The Root of Obedience

The other day I was walking with my two little girls to a playground.

We were walking along a road that is sometimes used by goods vehicles. My girls were ahead of me and with all the noise and excitement they didn’t notice a van approaching from the right. In a loud voice I told them to stop and they did.

Like good Kiwi kids, they then instinctively looked to their left for the vehicle, only they could see no car. It would’ve been funny if it hadn’t been dangerous. They were both straining so hard to look left that they were oblivious to the van approaching on their right.

Forgive the dramatization but at this point each of my girls faced a life-threatening choice: to walk by sight (I see no car) or by faith (but Daddy told me to stop).

They were itching to get on to the playground but thankfully their trust in me kept them safe and still. Well, to be honest, the younger one needed a bit more encouraging, but you get my point. They obeyed me because they trust me.

Do you see? Obedience follows trust, which is based on love. Hopefully that reminds you of something Jesus said:

If you love me, you will obey what I command. (John 14:15)

In the Garden, Adam disobeyed God because of distrust. Disobedience follows distrust just as surely as obedience follows trust. If you love someone you will trust them and heed what they say. That’s what Jesus is saying here. It’s obvious, isn’t it? Here’s the flipside:

He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. (John 14:24)

If you don’t love someone, you won’t trust them and you won’t heed what they say. Again, obvious, right?

Only it’s not obvious for there are many who are trying to obey God out of fear instead of love. Why fear? Because they’ve been told that they have to prove their repentance with good deeds, they have to hold fast, endure to the end, avoid sin, and do everything else the Bible says.

And if they don’t? God will reject them. They will be cast aside with the weeds, told to depart with the goats, and burned with the unfruitful branches.

It’s terrifying stuff!

Missed it by a hundred miles

Now holding fast is a very good idea, but if you think the Bible is encouraging fleshly persistence or that God will reward you for your stamina, you have missed the mark by a hundred miles.

I will take a closer look at the hold fast/endure/continue scriptures in coming articles. But for now I want to focus on obedience because many of us have reduced the relationship that God desires to a set of rules. This can happen when we read, out of context, scriptures like this one:

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. (John 15:10)

Ouch! That looks like Jesus is preaching conditional love. Only he isn’t. Read the preceding verse:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. (John 15:9)

How does the Father love the Son? Unconditionally!

Before Jesus had done a blessed thing God said, “This is my beloved Son” (Matt 3:17). Do you see how my Father loves me? says Jesus. That’s how I love you.

Jesus is preaching unconditional love. That’s good news! His love is a rock-solid foundation you can build on. But you won’t have a rock-solid life unless you receive it. Hence the exhortation that follows:

Remain in my love. Abide, dwell, stay permanently in my love. Sink your roots deep and let nothing move you from my love. Don’t let the insecurity mob try and sell you my love. Look to the cross – you already have my love. Everything else will fail except my love for you. My love is the one constant that will hold your world together if you receive it, so receive it. Bask in it, bathe in it, swim in it, stay in it. (John 15:9, Paul’s paraphrase)

That’s good news, no?

Perhaps you’ve heard it before but you need to hear it again. God loves me with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns! The cross proves he would rather die than live without me. And now that my Beloved is mine and I am his, he will never let me go!

Then, when you are secure in the foundation of verse 9, you can read verse 10, which I paraphrase like this: “Trusting me to the point of heeding what I say is a sign you are remaining in my love.”

Do you see? This isn’t about obedience vs. disobedience, but trust vs. distrust.

When you know the love of God you will trust and obey him effortlessly. But if you are not secure in his love any attempt to obey him will be unnatural and fruitless. Your relationship will have all the love and trust of a forced marriage.

Meanwhile, back at the waterfront…

Return with me to the esplanade. Do you see my girls standing obediently still and safe? Here is the $64,000 question: What holds them still when they want to run on? There is only one thing – my love for them.

Because my girls know how much I love them, they trust me to make decisions for them. I can see things they can’t see, like oncoming vans.

It’s the same with your heavenly Father. He loves you so much that you can trust him with your life.

But what if one of my girls is having a bad day?

Perhaps she got out of bed on the wrong side. Perhaps she is hungry and irritable – whatever, the point is she is no longer remaining in my love. She might start thinking, Why do I have to stop? I don’t need anyone to tell me what to do. I’m not stopping. I’m going to run on to the playground.

So she runs out in front of the van. Not good! Her disobedience could get her killed. But I would not be the one killing her.

Again, this is obvious right? Only to many it’s not obvious.

Many people think that God smites us when we disobey him. The heavy van of life runs us over and as we lay bleeding we tell ourselves, “God is chastising me.”

No he’s not.

God didn’t give you cancer, make you redundant, or cause your spouse to run off with the kids. God is almighty but that doesn’t make him responsible for everything that happens to you. God is not sovereign in the way that word is usually used.

Let me say it one more time: For Adam, it wasn’t about the tree and for us it’s not about the rules.

God is not judging you on your rule-keeping performance. You need to understand that he loves you when you’re obedient AND he loves you when you’re disobedient. His love never changes.

If my daughter disobeys me she might get flattened by the van but I won’t kick her out of the family. Neither will God kick you out of his family when you disobey. His eternal love is greater than your momentary lapses of judgment.

“Paul, are you saying that my obedience doesn’t matter?”

It matters a great deal! Obeying God will keep you from getting splattered by the proverbial truck.

But we don’t obey to earn his love (we already have it) or his forgiveness (in Christ, it’s already ours). Rather, we obey our heavenly Father for the same reason my girls obeyed me the other evening: because we love and trust him and we know that he wants the best for us.

The end of the matter

There are many exhortations in the New Testament, but Jesus summarized them all in eight words – the Law of Christ:

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:12)

Again, we don’t keep the command in order to merit God’s love – that’s back to front. Look again at the words of Jesus: “Love each other as I have loved you.”

In the old, we did to get. In the new, we do because we have already received. We love because he first loved us. We forgive others because he has forgiven us and when you receive his forgiveness it sets you free from hurt and unforgiveness.

When you know how much your heavenly Father loves you, it empowers you to live life to the full, to be generous with your heart, and to draw others into the orbit of his great love.

And it keeps you safe from the proverbial truck!


30 Comments on The Root of Obedience

  1. This is wonderful truth & easy to understand thankyou. God bless.

  2. Love this post! Love “Paul’s paraphrase”! Thank You, Jesus for Your awesome, unfailing, beautiful love!!!

  3. Wow, wow, wow! Awesome post! May revelation continue to flow from His heart to yours! I can’t wait to share this post!!!

  4. Very well said Paul, great analogy, and great illumination of the text. A lot gets lost in translation and older / different culture communication styles. It really does make sense the way you describe it.

  5. Very true. The reason we obey His voice is because we know He loves us. I love the illustration – simple and gets right to the point. Thanks Paul!

  6. Paul, you wrote, “The cross proves he would rather die than live without me.”

    A couple of weekends back one of the young adults at our church gave the communion message (we partake weekly, family-style), and she said this: “I’ve been learning about economics at school (university), and have learned that things are worth what people are willing to pay for them.” She continued, “The world tells us that we’re not worth much, but we were worth enough to God that He was willing to come in the flesh and die for us, purchasing us with His Life so that we could be with Him.”

    We have seven kids and they often invite neighborhood children to go to church with us. What a wonderful way to share the Gospel with them that night – to let them know how much God loves them with the simple Truths of the Gospel and then follow it up with the Remembrance of the Work of Christ in the bread and the wine.

    Yeah, I’m willing to follow and obey that God =o).

  7. Dear, I trust God for you and your family. It’s good to know that you’ve a brother expecting goodness to be manifested in your life. It’s great to be born in to the kingdom of God through Jesus, our motives are not cheap but precious love of Christ. Have a blessed day in Jesus.

  8. James Goss // March 26, 2013 at 5:21 pm // Reply

    Hey thanks Paul for your precious analogy which is so helpful with the whole commandment mentality that I and many have grown up with in the Church. I was particularly interested as I preached on Sunday on the text, “Remain in my Love”. To help with verse 10, I used the story of the Rich Young Ruler in Matt 22 as an illustration of how Jesus assisted him to deal with his Commandment mentality. We are all wired to respond to love…..and out of a revelation of God’s love for us, we cant help loving Him with all that we have and this will naturally flow over to our loving our neighbours, in the same way as water cant help flowing downhill….its subject to a force greater than itself…..Gravity!.

  9. Nothing better than waking up to a “Paul Ellis Post”!!! They are life giving words that help me start my day Rooted in My Father’s Love 🙂

  10. well said bro,I needed it,things were getting dark,tough times etc.but the Lord has been meeting me at all the turns
    Thank you.

  11. This article is very well written. It sums up perfectly why I keep the Fourth Commandment and God’s dietary laws and teach others to do the same. Because I trust Him, I obey Him. Simple, beautiful, and elegant. Thank you for articulating this simple truth.

  12. A must read – this guys preaching sets us FREE!!  🙂

  13. It’s all about the love.(She says as she goes happily skipping and singing)The whole world is looking for it.And if I hear my pastor talk about chopping and burning I am going to put my fingers in my ears and say “la la la la la” I can’t hear you…..My own father scared the tar out of me.He was a horrible alcoholic.I need the love and security of a real father.Not one that is ready to dissed you.I want to be established in that perfect love that casts out fear.What a story what a lover of our souls.Perfect and Holy is our God!!!!

    Paul Ellis you hit the mark again.Thank you.Perhaps you can do a book on obedience. 🙂

  14. We can only abide in God’s Agape. Whenever it gets through to us that the Father loves us in the same manner that He loves Christ, we can actually be at rest.
    We are being trained in Father’s gymnasium and failure is part of the package.
    When we learn to abide in the living room rather than the attic or basement, it allows us to know a deep intimacy with God.
    The Kingdom is about abiding – being seated with Christ and seeing life’s events from His perspective. It is about bringing each of us, and ultimately all creation, to a place of freedom.
    Bob Mumford

  15. So easy to understand. Thanks Paul

  16. Thanks Paul…this post is refreshing, a breath of much needed fresh air. It’s amazing to see ourselves in the light of God’s love, it removes all sense of guilt and condemnation!

  17. So good and clearly put. I remember when I was taught years back that to obey commands a blessing. Yikes! Lived under that for years straining to BE obedient. Now I just am obedient to BE in Him, to live in His unconditional love and acceptance. You so glorious put the emphasis on trust and obey. Loved this a lot.

  18. Great post Paul. Actually, they’re all great, but some are greater than others! As you say, God loves us for who we are-not for what we do. This surely takes the stress out of life. Thanks.

  19. Hi Paul, I agree with everything you say, but see a problem with teaching grace and not emphasise /even mention obedience (a lot of preachers don’t) – Obedience is almost a test to self don’t you think – if there is no obedience, there is no trust and one would have to ask yourself if you are in fact truly ‘in Christ’. I find that in many churches today people have go to hear that God loves them, Christ died for them, and that they are are therefor saved. They live unholy lives all week and come to hear again on Sunday how they are saved by grace alone and all is fine. I get that just trying to obey will not change the heart, but not putting any significance on obedience is dangerous too and could keep you right where Satan would have you: A hypocrite professing Christ with your mouth but ‘their hearts were far from Him”. Could you tell me who these words are meant for/would apply to:
    “They will be cast aside with the weeds, told to depart with the goats, and burned with the unfruitful branches.” Who are the weeds, the goats and the unfruitful branches if not hypocrites professing with their mouths only?
    Also you say we obey so that we ‘don’t get splattered by the truck(s of life)” – which can be a problematic teaching as well – it is often taught with super grace and to me sounds like ‘obey and be blessed’ which must then also mean if you get cancer/lose a child you must have not obeyed enough? Kind regards. J

    • We certainly have a responsibility to ourselves to walk in grace. My view is the NT epistles provide us with an excellent teaching guide in that they first establish us in our Christ-given identity before describing the new life that is ours in Christ. They are inspirational!

  20. Barbara Graham // December 7, 2014 at 11:43 am // Reply

    Hi Paul, I hail from Jamaica in the Caribbean & I have been devouring your posts as much as I can read. I asked the Lord recently to take away every lie I have ever learnt and help me to come to the knowledge of His truth. Shortly thereafter, I “stumbled” across your web site while looking up “how to walk in the Spirit” and saw your post which states “how to walk in the flesh” which I thought was really funny and questioned why would someone write how to walk in the flesh…the rest is history. All of this past week I have read your posts & I feel liberated. I know you are a stickler for short comments but I just wanted to tell you to keep writing the truth…it sets God’s people free. Grace & peace be multiplied to you and your family. Barbara

  21. Josefina Barr // April 12, 2015 at 5:08 pm // Reply

    Hello Paul
    Was leading one of our Bible studies and for some reason, a few legalistic people managed to steer the conversation towards “obedience is better than sacrifice” to say God demands obedience from us. I was so frustrated that I could not bring about the “grace” of God from 1 Samuel 15:22….

  22. Teresa (Tess) Price // June 23, 2017 at 3:13 pm // Reply

    One of the best analogies–and explanations–of God’s love, obedience/disobedience, and trust/distrust I have ever read! Thank you!

  23. Got a “re-share” reminder and reposted this on Facebook today. So good to be reminded of such foundational truth with this exceptionally clear teaching. Thank you Paul!

  24. “How does the Father love the Son? Un-conditionally! Before Jesus had done a blessed thing God said, “This is my beloved Son” ” You sure? He might not have done miracles. But He still lived 30 years in Earth by this time and also this was only after He was baptized. 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. (Joh 15:10) Even if God loved His Son, Wasn’t Jesus stating , If He had to continue to remain in His Love, He had to obey all commandments?

    • Yes, I am sure, and no, agape-love has nothing to do with commandment-keeping. “For God so loved the world…” Thanks for the comment.

      • I was reading John 15 and came to this article and thread with the same question.
        I don’t quite see it the way you are saying, yet. At least not in this passage. I can see in Romans how our actions follow our identity. The way John writes is so poetic and circular it’s hard for me to see what he means.
        Is remaining in Jesus the same as remaining in his love? Because this seem like more and more detailed circles, I would say ‘yes’. It seems v 9-17 are more detailed descriptions of the two shorter descriptions before.
        If we need to be as perfect as Jesus in order to remain in the Father’s love, that is terrifying! But that reminds me of the Sermon on the mount and is exactly what God requires. The way we get perfect is resting in Jesus, and the result is love. As soon as we begin to look at our performance, we fail, because that isn’t faith. Boy, I need to keep my eyes on him. I haven’t been doing well at that lately.

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