Scripture records that thereafter "he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them." Nearly 18 years later, in the miracle that heralded the beginning of his ministry, he converted water into wine in obedience to the wishes of his mother.]
We too need to seek out the will of our heavenly Father constantly, and the best way of doing so is by listening to the voice of God's Spirit. He tells you what you need to do and, if you are stuck, even how to do it. If you can't hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, it is probably because you have been severely disobedient to him in the past. Persistent disobedience makes the Holy Spirit go silent on you. A good way to get him talking to you again is by telling him that you are sorry for past offences and are eager to redeem yourself. To show him that you mean what you say, it might be a good idea to take care of some area of your life that you know has been displeasing to God.
If you aren't certain about whether you are listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit or to your own imagination, read God's word. God is very clear cut about what he wants you to do and obeying him here will spur your spiritual growth as God pours out his blessings. James, in the very beautiful letter he wrote to "the twelve tribes scattered among the nations" has this to say:
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. (James 1:22-23)
He then goes on to add:
But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:24-25; emphasis mine)
I'm sure we'd all like to be blessed in what we do. It's easy when you know how. I'd like to leave you with one of my favorite Scripture passages before I end. It is from the gospel of John.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:9-12)
May the Spirit be with you.
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Copyright © 2005 Aneel Aranha. All rights reserved. Image titled 'Family' is part of the Hearts Gallery Collection
by Gwen Meharg and is reproduced with permission.