Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Friday, 23 April 21:
Romans 13:3-5 — “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but too bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval…. But if you do wrong, be afraid…. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.”
While the topic of the above verses is respecting governing authorities, how much more does it apply to respecting the authority of God in our own lives? How much better would life be if we would simply obey all of God’s commands? How much easier and more joyful would life be if we had a heart which truly wanted to obey God’s commands? And if Christians made economic decisions based upon God’s commands, entertained themselves in ways which honored God, and chose politicians who truly honored God, how would that change the economic, political, and socioeconomic landscape?
God’s commands are a product of His perfect love and are intended to give us fullness of life, that our joy might be complete. God’s commands are not hard to understand, but they are difficult to follow when our hearts are selfish and unloving. The Bible describes God’s word as “goads” which were sharp-pointy sticks used by shepherds to guide animals where they needed to go. Resisting the Shepherds goading is not only ignorant, it is needlessly painful –
- Ecclesiastes 12:11 — The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd.
- Acts 26:14 — And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
“For rulers are not a terror to good conduct (Romans 13:3).” If you are a Christian, you have been saved from the penalty of sin through Christ and are being saved from the power of sin in your life as you mature in Christ; and one day you will be saved from the presence of sin when Christ returns to restore all things. As you mature in Christ, your loving Father will never condemn you, but He will discipline you because He loves you (see Hebrews 12:4-12). In Christ we can walk in the confidence (not fear) of God’s eternal love and grace, and we can obey Him in the strength of the Holy Spirit within us – “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13) We should be inspired to obey God because we love Him and desire to be united with Him, not because we are scared of His condemnation or discipline. Love drives us closer to Him while fear stands in the way of our relationship with Him. Stated in 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” When we are confident in God’s grace and are living in love, we are obedient as a natural fruit of love; there is no need to fear. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them (John 14:21).” John adds to Jesus’ words in 1 John 5:3 — “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” When we mature in our love for God, it isn’t burdensome to obey His commands because we genuinely desire to do it. Obedience is love lived out, which produces peace, not fear. When we are confident of the Father’s perfect, undying love for us, we don’t fear but rather appreciate His discipline, understanding the He is only goading us to Christlike character (see Romans 8:28, ,29) When we understand that our confidence in the Lord rests upon His perfect, eternal love and faithfulness rather than ours, and when we understand that the Sovereign, Almighty God, the Creator of All Things, loves us unconditionally and is fully committed to our spiritual development, we can remain joyful and peaceful even in our failures knowing that He will never leave nor forsake us and that He “who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
“One must be in subjection…. for the sake of conscience.” (Romans 13:5) We should obey so our love isn’t hindered. 1 Timothy 1:5 says, “love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” We cannot adequately love God or others without a clear conscience. Guilt, particularly hidden guilt, puts up walls of separation between relationships. It generates feelings of vulnerability and defensiveness. It creates fear and doubt. It is an unpaid debt that hangs over us. The debt must be settled, either paid or forgiven. God offers forgiveness, as should we. Let no debt remain but the debt of love. First, we should rest on the clear conscience we have in Christ – “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22) Then, we should eliminate those things in our life which grieve and quench the Holy Spirit and that prevent a clear conscience within us – “So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.” (Acts 24:16)
God cares about our obedience, but even more about the motives behind our obedience. In immaturity, like a small child, we might obey God out of motives of fear, guilt, self-interest or even pride. As we grow in maturity, obedience comes more and more from a genuine, heartfelt desire to please, honor and love God – similar to the motives that cause young adults to still obey their parents, not “because of possible punishment,” but from a heart of love and respect.” The highest quality of character and maturity is selflessness. Small children are naturally selfish, and even their obedience is self-centered – “What’s in it for me?” If you are motivated to obedience based on the potential for rewards or punishments, you are in one sense not much different than a small child or even an animal who responds to “stick and carrot” discipline. However, God’s word encourages us to grow up in Christ, to no longer act like babies. We are called not just to act righteous (like Pharisees) and to model the behavior of Christ, we are called to be righteous (in our hearts) and to model the attitudes of Christ. The children of the God of Love should be inspired by love to do what is right and true because that is the only loving thing to do. We must learn to abide in the love of Christ. Paul encourages us, “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature (Romans 13:14).” Think on Christ rather than sinful desires, and act upon what is on your heart and mind.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 23 Apr 21: Obey today, and consider your motives.