Obedience. The word conjures up thoughts and memories of experiences that are either good (my brother was better at complying) or bad (I was very acquainted with the “strap”). We all have an independent streak, a desire to assert our own will but obedience is part of the living in covenant and in relationship with others. Even though we live by the grace of God, we are not without commands. There are three levels to obedience, which one are you?
As a child, I was terrified of hell (h-e-double hockey sticks – it’s so terrible, it’s a curse word). I didn’t know a lot about it but I knew it was hot and the worst place to be. I was afraid and I didn’t want to go there. I turned to Jesus, not because I was in love with Him, but because I was afraid of being sentenced to eternity in hell. If I’m honest, Jesus had nothing to do with it.
Fear is the first level of obedience. We obey but barely. The motivation is negative – to obey so as to not receive punishment but the heart is unchanged. In our home, I had several “teaching” moments with my Boy around the issue of household chores. It takes effort from everyone in the camp to make it run smoothly but sometimes (often) my Boy doesn’t want to participate, and sometimes he outright refuses. Finally he complies because the continued refusal will result in loss of privileges. I thank him for his contribution but tell him his attitude towards me indicates he despises and curses me in his heart. Fear was the only reason he obeyed.
Law is the second level of obedience. We obey because we have to. After accepting Jesus in my heart because I feared going to hell if I didn’t, I was taught to obey because the law demanded it. Many (most) churches are suspended on this level. The fruit of a church intent on obedience by law is we are known around the world as rule keepers, rather than known for our love.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians identifies they are having similar problems. They initially received the gospel of grace but other teachers have come around and required them to obey the law, thus nullifying the sacrifice of Jesus. Paul calls them fools and asked who has bewitched them (Galatians 3)? It’s a question we could very well ask the church today. We live by grace, and not the law but grace has been misunderstood to mean lawlessness.
The highest form of obedience is love because of grace. We obey because we want to. I will repeat myself: grace is not lawlessness but the freedom to make right choices. Under the law if you break one law, you are guilty of breaking the whole law. It is a terrible burden and it’s easy to see how overwhelming frustration can make a person abandon the whole thing. Grace says the law was satisfied by the sacrifice of Jesus; our sins are no longer counted against us, rather through grace (by faith in Jesus’ sacrifice) we receive righteousness.
Understanding this, we no longer have any hindrances to a relationship with Jesus and he can call upgrade our relationship status from worker to friend. We don’t work for salvation, it is already ours through the cross, and because our first need is fulfilled we can have relationship, and get to know God’s heart. His desire becomes our desire and we do what he wants because of an overwhelming love relationship. No longer are we overwhelmed by frustration by not being able to keep the whole law, instead the love of Christ compels us to obey (2 Corinthians 5:14), which is why Jesus can say we are his friends if we keep his commands (John 15:14).
If Christians understood grace and lived there, being compelled by love to fulfill the commands of Jesus, the church would be known for its love rather than rules. Wouldn’t that be glorious?