Here is your standard sermon on obedience:
“Adam disobeyed God and suffered the consequences. Jesus gave us a second chance but God demands total obedience. The devil will do what he can to make you disobey because he knows that ‘God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.’ So do what you’re told and obey.”
Ever heard this message? If you have you may wonder, “How does the love of God figure into this?”
The preacher of insecurity has a ready answer: “Heed the words of Jesus: ‘If you love me, you will obey what I command’ (John 14:15). To love God means to obey his commands. God is to be feared and obeyed.”
Gulp. Sounds scary.
That sounds like the love of God hinges on my perfect obedience and, to be honest, I am not perfectly obedient. Does that means God won’t accept me? Does that mean I’m not truly saved?
Now the preacher of insecurity has you right where he wants you – sitting on the edge of your seat in mortal terror ready to swallow whatever list of instructions he has for you today. Using fiery rhetoric and chopped up scriptures he will whip you into an emotional frenzy of promising-making.
“Lord, I’ll do everything the Bible says.”
What happens next? Well, if your flesh is strong, you may be singled out as a walking-talking Christian success story. But if your flesh is weak, you’ll be shackled with guilt and condemnation. Either way, pack your bags because we’re going on a flesh trip.
Such is the life of the insecure believer.
What you misdiagnose, you mistreat
Having read my little rant you may think that I am against obedience. I am not. What I am against is flesh-powered Christianity, which is what obedience usually smells like.
To get to the heart of this obedience issue we need to go back to the Garden of Eden. To get the right answer, we need to ask the right question: How did Adam fall?
For many years, my answer to that question was: “Adam disobeyed.” Seems simple enough, doesn’t it?
God told Adam not to eat; Adam ate. End of story.
Only it’s not the end of the story. It’s not even the right story. Adam’s disobedience was not the problem but a symptom of a deeper problem, which is that he did not trust God.
In eating the forbidden fruit, Adam declared God to be an untrustworthy liar. Through his actions he was saying, “God, I’m better off without you.”
Disobedience follows distrust
Like us, Adam lived in a world of uncertainty. Like us, he had questions he couldn’t answer. Here are Adam’s questions:
- “Why did God forbid me to eat from this one particular tree?”
- “What is this death he said would come if I eat from it?”
Adam was in the dark and that was the whole point.
God purposely set things up that way because he wanted Adam and Eve to trust him. By introducing uncertainty into their world, he was inviting them to a relationship of dependence on him.
If they had trusted him they would have lived. Indeed, they would’ve had abundant life. But they chose to distrust and reaped the consequences of their choice.
People think that God rejected Adam in the Garden but it’s the other way around; Adam rejected God. By spurning God’s words of life he cut himself off from the Source of life, and when you do that you die.
And that is the real story of humanity.
The purpose of life
Life is a set-up and it has been since the get-go. Life is an invitation to respond to the overtures of a God who loves us and desires to share his life with us.
There is far more to life than we can comprehend or manage. Try as we might we simply weren’t designed to cope with all that life throws at us. Rather, we were designed for a life of dependence on a good God who promises to supply all our needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Php 4:19).
The secret to life is not “obey or die” it’s “trust God or die trying” (see John 5:24, 11:25).
The bottom line is not whether you obey God but whether you trust him. It’s impossible to trust God and not obey him, but there are plenty of people who think they are obeying God yet they don’t trust him.
The two faces of unbelief
What does it look like to distrust God? Distrust has two aspects:
(1) It’s Adam doing the opposite of what God told him to do
(2) It’s the Israelites saying, “God, just tell us what to do and we’ll do it” (Ex 19:8)
Don’t be impressed by the Israelites’ desire to obey – it was a self-righteous boast in their own strinky performance. It was a flesh trip.
If the Israelites truly trusted God they would not have asked for rules. They would’ve said, “God remember your covenant with our father Abraham and bless us.”
Instead they basically said, “God we don’t believe your promises to Abraham – tell us how we can bless ourselves.” And God gave them what they asked for – lots of rules for self-blessification.
(Like that word? I made it up to impress you with my theological jargon.)
Today there are folks who, like the Israelites, are searching for keys and principles and guidelines and strategies – anything but God himself. They are doing their level best to obey all the rules in the Bible but the sad fact is they don’t trust God. They are trusting in themselves by thinking…
- I will be safe IF I keep the rules
- I will be accepted, righteous, and good enough IF I keep the rules
- God will bless me IF I keep the rules
- God will be pleased with my IF I keep the rules
It’s as if Jesus never came.
It’s as if we were still under the old law-keeping covenant.
If you know your Bible history, you will know that rule-keeping is a recipe for disaster. Don’t you see? The Israelites couldn’t do it and neither can you. Indeed, no one can keep all the rules except God himself.
It’s not about the rules
Life isn’t about rules, it’s about relationship. This is so obviously true that people have trouble believing it.
- “Paul, are you saying God is not interested in my obedience?” He is, but probably not for the reasons you think.
- “Are you saying God is not judging me according to my obedience?” He isn’t. If you are in Christ, then you have already been judged righteous, holy, and good, on account of his obedience.
- “Are you saying we don’t need to keep the commands of the New Testament?” The fact that you have asked this question tells me you are still confused about the purpose of life. Go read everything above, again.
Here’s the takeaway:
An old covenant preacher will use carrots and sticks to motivate you to obey. Heed this sort of preaching and you will become an insecure, distrustful believer with an up and down lifestyle. Your walk with God will be a caricature of true Christianity and you’ll be a bad advertisement for the gospel.
However, a new covenant preacher will seek to reveal God’s unconditional love to you and from this secure foundation inspire you to walk confidently as a child of God. As you do this, you will find yourself obeying God effortlessly, and you will be a stunning advertisement for the gospel.
When you know how much your Father loves you and longs to be good to you, he is easy to trust.
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