Obedience: What Is It?
It is of the greatest importance for the Christian to have a clear apprehension of the true character of Christian obedience. It is evident that I must be a Christian before ever I can obey Christ. A child can understand this. I must be in a position in order to discharge the duties which belong to it. I must be in a relationship before I can know, feel or display the affections which flow out of it.
If we keep this simple principle in our minds, it will prevent our attaching a legal idea to obedience. There is not, and cannot be, a single trace of legality in the obedience to which we are called as Christians, seeing that, before we can take a step in that most blessed path, we must have divine life. And how do we get this life? "Not by works of righteousness," not by legal efforts of any kind whatsoever, but by the free gift of God, all praise and thanks to His holy name! "The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." And how is this life communicated? How are we quickened or born again? By the Word and Spirit of God, and in no other way. We are by nature "dead in trespasses and sins." There is not in any son or daughter of Adam a single pulsation of divine life. Take the very best specimen of mere nature - take the most refined, cultivated, moral and amiable person in the very highest circle of social life; take the most religious and devout person in mere nature, and there is not so much as one spark of divine or spiritual life.
This is very humbling to the human heart, but it is the plain truth of Holy Scripture which must be constantly maintained and faithfully set forth. We are by nature alienated from God, enemies in our minds by wicked works, and hence we have neither the will nor the power to obey. There must be a new life, a new nature, before a single step can be taken in the blessed pathway of obedience, and this new life is communicated to us by the free grace of God through the operation of the Spirit who quickens us by the Word.
A passage or two of Holy Scripture will set this matter clearly before the mind of the reader. In John 3 we read, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." Here we have the Word presented under the figure of water, as we read in Ephesians 5 of "the washing of water by the Word." Again, in James 1 we read, "Of His own will begat He us, by the Word of truth." It is not possible to conceive anything more entirely independent of human effort than the new birth as here set forth. It is wholly of God, of His own will and by His own power. What has a man to do with his natural birth? Surely nothing. What, then, can he have to do with his spiritual birth? It is of God exclusively, from first to last. All praise to Him that it is so!
Take one more passage on this great subject. In I Peter 1:23 we read, "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God which liveth and abideth forever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth and the flower thereof falleth away. But the Word of the Lord endureth forever. And this is the Word which by the gospel is preached unto you." Nothing can be more precious than this. When the glad tidings of salvation fall with power upon the heart, that is the birth moment. The Word is the seed of divine life, deposited in the soul by the Holy Spirit. Thus we are born again. We are renewed in the very deepest springs of our moral being. We are introduced into the blessed relationship of sons, as we read in Galatians 4. "When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son" - marvelous grace! - "made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of Ms Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ."
Here, then, we have the true ground of obedience clearly and fully set before us. It is eternal life possessed and eternal relationship enjoyed. There can be no legality here. We are no more servants on legal ground, but sons on the blessed and elevated ground of divine love.
We must remember we are called to obedience. "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" is the very first breathing of a new-born soul. It was the question which came from the broken and penitent heart of Saul of Tarsus when smitten to the ground by the manifested glory of the Son of God. Up to that moment, he had lived in rebellion against that blessed One, but now he was called to yield himself, body, soul and spirit, to a life of unqualified obedience. Was there anything of the legal element in this? Not a trace from beginning to end. "The love of Christ," he says, "constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead. And that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them, and rose again" (2 Cor. 5).
Here, beloved Christian reader, lies the grand motive-spring of all Christian obedience. Life is the ground; love the spring. "If ye love Me, keep My commandments." And again, "He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me; and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him and will manifest Myself to him." How precious! Who can adequately set forth the blessedness of this manifestation of Christ to the obedient heart? Should we not earnestly long to know more of it? Can we expect it if we are living in the habitual neglect of His holy commandments? It is "he that hath My commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me."
Have we His commandments? Are we keeping them? How utterly worthless is mere lip profession! It is like the son in the parable who said, "I go, sir, and went not." It is empty, hollow, contemptible mockery. What father would care for loud profession of affection on the part of a son who didn't care to carry out his wishes? Could such a son expect to enjoy much of his father's company or confidence? Surely not; indeed it is questionable if he could value either the one or the other. He might be ready enough to accept all that the father's hand could bestow to meet his personal wants, but there is a big difference indeed between receiving gifts from a father's hand and enjoying fellowship with that father's heart.
It is this latter we should ever seek, and it is the precious fruit of loving obedience to our Father's words. "If a man love Me, he will keep My words; and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him and make Our abode with him. He that loveth Me not, keepeth not My sayings." Can anything this side of heaven be more precious than to have the Father and the Son coming to us and making their "mansion" (abode) with us? Do we know what it means? Do we enjoy it? Is it common to all? By no means! It is known only to those who know and have and keep the words of Jesus. He speaks of "His commandments" and "His words." What is the difference? The former set forth our holy duty; the latter are the expression of His holy will. If I give my child a commandment, it is his duty to obey, and if he loves me he will delight to obey. But supposing he has heard me saying, "I like so-and-so," and so he does that thing without being directly commanded to do it. He thus gives me a much more touching proof of his love and of his affectionate interest in all my wishes. This is most pleasing to a loving father's heart, and he will respond to this loving obedience by making the obedient child his companion and the depositary of his thoughts.
But there is more than this. In John 15 we read, "If ye abide in Me and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples. As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you." Amazing truth! "Continue [or abide] ye in My love." How is this to be done? "If ye keep My commandments, ye shall continue [or abide] in My love; even as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love."
Here we learn the wondrous truth that we are called to the very same kind of obedience as that which our adorable Lord and Savior rendered to the Father when He walked as a Man on this earth. We are brought into full fellowship with Himself, both in the love wherewith we are loved and in the obedience which we are privileged to render. This is most blessedly confirmed by the Spirit in I Peter where Christians are spoken of as "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ" (ch. 1:2).
Let the reader carefully note this. We are elected of the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to obey as Jesus obeyed. Such is the plain teaching of the passage. That blessed One found His food and drink in doing the Father's will. His only motive for acting was the Father's will. "I delight to do Thy will, 0 My God." There was no opposing element in Him as there sadly is in us. But, blessed be His name, He has linked us with Himself and called us into blessed fellowship, both in the Father's love to Him and in His obedience to the Father.
Marvelous privilege! Would that we appreciated it more! Oh, that we rendered a more loving obedience to all His precious commandments and sayings, so He might manifest Himself to us and make His abode with us. Blessed Lord, do make us more obedient in all things!