Obedience to God proves our love for Him (1 John 5:2-3), demonstrates our faithfulness to Him (1 John 2:3-6), glorifies Him in the world (1 Peter 2:12), and opens avenues of blessing for us (John 13:17).
Faith is necessary to please God (Hebrews 11:6), and if our faith is genuine and true, we will live a lifestyle characterized by righteousness, modeling the example set for us by Jesus Christ. We obey His commands, not because we have to, but because we want to, because we love Him. We are enabled to obey because, once we believe in Christ and are saved, we are remade. We are not the same people we once were. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
When we obey the Lord, we can live a life of joy, without shame, rooted deeply in the Lord and confident in our eternal hope. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). Our obedience is actually part of our assurance that we truly know God (1 John 2:3).
When God’s children obey their Heavenly Father, He is glorified. Jesus told us that the plan is for others to “see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Of course, performing “good deeds” requires obedience to the One who calls us to good deeds. A Christian’s testimony of holiness is a strong witness that God is at work in the world.
“Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in obedience to him” (Psalm 128:1). The Bible often tells us that God blesses and rewards obedience. James 1:22-25 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. . . . Whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” See also Psalm 119:1-2.
God is gracious. If we haven’t been living for Him, if we haven’t been following His commandments, if we’ve been living in and for the world, we can be transformed by the blood of Jesus Christ. We can ask God for forgiveness, and He will give it. And He will choose to forget the sin, just as if we had never committed it in the first place. God is glorified when He extends forgiveness, because it is written, “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds. . . . Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more” (Hebrews 10:16-17).
We believe the key to obedience is submission to God. What matters is, not external adherence to specific rules, but a heart that is submitted to God. If our heart is submitted to God, then we will obey his specific requirements. But it is the heart attitude that is crucial. Perhaps I should have called this paper, "Submission to God", but I felt that for many, today, "Obedience" would be a more challenging word.
What is our motive for this obedience, or submission? At the risk of oversimplification, let me say that I see three basic motives.
(1) Fear. We obey because we fear someone who is more powerful than we are. This does enter into our obedience. Scripture tells us to fear the Lord, and, indeed, he is a God of awesome power. He is capable of great wrath. "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31). At a minimum, we obey him to avoid his wrath and punishment. But there are better motives for obedience.
(2) Self-interest. God told Joshua, "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful" (Joshua 1:8). Let me use a simple analogy. When we buy an automobile (or any appliance), we receive an "owner's manual" in which the manufacturer tells us the conditions under which his product must be operated if it is to function well. With an automobile he tells us what kind of fuel and lubricant to use, how highly to inflate the tires, and when we should perform various operations such as changing the oil, checking the fluids and fan belts, rotating the tires, lubricating, etc. If we do not follow these instructions we are apt to have something bad happen to the automobile. I think of the Bible as an "owner's manual" in which our Creator has told us the conditions under which his creation, man, will function best. If we follow the instructions we will prosper; in Biblical terms we will be blessed. If we do not follow the instructions bad things will happen; in Biblical terms we will be cursed. So if we want to prosper and live fruitful lives we will follow our Creator's instructions. It's a simple matter of self-interest.
But God does not want us to submit to him just because of the benefits we hope to get. That was the issue in the book of Job, where God allowed satan to test Job to see if he loved him only because of what God has done for him (see Job chapters 1 and 2). God wants us to love him, and to obey him, for who he is, and not just for what he does for us.
(3) Love. Our relationship with the automobile manufacturer is impersonal; we do not even know him. Our relationship with God is, or should be, highly personal. God loves us, and we love him. When you love someone you want to do what pleases him. "This is love for God, to obey his commands" (1 John 5:3). Jesus said, "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me" (John 14:21). The primary motive we have for obeying God is that we love him, we want to do what pleases him, and we want, as nearly as we can, to become like him.
While all three of these motives enter into our obedience, I suggest that, particularly since Jesus Christ has come on earth, our primary motive for obedience is and should be our love for God.
I need to make one thing clear at the outset. I, personally, am still quite a long way away from the obedience that I describe in this paper. I doubt that any one, other than Jesus Christ, can be said to have achieved perfect obedience. I know of quite a few whom I consider a good deal closer to it than I am. We are all working towards it, and at various stages in our pursuit of it. From my study of Scripture, I think I have been able to form a fairly clear picture of where we need to be, and I hope that picture will be of value to all of us who are working on this essential aspect of our lives in Christ.