Love and Obedience

I’ll never forget that moment when I got out of the van at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma for Basic Training. It was my first real interaction with a Drill Sergeant; not the kind of Drill Sergeants you find at Reception when you first get there. The slang term for Reception is ‘Grandma’s House’ because you can still use your cell phone and they let you get away with some mistakes without chewing you out for it. Once you hit the real deal, it is a totally different experience. I learned how to accept orders from those in charge of me and how to be obedient because otherwise I’d find myself doing pushups until they felt tired.

There is a second time I’ll never forget that was incredibly similar yet vastly different; it was when I realized that my parents did not tell me to do things because they wanted to control me but because the loved me and wanted to keep me safe. I learned that obedience was something I wanted to do not because I did not want to get punished but because I did not want to hurt my loving parents. When I was disobedient they were upset not because I disobeyed but because their rules were meant to keep me safe and when I was not obedient I placed myself in danger.

Most of us have experienced either the first or the second option when it comes to being obedient to God; we either obey God’s commands because we fear punishment or because we love him. The obedience is the same but the reasons are in stark contrast to each other. Some follow Christ out of fear of punishment, like Hell or fear of wrath and retribution. Others follow out of a heart filled with love and gratitude because Christ has loved them so much and forgiven them of so much more.

Jesus had this same encounter with his disciples; he asked them to obey his commands not because they feared God’s wrath but because they loved him. The passage is short and simple; it is not complex yet it is immensely difficult for some reason. We find it in John chapter 14; this is the same passage where Jesus is having one of his final conversations with his disciples and is telling them about the coming of the Holy Spirit. Yet in the midst of that teaching he says:

“If you love me, obey my commandments.” (John 14:15 NLT)

It is just that simple, yet we make it so very complicated. We want to serve a God who gives us carte blanche treatment when it comes to our lifestyle and will simply accept us no matter what. The American version of Christianity wants a Jesus who does not cast judgment and allows us to live how we want. Yet this is not the Jesus of the Bible; the Jesus of the Bible sets a clear standard of right and wrong. If we say we love Jesus, we must be obedient; case closed.

I have been chewing on this quite a bit these past few weeks as I have been at Fort Jackson, SC finishing up my Chaplain training classes. The environment a military chaplain must work in is pluralistic (not that we believe in pluralism, which is totally different) and so I get a great many perspectives on faith. I also encounter many views from friends on the internet and in dinner conversations.

Some say God loves me even if I am living with someone and I am not married to them. Others say that they can go out and get drunk and God is okay with it because, after all, Jesus turned water into wine, right? Or perhaps my favorite one is saying that God loves everyone and that he is the only one with the right to make judgments (i.e. – ‘only God can judge me’). All of these are self-focused and are looking at obedience through the wrong filter.

Instead, we must begin to see the rules God gives us as guardrails on the edge of a cliff. They are not there to see how close we can get to them without falling over the edge. They are there to tell us to stay as far away as possible. Rather than try and tempt fate or enjoy getting as close to disobedience as we can we must stay away from it and keep ourselves protected.

Here is where the problem really lies; it is a heart problem and not a head problem. Jesus taught that it is not what we put in our body that makes us unclean but what comes out of our hearts. In a conversation Jesus had with his following an encounter with the religious leaders of his day (the Pharisees) Jesus said:

[17] “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. [18] But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. [19] For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. [20] These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.” (Matthew 15:17-20 NLT)

Our heart problem tells us that God’s plan is not the best for us and so we do not place total trust in God; this is what sin really is. Instead we must place our trust in what God says is best through our acts of obedience. Yet obedience cannot come from action alone; it requires love to make it true. And this is what the Big Truth I wanted to tackle:

True Love Requires Obedience, and True Obedience Requires Love.

We cannot be true followers of Christ and live in outright rebellion against his commands. In the same way we cannot be his followers through obedience alone; it requires love. We truly show God love when we are obedient not through fear of punishment but because we place total trust in his plan for our lives. Otherwise we are prisoners who obey only out of fear of being punished rather than children who love their father so much that they trust him and do what he says.

What does this mean in your life? I can’t tell you that. As for me, it means being obedient in my finances and my eating habits. When I keep the money I earn and save it up for my selfish desires I am not being the good steward God has called me to be. When I eat more than I need I am selfishly devouring what my hungry brothers and sisters need to survive. I need to be obedient and trust in love that God’s desires are not rules to keep me from having fun but guardrails to keep me safe.

You may need to move out of your unmarried partner’s home and get your commitments arranged so that you honor God. Or, you may need to change some bad habits that go against what the Bible teaches. Only you can know what the Holy Spirit wants you to do. Yet we must go to God in prayer and honestly, earnestly, and intently ask him to show us what we need to change to honor him with all of our lives. God wants all of us, not just part.

True Love Requires Obedience, and True Obedience Requires Love.

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