Obeying God for the right reasons

Is obeying God a relic of the past, a puritanical notion that has no relevance today?

For single people like you and me, obedience feels like it will cramp our style. We have less accountability than married folks, and society tells us if nobody gets hurt, we can do whatever we please.

Yeah, nuh-uh.

I'll admit I'm hardly up with current trends, but I do know that as far as Jesus is concerned, the rules haven't changed. Here's the most important point to remember:

We don't obey God to earn our salvation. Jesus did that for us on the cross. We obey God to express our love and gratitude toward him.

If God loves a cheerful giver, he also loves a grateful receiver. First, let's make sure our motives are right, then we'll look at why obeying God is actually a privilege and not a burden.

What we can and cannot do

To avoid any confusion from the start, let's keep in mind what the apostle Paul said in Ephesians 2:8-9:

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast."

Did you get that? Salvation is a gift from God, not something we can work for. Christ did it all at the cross. He secured our salvation by his sacrifice. We cannot add anything to his accomplishment, period. It's all Jesus and zero us.

So why all this talk of obedience? Because Jesus said:

“If you love me, keep my commands." (John 14:15, NIV)

Jesus immediately followed that by promising he would ask the Father to send us the Holy Spirit to help us in our obedience. So we obey Jesus's commands because we love him, and we can't do it on our own. We need the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit, also known as The Helper, came to dwell in you and me at our baptism. He is always there. We don't have to summon him or beg him for support. He's in us and he knows what his job is.

When we disobey God, we ignore the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish between the Holy Spirit and our conscience, but everyone (except psychopaths) has a conscience. Only believers in Christ have the Holy Spirit.

The law of God is, in short, the Ten Commandments. Here's the confusing part. None of us—not me, not you, not anybody—can obey all Ten Commandments all the time. The only one in all history to do that was Jesus.

Unlike Jesus, you and I are influenced by our sinful nature, which does not disappear when we are saved. If we cooperate with him, God draws us closer and closer to himself through the lifelong process of sanctification. The truth, however, is that process is not completed until we get to heaven.

Obeying God: Exercise in frustration?

Even Paul grew frustrated at his attempts to obey God. He complained that he did things he didn't want to do (sins of commission) and didn't do the things he should be doing (sins of omission).

You and I can fall into that same trap if we try to be perfect. Humanly speaking, we can't be perfect, and we'll drive ourselves nuts if we try.

At this point, it seems as if obeying God is a no-win situation. Here's the good news, though. God knows exactly who we are and what we're capable of. He knows that even with the Holy Spirit in us, we're going to sin, and sin often.

If we were capable of living sinless lives, we wouldn't need a Savior in the first place.

Admitting our weakness takes a tremendous load off our shoulders. As the Bible says, when we're weak, then we're strong. We're strong when we depend on God. God wants nothing more than for us to depend on him.

No one can live the Christian life on their own. We all need God. We need Jesus, first, for our salvation, then we need the Holy Spirit for our daily walk.

That's why many people never become Christians. They want to be independent. They don't want God's help and they don't want his rules.

The irony of obedience

Paradoxically, obeying God brings freedom. Sin, even though it can be really enjoyable, is a slavemaster. In a very real sense, sin is the strongest drug out there today, and it's also the most addictive. When people get hooked on sin, they can't kick the habit—except through Christ.

Avoiding sin through the power of the Holy Spirit also helps us avoid its consequences. When Christians sin, we confess it and repent, and God forgives us. However, we still have to deal with its earthly consequences.

People who commit crimes can have those sins forgiven by God, but they may still go to prison or pay a hefty fine. God can forgive you for embezzling, but you may lose your job. Even speeding tickets can result in fines or loss of your driver's license.

Just as obeying the law spares you bitter consequences, obeying God spares you the miserable consequences of guilt and shame.
Obeying God does bring freedom. Obeying God is the wise thing to do.

From practical to spiritual

Evading painful consequences is a smart motive for obeying God, but ultimately it's somewhat selfish. The best reason for obeying God is that it's a tangible way of showing our love for him, as Jesus said above.

We can love God in many ways: prayer, worship, good works, donating to our church, and loving our neighbor. Obedience can be hard. It takes discipline and absolutely requires the help of the Holy Spirit.

If it's a joy to love God, it becomes a joy to obey him. That sounds far-fetched, but the more you do it, the more gratifying obedience becomes. Sin is like the old joke about the man who was hitting himself in the head with a hammer. His friend asked, "Why are you doing that?" And the man answered, "Because it feels so good when I stop."

That may (or may not) be funny, but when it comes to sin, some people repeat the same pattern their entire life, never suspecting they are able to stop. Change, like obedience, is also hard. The bottom line, however, is that obedience usually, but not always, brings good consequences and sin always, eventually, brings bad consequences.

Pastor and author Charles Stanley offers this Life Principle: "Obey God and leave all the consequences to him."

That's good advice for every single Christian.

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