Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Sunday, 31 March 19:
Deuteronomy 27:1 — “Keep the whole commandment that I command you today.”
Partial obedience is disobedience. Jesus, who quoted Deuteronomy more than any other book of the Bible, commanded us in Matthew 28 to teach others to obey “all” that He commanded. We Christians need to do some deeper thinking about obedience, a word that carries much baggage for us.
For some, the word obedience is a killjoy; it conjures up notions of legalism, judgmentalism, guilt, shame, and confinement. Many view exhortations to obedience as antithetical to the message of grace. But Christian obedience isn’t motivated by a desire to earn God’s love (which is impossible by definition) but rather to display God’s love, to live out God’s love, and to unite with God in love. Obedience to God is the natural desire of the one who loves God, and it is how we love others.
– John 14:15 — “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
– 1 John 5:3 — For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
The foundation of “all” of God’s commands is love. The first and greatest commandment is love, and the others are practices of love. Love is required to obey, and obedience is required to love – “Love [comes] from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5) If we seek to obey the practices of love from anything other than a heart of love (motivated by selfish desire rather than selflessness), we ultimately fall short of the commandment of love. Jesus called those who unlovingly obeyed commandments hypocritical (the word hypocrite means actor), pretending to be loving. When we don’t feel like obeying from a heart of love, we must obey nonetheless, not from pharisaical pride but rather from a humble, repentant heart as an act of worship.
– Matthew 21:28-31 — “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.
Our practices of love, though often poorly motivated, can produce positive external effects for others (clothing the poor, feeding the hungry, etc) and can also produce (with humble submission to the counsel of the Holy Spirit) positive internal results, conditioning our hearts to a more genuine love. So, in practice, we often obey out of a sense of duty (“I don’t really want to, but I know I am supposed to.”) while seeking to obey out of genuine love. Certainly, if we waited for a perfect heart to obey, we wouldn’t obey much at all. Rather, humble obedience helps perfect our hearts. It is in our imperfect pursuit of loving obedience where God calls us to walk confidently in His grace as He continues to sanctify us.
Grace-based living doesn’t feel trapped in hopeless disobedience or in dutiful works of obedience. Instead, grace-based living celebrates the righteousness we have in Christ, which enables us to freely and fearlessly pursue lives of righteousness and genuine love, and grace-based live expects God to make obedience increasingly a joy to us rather than a burden.
Ephesian 4:23 and Romans 12:2 reminds us that our behavior starts with our thoughts. What we choose to focus our attention on will guide our thoughts. The key to sanctification is not focusing more on our failures and inadequacies (identifying our weaknesses and seeking greater will-power) but rather focusing more on Jesus. The more we appreciate the love of Christ, the more naturally love will flow from us Him and to others (Him and others always goes hand-in-hand). Fix your eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2)
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 31 Mar 19: Don’t stare at where you are. Fix your eyes on Jesus and follow Him, allowing Him to lead you out of your current place. When the woods get thicker and darker, close the distance so you don’t get separated and lost; get closer to Him, not further away.