A Dirty Word for 2012
As I do my own reflecting on 2011 and looking ahead to 2012, the verse that continually comes to mind is John 14:23 where Jesus says, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.” For much of my life this verse and others like it weren’t among my favorites. I doubt I’m alone. When obedience to Jesus comes up legalism alarms begin pulsating in our minds. Obedience is avoided like a dirty word–probably more. Following Jesus is about grace, mercy, and love, not obedience, isn’t it?
Following Jesus is about receiving His love, grace, and mercy, but that doesn’t make our obedience irrelevant. A few things that play into this.
Is obedience to Jesus restrictive or freeing?
In my teenage years I saw Jesus’ teaching and the other commands of Scripture as prohibitions that kept me from having fun. I wasn’t supposed to “go too far” with my girlfriend, use the kind of language everyone else did, or think of myself first. Obeying Jesus was restrictive. As the Holy Spirit has helped me to mature (at least a little) I’ve come to more clearly see that obedience is freedom, not bondage. When I obey the teaching of Jesus I have deeper relationships, a more fulfilling life, and I don’t have to be worried about someone finding out my secrets.
I’ve experienced this in the last couple weeks. My wife and I are planning to begin a workout and nutrition plan we’ve done in the past again in a couple days. This is something that has benefited not only our bodies, but our relationships, as we have more energy and the joy of knowing we’re being good stewards of our health. As I looked ahead to this I decided to throw good nutrition and exercise out the window for the couple weeks around Christmas and the New Year. I’ve felt sluggish, uninspired, tired, and disconnected from God. When I have self-control (a fruit of the Spirit) and am a good steward of my health I feel liberated; when I don’t I feel in bondage.
When we look negatively at obedience to Jesus we are making the inherent assumption that He doesn’t want what’s best for us–He just wants us chained to some arbitrary rules. That assumptions belies how little we think of his grace, mercy, and love.
Is our relationship with God one-sided?
An aversion to obeying Jesus also betrays a very one-sided love. We want God to show us love and mercy and for Him to bless us with things, but we are not so enthusiastic about showing Him love in return. In a human relationship this would be characterized as using someone, not love. A person who seeks to take from another all the time without any mutuality is a leech, not a lover.
We talk often about a relationship with God, but in reality this relationship is often much more transactional than relational. We bite the bullet and obey God more than we disobey Him and then He gives us the things we want or at least doesn’t punish us. That is not a relationship, it is a transaction. In a relationship of love both parties work tirelessly to express their love to the other. Even the commands of God are an expression of love because they will lead to the best for us, our neighbors, and the world. I want to love God deeply and express that clearly. After all, He’s loved me first.
Are we willing to love God in the way He says He feels loved?
One of the things I love about my daughter is that she doesn’t make you guess what makes her feel loved. Often when I go in to say good night to her she turns her back to me and says, “Please rub my back Daddy.” In many cases she is good at vocalizing the things that make her feel love, cherished, and cared for. I am happy to oblige her requests because I love her deeply and long to make her happy and for her to know my love.
In John 14 Jesus explicitly says that we show we love Him by obeying Him. Certainly this is not the only way our love for God is expressed, but Jesus says it’s one of the ways. If we truly love Jesus then obedience becomes a wonderful opportunity to express to Him how much we love Him. Like rubbing my daughter’s back it is not an obligation but a joy. It is a significant paradigm shift to see obedience to Jesus as an expression of love rather than a moral obligation.