3 Ways To Obey
Holiness is hard. The Bible calls us to fight, strive, labor, reach, and work, to be holy. Since we are justified and accepted by God in Christ on the basis of what Christ has done, we should therefore be holy people. Obedience always and only flows from grace. But what are the reasons to obey God? Is there only one? Are there several and if so, which ones? What if I resist the temptation to steal but only because of the consequences of stealing( I could lose my job, my house, and my reputation)? Does that obedience count? Shouldn’t I be obeying simply because of the beauty of who God is and the glory of what He has done for me?
Let me press the question further. It is somewhat popular to say something like, “If you are becoming a Christian just to escape Hell then you are believing for the wrong reasons!” I think in the long run that is true, but do we really expect non-Christians to have perfect motives before becoming Christians? So what are the reasons to obey God, resist temptation, and live a holy and godly life? Let me offer three that help me “on the spot” during times of testing and temptation.
This is what Thomas Chalmers referred to as the expulsive power of a new affection. My affections for God should be so stirred by who God is, what He has done for me, the future He has for me, and the sheer pleasure a life lived for and with Him brings. His pleasure drives out all other illegitimate pleasures. Delighting in Him makes sin no longer look good. By fearing Him, I turn away from evil naturally. When my heart is buried in Him and satisfied in Him I want, even need, to obey Him. This is what John Piper has in mind when he says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” This is what Richard Lovelace referred to when he said that sanctification happens as we do commerce with our justification. We simply keep going back and delighting in what God has done for us as the motivation and means by which we obey Him. This is what Paul had in mind when he said, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. . .” (Colossians 3:12). God displayed His love for us in the Gospel which should motivate holy living from us. Delight in God motivates obedience.
To be sure, my heart is not always totally satisfied in God. In my ignorance I want, even need, other things that I think will satisfy me. There are situations that present themselves to me where I have a chance to disobey God and pursue my own definition of joy. Everyday we are faced with temptations to lust, steal, be slothful, seek power, belittle others, and make much of ourselves. Do we simply wait until our hearts are in the right place before we obey? Shouldn’t the danger of losing our job, losing our marriage, hurting our friends, going to jail, etc., move us to obey? Yes! Paul said the judgments the Israelites underwent in the wilderness “took place as an example for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:6).
At times the only thing that will keep you from sinning is the threat of danger. If so, then so be it! Examine your heart later, confess to others that you only obeyed because you feared financial loss not because you delighted in the Gospel and the beauty of God, but don’t not obey because you don’t have the right motivation yet.
Maybe you don’t delight in God at the moment, maybe the dangers of sin are not imminent or dire, you should still obey because it is your duty as a Christian to do what God says. Paul says, “But sexual immortality and all impurity or covetousness must not be even named among you, as is proper among saints” (Ephesians 5:3). Paul does not point to delighting in God or even the danger of sin, though he does elsewhere. Here he simply says it is not proper or fitting for God’s holy people to be living unholy lives. It is out of place. Our duty is to obey.
Hopefully our goal is to always obey because we are delighting in God and exulting in what He has done for us in Christ. But as I said, holiness is hard work. Sin is powerful and the enemy is subtle. We must use every weapon and argument at our disposal to obey God and live for His glory.