Whenever we take an honest look at how we’re doing with obedience to Jesus’ commands, we tend to go in one of three unhealthy and sinful directions, ultimately not obeying the command at all.
- Commonly, we rightly realize that we’re really not doing well obeying Jesus, and we feel a weight of guilt. This guilt is not a bad thing, but it’s what we do with it that matters. Many times, we turn our attention to getting rid of the guilt and appeasing God. We make following Jesus all about us getting rid of guilt and forcing God to love us. What we care about most is feeling better about ourselves, not obeying Jesus as Lord.
Usually, when we do this, we look for the easiest way to fulfill the command. We’re not really concerned to develop a life of obedience to Jesus. We just want to fulfill the minimum requirements of a command, so that we can “get God off our back” and get on with our life. This often means we look for one-time acts we can perform to feel like we did enough, but don’t develop a long-term pattern of joyful obedience and worship.
- A second sinful way we respond to an honest look at obedience to Jesus is this: we still rightly realize we’re not doing too well, and we feel guilty about it. Yet because we don’t like feeling guilty, we tell ourselves that following Jesus’ commands isn't really that important because we’re saved by grace and God forgives us for all our sins. And so we don’t feel guilt but we also don’t feel conviction. In doing this, we make light of the cross, as if it cost God nothing to win our salvation. This is called cheap grace.
- A third sinful way we respond to Jesus’ commands is that we feel no conviction at all. We think we've got it all down. This usually means we don’t recognize the depths of our sin, and we don’t understand the extent of God’s commands, that they speak to the condition of the heart and mind, and not just outward moral conformity. The truth is, his commands are so wise and penetrating that there should be no end to conviction and repentance and growth.
So how do we take God’s commands seriously, submitting to them for his glory, while keeping ourselves from both legalism and antinomianism (the opposite of legalism: no law). Here are three things to keep in mind:
- While we must never make light of Jesus’ commands, we must also never think that our obedience contributes anything to our salvation. We are rescued from sin, death, and hell, and given a new identity as beloved children of God, by what God has done for us through Jesus, and not by anything we can do for him.
- When we don’t desire to obey, it isn't all on our backs to conjure up right desires. God not only provides strength sufficient to obey, but changes our desires. Obedience in a certain area may seem impossible, but God is working on our hearts, minds, and wills and nothing is impossible with Him. Often times, obedience feels like doing what we don’t want to do with strength that we don’t’ have. This is exactly where God would have us to teach us to depend on his strength and presence and not on our will power.
- Obedience isn't something that we’re going to perfect today, this week, this year, or this lifetime. In our attempts at self-righteousness, we often look for quick-fix good works that make us feel good about ourselves and like we've put God in our debt. But the truth is, we will need God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness every day of our lives. We should pursue obedience with every effort, while continually looking to the cross as we fail again and again.
Obedience to Jesus was never meant to give us a reason to boast. No matter how mature and faithful we are, all the glory belongs to God. Obedience is a result of his initial saving work in us and of his ongoing conforming of our wills, emotions, and actions by the power of his Holy Spirit in us. Though we must put forth every effort, all the glory and credit goes to God for all growth and faithfulness in our lives.