I have come to see that obedience is the core of the Christian life.
Obedience to God is simply obeying all that God commands us to. Yes, that includes loving the Lord with all our heart, mind, and strength (and interestingly even that was given as a command), but it also includes loving others, serving others, and obeying what God has commanded. In a sense, Christianity is the most straightforward thing in the world: we know what we are to do, we need merely to do it.
Ah, needing merely to do it. There’s the rub. In a great many ways, it is the rub because simply put, we cannot do it ourselves – only the power of the living God in us through His Holy Spirit will enable us to do it. To the extent that we present Christianity without the empowerment of God, we delude others (and ourselves) into their (or our) ability to be Christ-like. “Be transformed by the renewing of your minds” said Paul in Romans 12:2, not “Be better through your own power”.
But the other rub involves the choices we make to simply ignore what God says. Many now question if we can even know what God has said – which I find unusual in the fact that they would become greatly upset if I applied whatever meaning I wanted to their words. “No, no” they would cry, “we meant this.” Odd that they will not apply the same courtesy and standard to the Book they profess to follow.
God has made it abundantly clear what He wants from His children and requires of us. The Bible is replete with examples of where God’s children failed to obey Him fully, or obey Him at all, and the terrible consequences that came as a result of not obeying Him fully – yet we in our arrogance believe that we are somehow immune to the Divine Mandate.
And we wonder why the Church is powerless.
I say requires purposely. God is God and we are not. Scripture says that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. Every knee, every tongue. God is worthy of our praise and worship because of who He is and what He has done – even the damned will be forced on the Day of Judgment to admit God’s worth, holiness, and perfect justice.
But the 21st Century Church does not take obeying Him seriously. In so many ways, we have become the church of Pergamos in Revelation 2:12-17, wanting to have God but also wanting to have the world in our midst.
To be obedient to God is to be sold out to God. But to be sold out to anything means that one is completely consumed by that thing, conforming to whatever it is, ridding one’s self of anything that is not that thing. Anyone who has worldly high achievements – athletes, intellectuals – understands that to achieve a great thing, one needs to be obedient to requirements necessary to make that thing possible.
But we, the church, continue to cling to God and the world – sometimes for “good reasons” (we can’t be thought of as extreme, or unloving), or sometimes for the pure pleasure that a lack of obedience brings (I know it’s not necessarily right, but after all, it’s not expressly forbidden and we are supposed to have some fun, right?). And then we wonder why we are not having a bigger impact on our world.
What will it take for the church – which is really ourselves – to begin to obey God completely, fully, as He both requires and deserves? What will it take for us to, as John Piper says, make much of God and nothing of ourselves? Only that kind of obedience is both worthy of the God of the Universe and is the obedience that He says He will reward.