I state in freedom step three (Embrace Grace) that Jesus didn’t just die to modify our behavior. That doesn’t mean that the Bible doesn’t have guidelines for our behavior. Of course it does. Just as a good parent gives their children boundaries to live by, so does God. It would help us to reframe, in our thinking, both why God gives us these guidelines and what should be our motivation for following them.
I’ve shared here that I’m a mother. At the writing of this, I have 2 sons under the age of 5. I tell my children not to touch the hot stove because I don’t want them to experience the pain of being burned. I ask them to hold my hand when they cross the street because I am more aware of the dangers involved than they are, and am able to be more alert and observant of potential harm. I ask them to be kind to their parents, each other and others because they’d like to be treated kindly themselves.
When they do not listen or obey, I do not withdraw my acceptance of them. I do not withhold my love because they make choices contrary to my teachings. Instead, my heart breaks that due to their disobedience, they have now experienced a type of pain I hoped they could avoid. Even though they were disobedient, I still rush in to comfort them in their pain. Later, we talk, outside of the moment, about the cause and effect that was put into action when they disobeyed. We also discuss how they could make different choices next time.
Through all of that, they are still my children, and I would proudly say so, even in their disobedience. God says the same. Do you know that, before Jesus ever accomplished anything noteworthy enough to include in the Bible, God proudly declared, “This is my son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) I say this same of my children. He is my child, whom I love dearly. He is human. He will make mistakes. He will be imperfect, just as I am imperfect. I can model how to forgive, ask for forgiveness, and make different choices in the future.
God does not want to see us harmed. He urges us “to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1, NASB) He reassures us that “whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)
Has obedience become a dirty word in today’s church culture? I can understand the tendency to avoid it. Out of the holiness movement of the 20th century rose much legalism. Lots of rules were enacted to measure “good Christian behavior.” This is similar to what I did in my life. I was trying to “white knuckle” my way to holiness.
The backlash from this has been to more fully embrace grace. Now, it seems behavior is talked about much less. Pastors are afraid to stand in the pulpit and say, “This behavior is not God’s best for your life,” for fear of offending someone.
Where’s the balance? If it’s true that God’s grace empowers us, if it’s true that we are clothed in God’s righteousness, how are we to live?
When I left behind homosexuality in March of 2000, I made a choice. I chose to walk in obedience to what I believed God said in His Word about my sexuality.
Did choosing to obey make me more free? This is a question I have really wrestled with. If Jesus came to set us free through Spirit-empowered living, what part did my choices play in that?
We can ask the question from the opposite angle. If I had chosen instead to continue to walk in disobedience to God, would that have helped me learn to walk in freedom? Certainly not. Romans 6:16 (NLT) says, “Don’t you realize that whatever you choose to obey becomes your master?”
We can choose to obey God not because we are concerned His love for us is conditional. We can choose to obey Him out of a trust that He has our best interest in mind. We can obey because we believe He has good things for us.
When I began to walk in obedience, I obeyed God because I was afraid of His rejection. I thought His feelings were as fickle as mine: that if I made good choices, He loved me and was pleased with me, but if I made bad choices, He was immediately furious and turned His back on me.
That’s not the character of God. God said about Himself to Moses: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Exodus 34:6-7)
That’s the forgiving, loving, patient God I now know and try to love with all that I am. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) I can now obey Him out of a place of love and a deep recognition of all He did to give me life. Jesus showed His love by hanging from a cross. One way to show my love is through obedience.
Jesus also said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15) Depending on your background, when you read that passage, you may hear, If I loved God, I would obey Him perfectly, but because I’m not, I must not love Him. This is what I hear, through the filter of knowing God as patient and kind, If I fully love God with all that I have and all that I am, out of that heart of love and trust will flow obedience because I know of His goodness and faithfulness.
Jesus goes on to immediately talk about the Holy Spirit.
Continued next week….