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Food for Thought - Musings

Obedience: Love God and do what you want (Part 2)

Last month we began our exploration of the importance of obedience to our life with God. The musing was entitled “A feather on the breath of God.” This series has been birthed out of my awareness of the growing disdain for obedience among professing Christ-followers, myself included. It seems that personal freedom, the pursuit of happiness and living a life free of pain, struggle and the need to submit to another is our true quest, and anything that even appears to impinge on any of those things is not merely suspect but is viewed as an abomination. This is the next installment of the series on obedience.

Obedience: the word itself conjures up images of servitude, subjection, restriction and obligation - words that often engender disgust, repulsion, even loathing. And when the concept of obedience is uncritically applied to the Christian life it can very well bring with it all the baggage listed above—along with the Church’s predilection toward legalism, the use of Scriptures to control rather than free, the tendency of prior generations to emphasize outward obedience quite apart from any heart engagement, and the promotion of fortitude and self-will as the fuel for obeying God. And if all that was not enough, we can add a concept of a god whose will is often portrayed as imploring us to do that which we least would desire to do. So I guess it should come as no surprise that obedience is negatively perceived, resisted and shunned by so many Christians.

But all this is a result of a misconception and misuse of obedience, at least when we are speaking of obedience to God. There are two quotes that are critically important to consider when developing an understanding of what it means to obey God. The first is from St Augustine, who wrote; “Love God and do what you want”, and the other quote is from St Irenaeus, “The glory of God is the person fully alive.” Now at first glance it may seem that these two quotes are anti-obedience and imply that a Christian can do whatever they please. However, that would be an erroneous conclusion. These quotations are grounded in the soil of a belief that when one enters into a relationship with God, an internal transformation begins to take place that involves the heart, mind and spirit of the individual. This transformation is a result of the bonds of sin being broken through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and frees the person to experience God’s transforming love and become a new creation in Christ, one whose deepest desire is to obey God. These two writers view obedience to God as an invitation to live a life of freedom, not freedom from pain or discomfort but freedom to be who God has created us to be (to be fully alive) which in turns brings glory to God. Our obedience to God involves us in a process whereby we are partnering with the Spirit of God to be transformed, which in turn frees us to follow the blowing of God’s Spirit in our lives, enabling us to embrace the unforced rhythms of God’s grace and truly be free, free to be and to become.

St Augustine’s quote; “Love God and do want you want,” contains a key insight that, if not embraced, will cause us to run from obedience, or to turn obedience into a structure for bondage rather than freedom. It then would foster a view of obeying that is a result of our own resolve and fortitude. This key insight is contained in the words “love God.” When Jesus speaks of obedience it is always a relational obedience, an obedience born out of a being known by God, of being loved by God, of being indwelt by God. And it is this being loved by God that is the key to relational obedience. When Jesus speaks of obedience he mentions it in connection with love, love of God, love of Jesus. However, it can be misconstrued that it is our obedience that is the glue that holds together our relationship with God. But it is love, not our love for God but God’s love for us that welds our relationship together. We love and we obey because God first loved us, poured his love in our hearts, and continues to love us.

That is why when it comes to the Christian life I like to use the term relational obedience rather than the word obedience. As I use the term relational obedience it speaks of a connection between the parties involved. Relational obedience is not a you-do-this-because-I-said-so obedience. Relational obedience is born out of a relationship of mutual love and knowing. Relational obedience is still hierarchical, for the one we are obeying is the Lord God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, wholly other, transcendent, whose ways are not my ways, nor thoughts my thoughts, yet, God is also Immanuel, God with us, serving, loving, caring, faithful and true, desiring that we would each enjoy fullness of life and the freedom that is ours in Christ to be who God has created us to be. Thus relational obedience is a response to God’s love, a response only made possible by the empowering of God and is in fact a declaration of our love of God. Relational obedience is a natural consequence of God’s love for me and the gift of the Holy Spirit to me. There is no true relational obedience without relationship, a relationship initiated and sustained by God.

Thus relational obedience is not something one does as a result of a combination of will power and fortitude. Relational obedience springs out of the soil of relationship, soil enriched by the additives of God’s love, grace, truth and power. Rather than external adherence to various commands, this type of obedience begins with and is sustained by God’s love. When the Bible speaks of obedience it is a relational obedience that is experienced more as an invitation/challenge from one who knows us, loves us, rather than orders originating from a faceless, uncaring entity. This relational obedience is about choosing life rather than death. This obedience leads to fullness of life and freedom, while disobedience leads to enslavement, emptiness and death, for we are choosing to live in opposition to the way God has created for us to live.

Relational obedience is an outflow of our love for Jesus that is only possible because God first loved us, has poured his love within us and placed His Spirit within us. All this may not make obedience easy but it does make it possible, desirable and the key to enjoying the fullness of life Jesus offers, and the ability to bring honor and glory to God by being fully alive.

The primary question of relational obedience is not will you obey, but do you love me?

Do you love me – then obey knowing I love you

Do you love me – then obey knowing I desire that you be fully alive

Do you love me – then obey knowing I will empower you through my Spirit

There is no true obedience apart from God’s love for me, God’s Spirit within me and my choice to yield to both. Relational obedience is an obedience infused, informed and shaped by God’s love. St Augustine wrote; “Love God and do what you want.” That is relational obedience. Once we are enveloped in this love relationship with God, then what we most deeply desire to do is in harmony with who God created us to be and with how God desires us to live. We can love God and do what we want.

1. Spend some time pondering the two quotes below. What draws you to them? What in them stirs up resistance within you? How true are these in your own life? What keeps you from fully loving God? What keeps you from being fully alive?

“Love God and do what you want.”

“The glory of God is the person fully alive."

2. In your own life what tends to keep you from obeying God, from choosing life?

3. Engage with this statement: I believe God loves me, that I am the beloved of God and that God desires for me to be fully alive. What feelings does this statement elicit within you? Which part of this statement is easiest for you to believe in your heart? Which one is hardest to believe in your heart? Why? What is keeping you from holding on and leading into and out of these truths? How would embracing these truths help you to see obedience to God as a good thing, something born out of relationship and thus more inviting than demanding?

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