Continuing my series of postsdrawing on material from my training course on building the relationships and the team work that becoming the Body of Christ requires, here are some of my thoughts on obedience.
Obedience gets a bad rap. No one likes to obey. And though we have not yet used the word with you until now, that is what we have been practicing! So our definition might be a surprisingly fresh viewpoint for you.
“Obedience is the Spirit-led application of a Spirit-led Rhema.”
Obedience is notdoing what others do because they do it. That is religion.
Obedience is not merely following a biblical command – unless by God’s grace. That is also religion.
- love-based, which means it is powered by and enacted by love from and back to the Father;
- individualized, which means that it fits me and how God made me and our unique relationship. (This also applies to a group; it is individualized to a group seeking to obey the Lord together.)
- 100% possible, because it comes with 100% grace to perform it;
- produces the fruit of the Spirit, particularly joy and peace, in its fulfillment. This does not mean there is never pain. God’s process may be painful. The victory at the end is not.
Did you read any of this to mean that obedience is optional? Don’t.
Did you read any of this to mean that morality is relative? Don’t.
Did you read any of this to deny the reality of sin as disobedience? Don’t.
Must we sometimes do what the flesh does not want to do? Yes, because God gives the strength and desire to reach deeper for that kind of obedience.
Our discussion today is not so much about overcoming sin as about progressive growth in responsiveness to the Lord’s leading through life. We are talking here about learning a walk of obedience, and that means learning how to let the Spirit teach us obedience. Think of it this way: would you agree that there must be at least 100 things you could be doing that you are not now doing that would make you be more like Jesus? If you had to do all of them today, you would probably die from the pressure! As a matter of fact, in Ephesians 4-6 alone you will find there no less than 74 commands about how we are to live as followers of Jesus! Thanks be to God that He only puts His finger on that which He deems important for us to learn to do now. That is why we must learn to hear His voice, follow His leading, and not that of everyone around us. They may see a growth area and may (and can, and do, and sometimes even should) show me when I need to do something about it. But if I try to conform to others’ expectations without God’s leading, then my behavior is not led by the Spirit; it is outward conformity. It can be called religious (what the Bible calls “an outward form of godliness” (2 Timothy 3:5) and, most importantly, it is motivated out of what is called “fear of man” (Proverbs 29:25).
How many times have you asked or heard the question, “So how much is my doing it versus God doing it?” Paul answers the question beautifully in Colossians 1:29. Speaking of his own calling from God, he affirms, “For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” Notice:
- For thispurpose. Paul has his marching orders from God. His value system is in place. The treasure he seeks is clear – that he might be able to “present every man complete in Christ” (v. 28).
- I,Paulis the one doing it; but, as he has explained elsewhere (Gal. 2:20), in Christ we have a new definition of “I”: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
- I labor, striving. This is no passive activity. Paul is engaged with all his heart, soul, mind, and body.
- according to Hispower.This is God’s power or energy doing the heavy lifting (RSV). It is not of the flesh, not of Paul’s own initiative. This is the strengthwe spoke of as part of our definition of God’s grace from lesson 2.
- which He mightily inspireswithin me(RSV). What a fantastic description of the source of Paul’s motivation. This is the second part of our definition of grace from lesson 2: the desireto do what God is telling you to do. This is why our rhemas need to have both components (strengthand desire)to be capable of moving us to real change.
Throughout this course, we place the emphasis on hearing and responding to God individually and supporting each other in that response. Thus we avoid any agenda of correction, admonishment, or challenge other than God’s. Supporting God’s initiative is the surest way to help each other learn to do what is most important. And what is God’s agenda within the context of this course?
- Honor the principles of Real Talk;
- Do your work, and do it on time;
- Honor your word to each other and to the Lord.
When any of these principles is dishonored, we need to work together to overcome them. Not only are we to learn how to work on these, but learn todo them well. This will serve to strengthen you as a group as you grow towards becoming a team. Only never forget that obedience is a supernatural process, yet the work was accomplished on the cross 2000 years ago.
Last week’s lesson was on the importance of authenticity. But what value is authenticity if it does not appear in the willingness to be open about our struggles with following the Lord Jesus? To admit my struggles, weaknesses, inner thoughts, and motives is of no value if it is not done in the context of a desire to move forward, to be an overcomer. That is, I can be authentic because I want to obey more than I want to protect my image of looking like I am obedient.