Living in Obedience

January 16, 2013

We are on the home stretch now, in our tour of the essential tenets of the Reformed faith. It is the natural outflow of God’s grace, our election to salvation and service, and covenant community to consider how we shall live together to reflect God’s glory and enjoy him forever. We take some early cues from God’s chosen people, who in the exodus were walking through a great doorway into a new life defined by God’s gracious care.

In their period of formation, the Hebrews counted themselves very fortunate indeed, compared to the neighboring peoples of the ancient Near East whose gods did not show any personal interest like YHWH did:

See, I [Moses] have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? (Deuteronomy 4:5-7)

The Israelites received God’s law as a gift of his grace and the framework for the good life:

[God] brought us out from [Egypt] to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers. The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.” (Deuteronomy 6:23-25)

This phrase “careful to obey” represents a particular commitment made out of love and gratitude to God. By obeying God we are simply saying we are glad to be a part of his family and enjoy the benefits of “clean living.” Jesus made the connection between loving him and obeying his commands in John 15: “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.” So let’s unpack this notion:

Picture a time in your life when you lived within a framework that required you to obey someone else. Ideally, for the analogy to work, the person who comes to mind was patient, kind, loving, wise, and honest (because when we start talking about obeying God, it will be important to remember he has all those qualities). Let’s say that this person was a parent or guardian with whom you lived, so every aspect of your life came under the umbrella of that person’s care and concern for you. Your maturing process in obedience to parents may have included experiences like these:

• the famous “time-out” after you threw a temper tantrum
• being ushered back to the store from which you stole a candy bar
• repeated reminders to say please and thank-you
• learning how to drive a car
• The Facts-of-Life Talk
• the fallout after your folks discovered you were lying about where you were last night
• “I discipline you because I love you”
• the pained look on your mother’s face when you swore to high heaven
• exercises in delayed gratification

The list could go on and on, couldn’t it? But all of these teachable moments became catalysts for learning how to be a member of a family, a responsible citizen, or a team player. And if we learned the lessons well, we grew up to be responsible, moral, and independent adults who were able to contribute to society and even to guide the next generation. Under ideal conditions, our parents saw the process of raising us as a patient investment in a life they hoped would demonstrate maturity, godliness, and initiative. Were they successful?

Children rarely comprehend in the moment that obedience to parents may very well keep them in a safe zone. The reason we insist that the learner’s permit holder in the family stop at stop signs is to prevent her from crashing into another vehicle. The fact that there doesn’t happen to be another car in the otherwise busy intersection this time does not diminish the parent’s fear for her life on another occasion. What we’re teaching and learning here is a way of life that increases the chances a child will survive to adulthood.

That survival was God’s intent for the Israelites, and so it is with our spiritual growth.

Most children get their first practice at obeying God by learning how to obey their parents. It is up to their parents not to usurp God’s place, but it is up to parents to give their children practice at submitting to authority, obeying without requiring full understanding of the reasons, and taking responsibility for their own actions. As we grow and develop into adulthood, God also gives us opportunities to practice righteousness (not self-righteousness, but right living) by allowing dilemmas to surface, by remaining silent temporarily while we work out an appropriate answer to the challenge, by testing our honesty. As we show ourselves to be faithful in small things (with God’s help of course!), God entrusts us with bigger things, until doing the right thing becomes second nature and we wouldn’t dream of choosing a path contrary to God’s will.

So where do we start this life training, to discover God’s will in order to follow it? A very good place to begin is with the Ten Commandments, found in Exodus 20. The first four commandments address the parameters for a good relationship with God, the last six define the limits for good relationships with others. The Fellowship Theology Project recasts the “thou shalt not” list with a positive focus on what godly life looks like.

It is important for us to embrace the life of obedience because we are God’s children, invited to call him “Abba” (Papa). His discipline and instruction are for our good (Hebrews 12:7-11), and we will get the most out of it if we will listen, watch, and follow where God leads. This is living in obedience, an essential tenet within our Reformed faith.

 

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