The other day I was walking with my girls to a playground. We were walking along a waterfront esplanade 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 they knew must be coming, 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? Genuine 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 Part 1 of this series on obedience, we saw that Adam disobeyed God because of his 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 and enduring 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 too 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? Come on – it’s great news! It’s the best, blessed news in the universe! It’s the news a loveless world most needs to hear. Perhaps you’ve heard it before but you need to preach this good news to yourself every single day. 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.”
This isn’t about obedience vs. disobedience, but trust vs. distrust. When you know the love of God you will trust and obey him naturally. 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 exactly 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. He 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 bang the drum one more time: For Adam, it wasn’t about the tree and for us it’s not about the rules. God is not primarily interested in your ability to obey and he’s 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 rules and exhortations in the New Testament, but Jesus summarized them all in just eight words:
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (Joh 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!
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