In Christian circles, there is a lot of importance ascribed to obedience. If you hang out in church long enough, you will hear obedience as a key to inheriting the promises of God. Now, I want to tell you that obedience is good but obedience needs to be put into its place. The Body of Christ is really good at “majoring in the minors” and it’s understanding of obedience is a shining example of that.
What if I were to tell you that obedience isn’t even a big thing with God? Some of you hearing this are getting your torches, pitchforks, and bonfires ready. If you give me a few minutes, I’ll give you enough to at least consider it’s importance in the big picture of Scripture and discipleship.
When it comes to obedience, church folk love to trot out these verses:
Isaiah 1:19-20 (ESV) 19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; 20 but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Before we go further, we need to consider the context. God, here, is telling the prophet how He detests all the trappings of religion. He’s talking about how he’s grown weary of sacrifices and ceremonies. When God is speaking of being willing, He’s speaking about operating according to His will; when He’s talking about obedience, He’s speaking of faithfulness and discernment.
Let’s take a look at this from the standpoint of creation — at no point did God demand obedience from His crowning creation. No, God wanted a family to be one with Him — to govern physical space as He governed spiritual space. God created us in His image and likeness to be like Him, to be one with Him, and to fellowship with Him — not for blind obedience. If obedience was the endgame, God would have just created us to be robots with no will of our own.
Now, let’s look at this passage of Scripture:
1 Samuel 15:22-23 (ESV) 22 And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.”
Here, the prophet is recounting God’s words to Saul because Saul chose to offer a sacrifice, himself, instead of waiting for the prophet. This is one of those passages that religious leadership trots out to say “do not get ahead of the mand o’ Gawd.” This had nothing to do with the man or even the sacrifice but with trust.
Trust is a byproduct of love. Saul was disobedient in that he didn’t trust God and he didn’t trust God because he didn’t love God.
This is what God really wants — is for us to simply love and trust Him! And this is a FRUIT of our salvation, not a ROOT to obtain, maintain, or retain it.
Obedience really is better than sacrifice! But there is no obedience greater than Jesus’ and no sacrifice greater than Him!
Watch this: Jesus was obedient in that He was faithful to His assignment. Jesus said to the Father in John 17:4 that He glorified Him in the earth by completing the work He was given. Jesus was disobedient to the law concerning eating (Mark 12:23) and healing (Luke 14:1-5). Jesus was disobedient concerning the order of the temple (John 2:15) — you have to know that the money-changers were there with permission! Jesus was disobedient to the law concerning his relations with the Samaritans (John 4). So if Jesus is our example, obedience cannot be a big thing!
We are not to be known as disciples by our obedience! Love is the key! Love is greater than obedience because love PRODUCES obedience! Obedience doesn’t produce anything! And it cannot. The author of Hebrews tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God — and faith works by love! In fact, you can’t even have faith without love!
We don’t do greater works because we’re obedience but because we BELIEVE!
Keeping Jesus commands is not obedience — it’s faithfulness! It’s trust! It’s confidence.
People who harp on obedience do so because they are the kind of folks who demand obedience, themselves. In other words, they recreate God in their image!
Let’s talk about Kingdom economics: rules and law DEMAND obedience but love and grace SUPPLY liberty! Obedience would be key if the Gospel were about rules. People are stuck on obedience because they see their walk through the lens of law instead of Grace. If you see things as a slave you will operate as a slave — and slaves define their worth by their obedience. Sons, on the other hand, are faithful because, out of love, they want to accurately reflect and properly represent their Father!
We demonstrate faithfulness out of love and trust, not fear of reprisal. We receive because we believe, not because we obey! Your obedience has zero impact on your sonship!
God is not a narcissistic bully, demanding slavish obedience from His offspring. He is a loving Daddy who wants to lavish His heavenly best on His children!
© 2018 – Derrick Day (www.derrickday.com)