By Dave Butts
What happens in a home when there is direct disobedience by a child? If the disobedience is not dealt with in a firm and fair way, chaos may break out in the home. The established authority of parents, when challenged by a child, can lead to a situation much like that of the period of the Judges of Israel in which it was said, "each one did what was right in their own eyes." The obedience of children to parents is the bedrock upon which a family is built.
It is much the same in the family of God. Obedience to the Word of God makes the relationship work, and consequently, defiance is punished. The issue of obedience to God is a common thread found throughout Scripture. One of the clearest presentations of this truth is found in the Sermon on the Mount. Allow the words of Jesus to penetrate your heart as you read:
"Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!’ Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash" (Matthew 7:21-27).
Jesus illustrates the spiritual and sometimes physical results of disobedience and obedience by telling this simple story of wise and foolish builders. In fair weather, both of the houses look fine. But when a storm hits, the foundation is revealed. The foundation of sand, which is disobedience, cannot withstand the onslaught of the storm and the house is lost. The foundation of rock (obedience) allows the house to stand in the midst of adversity.
The Bible is filled with hundreds of verses that commend obedience and condemn disobedience. As you study these many passages, several principles emerge. The first is that love and obedience are inseparable. Listen to these words of Jesus: "If you love Me, you will obey what I command" (John 14:15). "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" (John 14:21). "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. He who does not love Me will not obey My teaching’" (John 14:23).
We don’t need to complicate this. If you love Jesus you will make every effort to obey Him, which pleases the heart of God. It was Augustine who said, "Love God and do as you please." He knew that if you truly love God, what pleases you, will be what pleases God.
The second principle is closely tied to the first. Knowing Jesus and obeying Him are the same. As Christians, we would declare that we know Jesus. The Bible, however, teaches us that it is not merely in saying that we know Him, but in doing what He says, which will give us the experience of truly knowing God. "We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands. The man who says, ‘I know Him’, but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:3-4). "Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did" (1 John 2:6). "Those who obey His commands live in Him" (1 John 3:24).
Perhaps the most difficult of the principles found in Scripture regarding obedience is the awareness that our religious activities are not necessarily obedience. The passage above from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:21-27) describes those who did many "religious" things in the name of Jesus but never really knew Him. In the Old Testament, the prophet Samuel asked, "Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:22-23).
The fiercest opponents of Jesus were the Pharisees, the religious leaders of His day. They prided themselves on their strict observance of religious rules. Religious activity didn’t suffice for them, and it won’t for us today. Only attending church services does not constitute true obedience to the Word of God.
So what, then, does it mean to walk in obedience to the Lord? It is critical for us to understand that we are not saved by obedience, but by grace. As we receive the saving grace of God through faith, the result in our lives will be obedience. Understanding God’s amazing gift to us through Jesus causes gratitude and worship to well up within us, accompanied by a great desire to please Him in every way. We find ourselves longing to know His will for our lives and to live according to that will.
The key to Christian obedience is not in striving to keep a long list of rules and regulations, but is, instead, in a relationship. Jesus Himself described this relationship by calling Himself the Vine and His followers the branches who are attached to the Vine. Here are His words: "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. 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" (John 15:5-6).
Therefore, our main job is to stay attached to Jesus. Obedience in the kingdom consists of drawing near to Jesus and walking with Him daily. The Christian life is the life of Jesus flowing through the believer. Apart from Him, we can do nothing. Through Him, we can do all things.
Obedience is intimacy with Him. As we draw near to Him, His life begins to reflect through us into a world that desperately needs Him. His character is seen in our lives. That’s why the God who is love would say to us: "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you" (John 15:12). As we show love to one another, we demonstrate clearly that Jesus has come to dwell in us, and that we are walking in loving obedience to Him.