The Question of Obedience


told-offMuch is said of grace, but little of service! We rejoice in love, mercy and forgiveness, we delight in the blessings and privileges of knowing God, but some of us hold back from a commitment to obey.

Obeying God isn’t optional! How many of us enjoy being Christian up to the point of being commanded to do something that our flesh dislikes? How many of us think there’s a middle way between total commitment to God’s service, and throwing off the yoke entirely – a middle way that suits us, because we only serve God when we feel like it? But the rest of the time we feel free to do pretty-much as we please.

It’s a shock for many Christians to find out they are SERVANTS (and that word translated from the Greek in the bible is actually SLAVES!). If that comes as somewhat of a shock to you, you’re not alone.

I recently went through a time of challenge, and I admit it’s still ongoing. It was a challenge to commit totally to obedience and to the will of God without hesitation or reservation. You might have no problem doing as you’re told, but something in me seems to shy away from it.

I was surprised and shocked to find how much deep-down reluctance there was in me, despite having faithfully followed the Lord for decades. Despite knowing in my head that nothing of God could possibly be wrong for me, and that all his ways lead to blessing, my soul was struggling against relinquishing what little autonomy I had left. I found out that my idea of obedience was half-hearted. I wanted to hang onto my options, debate the issues, make excuses or create no-go zones for myself.

Freedom is our modern experience

Today, we are used to living lives of freedom. We don’t accept service very easily. We tend to know nothing of serving others, except perhaps in employment, but even then we are so familiar with human rights and employment regulations, that we resent being obligated in any way.

We mostly live independent lives, running the show, free to come and go at will, making decisions based on personal preference, and thus resenting any outside interference. Our “time is our own”.

By contrast, the servant (slave) is owned, and his time is NOT his own. He is NOT free to make his or her own choices. The lifestyle and attitude of a servant or slave in a large household is that of 24/7 availability, always eagerly awaiting the command of his master, ready to obey without question.

Bought and Owned

Are we owned? YES! The very core of redemption is that we are “bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:20) and marked with the ownership seal of God, as would be a slave at the time of Christ. We owe to God our very lives and existence. We were once “sold into bondage (slavery) under sin” (Rom 7:14) but the blood of Jesus has made us the “purchased property of God”. (Eph 1:14)

Thus we cannot be saved from a life of sinful self-indulgence by the sacrifice of Christ only to continue in it as Christians. Do we commit to the Lord in order to receive his blessings, but not to take instruction and obey his commands?

Romans 6:12-14 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

Romans 12:1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

We present ourselves to God as his bond-servants

to-obey-is-better-than-sacrifice

Paul in Romans tells us that pledging ourselves to God is entirely reasonable and indeed obligatory. We were once slaves to sin, under the lordship of the devil and his world; now we are slaves to righteousness in service to God. There’s no middle way!


There are only two ways, two paths spoken of in the bible. One is the broad way that leads to destruction and the other is the narrow path that leads to life. On one path we are under the lordship of satan even if it feels like liberty; on the other path we are under the Lordship of God – but willingly and with eternal benefit.


Having chosen the good way, the path to life, how many then proceed as if they are serving Self, not God? I repeat, there are only two ways, no middle path in which we can please ourselves, serve ourselves. That is what Adam and Eve did, and look where it landed them and the entire human race! If we have left the path of sin, then we are de facto on the path of service to God both now and eternally.

For what are we saved?

Are we reconciled to the Father (which was the mission of the Lord Jesus on earth) solely for our own benefit and enjoyment, or for the purpose of law-abiding service, with a glad heart, and a new ability by the Spirit to delight in God’s ways? (Psalm 119:47)

We are indeed beloved sons and daughters, and we are the friends of Jesus – all of that and more – however, Jesus always emphasised obedience to God as a primary requirement for discipleship.

  • John 14:15 If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
  • 14:21 He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me.
  • 14:23 Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching
  • 15:14 You are my friends, if you do whatsoever I command you.

Jesus wasn’t talking about slavishly obeying the commandments written in the Old Testament Law, even though Romans 7:12 informs us that “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good”. When we come to God, we have the law “written on our hearts” so that we become, by his Holy Spirit’s indwelling and by a renewed nature, willing and ABLE to please him. Nevertheless, we are expected to be pliable and open to the idea of obeying God’s commands, without question.


 This is the goal of salvation! It’s not just about having forgiveness, restoration, joy and assurance of eternal life. It’s also about being recreated as a being that is acceptable and pleasing to God the Father. A creature who obeys God!


Freedom from the burden of the Law is not liberty to do as we please. Galatians 5:13 “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” 2 John 6 “And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments.”kneeling-cross

So we serve one another and we also serve God. But I suspect there’s a vision of Heaven lurking in the back of some Christian’s minds that is all about freedom, happiness, enjoyment – a kind of eternal playground.

Is service for this earth only, and not Heaven? Is our vision of the hereafter one of blissful self-indulgence, chatting with friends and family, enjoying pastimes and pleasures with nothing much to do but gather round the Throne for special occasions to praise the Father, like the most exciting church service ever?

Is that really what Heaven is?

I believe those in Heaven NEVER follow their own will and inclinations, but God’s only! Isn’t that what it’s all about, the bottom line? How else do we understand the fall of satan, the Garden of Eden, the fall of Adam, and the plan of redemption?

The Fall of the Angels

Think about it. WHAT caused the dispute in the heavenly places before there was an Adam and Eve? Was it not that certain spirit beings (created perfect) rebelled against total obedience to God and – perhaps with genuine intentions at the time – believed they could work just as well without constant reference to the Father. They felt that their OWN wisdom and ability was sufficient to do their work.

What a catastrophe followed! Every foul and horrific act can be traced back to that moment of wilful rebellion.

But do we not ALL think that way, frequently? Certainly mankind in general is now in a lost condition because of that very thought-process. Self-will instead of God’s perfect will.

It was not a viciously hateful thought at the outset. Neither the fallen angels nor Adam and Eve warred against God in an open deliberate fashion. They simply declined to bow to the will and way of God one hundred percent of the time. They thought they knew better!! It doesn’t sound like much, does it? Human nature thinks that way all the time. “I know best!! I can do it!!”

ObediencetoAuthority

But THAT right there IS the thinking that leads to alienation from God and eventually all that we see around us today, in terms of violence, bloodshed, immorality, greed, corruption and every other sin. Its foundation is the belief that God’s will is a choice, a matter of opinion. No, God’s will on earth and in heaven is MANDATORY! It isn’t a choice!

Those who are saved, are saved to serve.

Romans 6:18 “having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness”. Saved to bend the knee at the Throne and recommit to God’s will for all eternity. If that sounds (or feels) uncomfortable for you, if something in you rebels against the very idea, then this article is for YOU.

I have a sneaking suspicion that many will have a shock when they realise how much obedience to God is required, and if they are not in a place of submission to God on earth, however will they manage to obey God without resentment in Heaven?

The bible makes it clear that obedience is not just a choice – it’s the core of the gospel. It’s the hallmark of a genuine believer:

  • 1 John 2:3 And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments
  • 1 John 5:2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.
  • John 9:31 Now we know that God does not hear sinners, but if anyone should fear God and do his will, him he will hear.
  • 1 John 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.

This last statement “his commands are not burdensome” is what should sustain us and encourage us to follow God more closely. Jesus doesn’t lay down the law like a hard task-master, even though he does expect to be obeyed. No, he tells us that committing to HIS service is more beneficial than that of the devil in every way:

Matt 11:29-30 “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Notice that Jesus at no time says there IS NO YOKE. But why does something in our souls still argue the case for human liberty, and the concept of life without ANY yoke at all? Do we not realise that being free of the yoke of God is, by default, slavery under the yoke of sin and the devil. You are the slave of whatever you obey.

Romans 6:16 Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? [NAS]

Childhood Rebellion

obedient-childI know why there’s a bit of me that resists total submission to God’s daily instruction and commands. It goes back to my childhood. Perhaps this rings a bell with others, too.

As a child I started out feeling and being ‘different’ to my parents and brother, but then when I developed an intense interest in God and the bible it got worse. My desires, standards, thoughts, ambitions and activities were increasingly not those of my parents, and it caused an alienation.

Instinctively – even as a child – I knew that my inner life wasn’t wrong or bad. I needed to protect and preserve it. On the other hand, my parents demanded unquestioning allegiance to normality, as they saw it. So this had the effect of dividing me into two – an outward conformity to what I was expected to be, say and do, and an inward defiance that preserved my independence, my inward integrity.

As much as this kept my spiritual life intact (for which I thank God) it set up a lifelong dichotomy between my perception of self and my attitude towards obedience, and authority figures.

To my childlike view, authority figures were dictatorial, presumptuous and sometimes abusive, yet in order to gain their approval I needed to submit to them.

pliable-cartoonI knew I was NOT a wicked, evil child. I did not seek to do wrong – quite the reverse. In my heart I wanted to be good, (and to please God, as I learnt at Sunday School) but it conflicted with the imposition of home life, and the demands of my parents!

You see, they made conformity the bottom line.

Obedience (“being good”) did not result in praise, much less pleasure, but was a rather robotic, mindless conformity to their own values and standards, no questions asked.

Divided

When obedience becomes separated from satisfaction, and there is no reward to be had in terms of approval or praise, all joy is sucked out of it. It becomes something to be avoided. It turns into one meaningless slog devoid of purpose. A child’s spirit is crushed under such a joyless burden, and hope dies.

“Answering back” was about the worst crime in our house. In all the years of (sometimes) painful endurance, I never dared complain, question or offer an argument. I was afraid and alone!

That made me two things – outwardly needy, and too eager to conform, even when being abused, but inwardly resentful, wilful and determined to preserve my independence at all costs. The two selves developed along parallel but separate paths. One was my public self, the other was private.

What about submitting to God?

What (you wonder) has all this to do with obedience and God? Well, a childhood such as this teaches you that service, obedience, the rule of an authority and all allied subjects are contrary to everything fulfilling or satisfying in life.

This conditioning unfortunately impresses on you that being good is just a joyless chore, and that anything fun, enjoyable, delightful, exciting or satisfying is in some way “wrong” and out of crushed underfootbounds.

If we are put on this earth merely to be useful, and any yearnings outside of that are illegal, then conformity and obedience – while necessary – are soul-destroying.

Thus God becomes in many minds an overbearing authority figure who demands compliance for no particular reason other than his own self-importance. No wonder they rebel!

Needless to say, that is an entirely mistaken and unjust picture of our loving Father! But we who have had cold and dictatorial earthly parents have to work much harder to see God in the right light. I thank God that He saved me early, and that I have spent my life in HIS glorious company, so I could learn to know Him rightly!

Getting to Know a Loving Father

To return to the subject in hand, the question of submission to God, presenting ourselves to him as Lord, and being obedient not just for now but for all eternity does become a thorny subject for anyone who sees compliance as a necessary evil, not a joy.

I say this merely by way of illustration, not instruction. There really IS no remedy for our early conditioning as children apart from the renewal of our mind and nature by God.

I know that traces of fear and rebellion creep in when I think about obedience, because I fear to be crushed or abused. If you had the kind of childhood where loving parents taught you to appreciate discipline in an atmosphere of praise and acceptance, then you are in a much better position to accept submission to the will of God – you will have no fear of it!

Just do it!

Our fear of obedience is mostly based on self-protection I think. It’s an irrational fear of losing our independence (thus feeling unprotected, resulting in hurt or harm) but God patiently demonstrates time after time that we mortals do NOT know what’s best for us, and to believe so is mere pride and self-serving ignorance. Do you really think you know best? How foolish! Nor can you protect yourself from harm, but in truth it is God’s way that brings good into our lives. Following God cannot be destructive or harmful, but following our own will definitely can.

blessedThus in the end, there is no discussion possible. Being asked to obey God is not a debate. There are no two sides to this issue; either we follow God’s perfect will and experience blessing, or like Adam and Eve we think we know better, and suffer the consequences. Nor is there any downside to obedience, despite what the devil whispers to our souls. There is no argument against the lovingkindness and oversight of God. There is no possible harm in doing as God commands and following his will, but conversely there is EVERY danger in delaying compliance or trying to avoid what God says.

Does God know what is best for you, or do you? The answer should be crystal clear in our minds but unfortunately we end up debating it. The flesh, the world around and certainly the devil will always argue for ‘independence’ and self-determination (don’t they sound noble and enticing?) but God and this world are at loggerheads. If we have made the decision to walk on God’s path and to follow him, then the ONLY course of action is to pledge ourselves to his service entirely and develop a mindset that is submissive to his will.

I know that my prayers have been answered by the love of God and the words of scripture, assuring me in many different ways that God’s will is always wholesome, acceptable and right – indeed, beneficial in every way. It can never harm us, only support and help us. I am not perfect in obedience but I’m getting there!

  • 1 Jn 5:3 His commands are not burdensome
  • Matthew 11:30 His yoke is easy, his burden is light
  • Psalm 145:16 The LORD is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His deeds
  • Deut 5:33 Walk in obedience to all that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days…
  • 1 John 3:22 We have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.
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