The Bible has a lot to say about obedience. As I look at my own life, the life of my church, and the lives of the churches I have catalyzed, I recognize an ongoing struggle with obedience. The modern church has made the Christian life way too easy for its members. This has marginally increased the numbers attending our churches, but I’m fairly certain it has caused many more problems that it has solved. We have made salvation so easy that people can make their “profession of faith” or join the church and not change any behaviors that are disobedient or contrary to the Word of God. In our efforts to swell the ranks of the church, to be inclusive, to be politically correct, to impress others, we have thrown away one of the most important and foundational teachings of the Bible – OBEDIENCE.
Jesus made it very clear that being His disciple is not easy. Lk 9:23 Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. Lk 14:27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (NIV) The cross is not a wayward son, obnoxious spouse, physical infirmity, or any other personal problem. The cross is an instrument of death. The impact of these statements is that those who want to be disciples of Jesus must be committed and ready to die, just as Jesus died – on the cross. The commitment to follow Christ is not only a commitment to die to self, but also a commitment to be prepared to die for Christ and the world for which He died.
In the Great Commission Jesus commanded us to teach disciples to obey. Mt 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (NIV, bolding mine) In reality we have been teaching knowledge, not obedience. Most people already know what they are supposed to do, but they choose not to do it.
Jesus equated “obedience” to “love” in the Gospel of John, and John restated the principle in his Epistle of 1 John.
Jn 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. (NIV)
Jn 14:21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. (NIV)
Jn 14:24 He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. (NIV)
1 Jn 5:3 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. (NIV)
It is clear from the words of Jesus and the writings of John that there can be no love for Christ without obedience to Christ. We can sing all the love songs to Christ we can write, we can sing all the worship songs ever written, and we can proclaim to all that we love Christ, but these songs and statements are meaningless and hypocritical if we are not obedient to Christ in every area of life. Our feelings do not define our love. Our words do not define our love. It is our actions, our obedience to Christ that defines our love for Christ.
The Bible teaches us that obedience to the commands and teachings of God has direct benefit to those who believe. Sometimes these benefits are to the corporate body of Christ. Other times the benefits are personal and individual. Deuteronomy 6:1-3 says:
Dt 6:1 These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you. (NIV)
In the Old Testament the blessings of obedience were often portrayed as corporate in nature. The result of teaching obedience is that subsequent generations would fear the Lord and the nation would enjoy long life, things would go well with the nation, and the nation would increase greatly in the land. Fear of the Lord is a choice to live in an awe, respect, honor and reverence of the Creator God. This choice compels one to do exactly what the Lord says. These Old Testament passages speak volumes to the church. When we examine why our churches are not growing I think we can easily say that the reason we are not increasing in the land is because we do not fear the Lord, and do not teach our people to obey His laws, precepts, and commands. Notice that the object of teaching in the Great Commission and in the Deuteronomy passage is obedience, not the law. Most of us already know the law. We know what is right and wrong. But, we have not been taught to obey what is right and avoid wrong regardless of personal consequence. Obedience requires us to do what is right even if we do not personally benefit or even if we would be put at a disadvantage by being obedient. The inconvenience of the individual believer when living in obedience is an advantage for the corporate body of believers, resulting in fear of the Lord, long life for the body, and increase in the number of members comprising the body.
The following promises from God’s Word can be taken corporately and individually.
Jn 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be 72 in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” (NIV)
This passage from the Gospel of John gives us tremendous insights into the results of obedience for individuals and groups. Examine this list of benefits.
• Jesus will ask the Father to give us a Counselor (the Holy Spirit) who will be with us forever
• The Holy Spirit will live with us and be in us
• We will not be abandoned as orphans, but Christ will come to us
• We will see Christ even if the world cannot see him
• We will live because Christ lives
• We will be loved by the Father
• We will be loved by Christ
• Christ will show Himself to us
I could write a book explaining these benefits alone, but John is not finished.
Jn 14:23 Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. (NIV)
Jn 14:25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (NIV)
Again, examine the benefits.
• The Father will love us
• The Father and Christ will make their home with us
• The Holy Spirit will teach us all things
• The Holy Spirit will remind us of everything Christ has said
John is not finished with obedience. Abiding in Christ is an obedience issue.
Jn 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (NIV)
The result of obedience (His words remain in us) is that Christ will abide in us. Again, look at the benefits.
• If we remain is Christ (obey Him), He remains in us
• We will bear much fruit, showing ourselves to be His disciples
• Our prayers will be answered (ask whatever you wish and it will be given to you)
Jn 15:9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 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. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other. (NIV)
Jesus tells us that in order to remain (abide) in His love we must obey His commands. Look at these further benefits.
• Christ’s joy will be in us
• Our joy will be made complete
• We are no longer servants, but friends of Christ
• Everything that Christ knows will be made known to us
• We are appointed to bear lasting fruit
• The Father will give us whatever we ask for in the Name of Christ.
By the way, asking in the Name of Christ is not a formula, or a closing phrase for a prayer. To ask in the Name of Christ means to ask from the position of being in Christ. To be in Christ can only be accomplished by obeying Christ. To ask in the Name of Christ means we are in abiding relationship with Christ through loving Him, and this love is demonstrated and proven by our obedience to everything he has commanded.
We receive one more insight from John in his first letter. Take a look at 1 John 5.
1Jn 5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
John says that our love for each other is a result of obedience to God’s commands. Our love for God is defined by our obedience. In fact, it appears that God spells love – O B E Y.
The benefit of obedience, according to John, is that we will overcome the world. This means we will overcome sin through obedience. This means we will not be defeated by the things of the world if we are obedient. When we feel defeated by the world, our culture, our circumstances, it is most likely because we are not living in obedience to the commands of God.
There are, of course, times when Satan will try to deceive us into thinking we are not living in obedience. This results in a false guilt that can rob us of our joy and our relationships. We must be diligent in examining times of guilt. If the Holy Spirit does not bring to mind the exact event where we have been disobedient, then we are experiencing false guilt from Satan who is trying to rob us of our joy, our relationships, and our love for Christ and his disciples.
Live in obedience of Christ and claim the benefits of this love relationship for yourself.
Originally posted August 2007