There is a new four-letter word in our culture and in the church. In an attempt to embrace an adequate understanding of grace the church has shied away from using it. A word we dare not use anywhere. A word that can get you accused for re-implementing the “law.” A word that will bring charges of authoritarianism. A word that surely is out of date in homes, neighborhoods, public schools and universities. What is this new four-letter word? Are you ready? OBEY.
Webster’s Dictionary defines the word obey as, “to follow the commands or guidance of.” When was the last time you heard the word spoken in church? You might not even hear it in homes. One of the first verses of the Bible we ever thought our children was, “Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right” (Eph 6:1). Today, many parents are trying to get their children to choose the right choices as to empower them rather than to teach them to obey those in authority. As a result we are reaping a harvest of university students who have a sense of entitlement.
First of all, it should be noted that all humans struggle with following commands or guidance. This can be traced back to the original sin from Adam. We don’t have to look further than the closest two-year old or remember our own upbringing. No one had to train us to be disobedient. It came naturally. The Bible clearly says, “Through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners” (Rom 5:19). We are also told that when we were spiritually dead in our sins we, “followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Eph 2:2). There is a spirit with disobedience. Disobedience started in the Garden of Eden with the original couple and works in all of us.
Only those who receive transformation through Christ can obey God. It should be emphasized as, “only” those who find true transformation through the power of the Holy Spirit, will ever “obey” God. Paul the apostle reminds us that obedience comes from faith in Christ when he writes, “so that all the Gentiles (nations) might come to the obedience that comes from faith— to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ Amen” (Rom 16:26-27).
Obedience has a bad name because each of us have to have our minds renewed to the benefits and rewards of obeying. Obedience can be a joy. Even among followers of Christ obedience must flow from a full surrender to God and as a response of one’s love for Him. Jesus told His disciples “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:41). That is not ever going to change. That is a fact. Our flesh, will never want to obey. The flesh is the un-renewed mind, will, and emotions. Though our spirits are made alive and new in Christ we are told our minds must be renewed and transformed by the word (Rom 12:2). However, our spirits are willing. When life flows from our heart influenced by God and His word we discover the blessings of obedience.
More than 250 times the words obedient, obedience, or obey are mentioned in the Scriptures. We are told of rewards and blessings from obedience. Peter tells us that we are called and chosen, “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood” (1 Peter 1:2). It is the sanctifying work of the Spirit that makes it possible for us to obey. Though the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to obey we are called to respond in obedience. We are called to obedience. We are told we know “we have come to know him if we obey his commands” (1 John 2:3). “Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them” (1 John 3:24).
Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching” (John 14:15). Notice, how love is a prerequisite to obedience. Obedience actually reveals love. John wrote, “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands” (2 John 1:6).
A mark of Christians is to be obedient. The Great Commission includes teaching people to obey everything that Jesus commanded (Matt 28:18-19). Jesus learned obedience. Obedience is something that can be learned. The Bible tells us that Jesus learned obedience through the things he suffered (Heb 5:8). If it was important for Jesus to learn, then obedience is a characteristic that every Christian should desire.
The writer of Hebrews tells us to obey the leaders who have authority over you so that their work will be a joy and not a burden, so it is to your own advantage (Heb 13:17). We need not fear the word obey. God does not expect us to obey what is contrary to His word. Being obedient is not being a mindless robot doing what they are told. Obedience to man is always subject to God. The apostles Peter and John were told not to speak in the name of Jesus. Their response was, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). God does not expect us to obey what is contrary to Him. With that being said, we can embrace the importance of obeying.
Obedience to God reveals your love for Him. Obedience to authorities reveals your love and respect for them. Begin to see obedience as a response from love and not fear and it will become a joy to you. Jesus told us, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). Let your love be reflected in obedience.