The Problem with Obedience

reduced_obedience What's your initial response to the word obedience? Does it depend on who it applies to? If it were required of you, would you resist or resent it as some archaic, medieval expectation?

I don't know about you, but it sounds draconian and obligatory. I mean, I expected my children to obey me when they were young, but I don't now that they're grown up. It's like, obedience is okay for kids, but not adults.

Do you have a similar reaction to the concept of obedience? So, how about when the Bible speaks of obedience? Could it be different from what we imagine?

"Do what you're told!"

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who winces a bit when it comes to obedience with my relationship with God. Oh sure, we know it's supposed to be part of the deal, but does anyone really look forward to obeying God, especially when it seems hard to do?

What about the familiar hymn, "Trust and obey—for there's no other way—to be happy in Jesus—but to trust and obey." Do the concepts of happiness and obedience seem incongruent?

How would you describe obedience? Isn't it just doing what you're told?" That's how I've thought about it most of my life, probably from my perception of parenting.

What do many children hear, or what did you hear as a child? "You need to do as you're told, or else.... You need to obey me right now!" Obedience is most often linked to behavior, either good or bad.

[bctt tweet="Do the concepts of happiness and obedience seem incongruent?"]

Wrong idea?

But maybe we as believers have a wrong sense of what obedience is when it comes to our relationship with God. We can train dogs to obey, along with many other animals. Cats? Um, maybe not them. But humans aren't animals.

We have a free will and a capacity to reason. People can be managed up to a point with threats and various forms of manipulation. When it comes to humans, abject obedience requires a surrendering of the will or a breaking of it. That's called bondage or slavery.

Even slavery has its limits. When it is senseless and oppressive, rebellion will push people to cast off their bondage, even at the risk of life.

But what if our concept of obedience is skewed, especially when it comes to God and us?

[bctt tweet="Is our concept of obedience to God skewed and wrong?"]

An issue of the will

Humans were created to be free, not enslaved. If God created people as free-will beings, then how do we reconcile obedience to God as required of Israel with the Old Covenant Law? And how can we make sense of Hebrews 5:8?

Although he was a son, he [Jesus] learned obedience through what he suffered.

What about the exhortation to follow the example of Jesus as expressed in Philippians 2:5-8?

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

[bctt tweet="Obedience is not an act of behavior, but a response of the heart"]

Then we see Jesus' battle of will in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42)—

And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Obedience is not an act of behavior, but a response of the heart. It's a trust issue, not a moral one. But most of us probably don't think of obedience that way.

Trust and obey

On the surface, obedience seems connected to submission of the will and a behavioral action. Obedience to God is directly related to submitting our will, but not to comply with a certain behavior. It's an act of implicit trust.

[bctt tweet="Obedience to God is a submitting of our will as an act of implicit trust"]

What about Israel and the Law? How about Abraham and Isaac (Gen 22:9-12)? It was always about trust, not blind obedience. Abraham was honored for his trust in God, because he held nothing back for himself (Heb 11:8, 17-19).

Israel's obedience to the Law was always linked with God's promise of provision and restoration. They were to trust God for His provision by observing the sabbath each week, and even with giving the land a sabbath from sowing and plowing (Exo 34:21).

What about Adam and Eve with the command not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 2:15-17)? If they fully trusted God and His goodness, they would not have been deceived by the serpent (Gen 3:1-5).

The example of Jesus

But back to Jesus. Why would He need to "learn obedience" through what He suffered (Heb 5:8)?

We (believers) say Jesus is our supreme example, but do we understand the depth of His example and what He modeled for us to follow?

Our natural tendency is to analyze His example and break it down into specific actions. Remember the WWJD fad several years ago?

[bctt tweet="Do we understand the depth of Jesus' example and His model for us to follow?"]

What we need to do is to observe His heart, not just what He did (Matt 11:29). Otherwise, we won't escape the never-ending treadmill of behavior modification as a means to getting or being right with God.

We need to see obedience as Jesus saw it—an act of trust, an expression of love for God. That's it. It is not blind obedience, but open-hearted surrender to a merciful and gracious Father.

[bctt tweet="Jesus saw obedience as an act of trust, an expression of love to His Father"]

Where do you struggle most with trusting and obeying God?