Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Obedience
by Fred Swartz
“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2, ESV)
Obedience is a dirty word, one of those naughty nine-letter ones that curl the stockings of mainstream American evangelicals. We’re under grace, not law, we say. Everything is fulfilled in Christ, we say. Who are we meant to obey, anyway? I’ve got my Bible and the Holy Spirit, so I don’t need someone with extra letters after his name and a church salary telling me how to live my faith. I hear from God, especially since I’m a missionary. I don’t really need to listen to anyone else, and especially not sell-out pastors that wear masks and close their churches. Doesn’t the Bible say I have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Surely God wants those things for me, so I don’t need to obey anything that has even a whiff of impinging on those sacred and holy rights I possess because Jesus is a white Republican that supports family values.
Yes, I probably thought that way once. I’ve at least gotten my head around the fact that Jesus isn’t white and that the Bible in fact says I give up those rights. The rest is slowly falling into place. The reality, though, is that, as an American, I am infatuated with my rights. The British people reading this might not be able to sympathise (spelled it with the s just for you) with that notion as well as all you Americans, but they’ve probably worked out by now how deeply ingrained it is in us. Clinging to my rights is, frankly, bondage, and it is a massive barrier to true obedience. I get caught up in thinking that my way to the top is exerting my rights, especially my rights to execute ministry the way I think it should be done, because obviously what’s needed is an ordering of church and mission according to my understanding of Biblical patterns and paradigms. We don’t need a move of God, just a move that lines up with Fred’s perspectives. That will definitely sort it. Third Great Awakening, here I come.
But scripture actually says obeying God’s commands is what moves God to set me high above the nations, far above every foe and opponent to the work of God in and through me. There’s no room for obedience when I’m busy being convinced I know the right and best way to do everything, and when there’s no room for obedience, there’s no room for blessing. Obedience requires laying down my rights, or, as the apostle Paul says, dying daily. Abiding in the place of obedience, even when it is costly, opens up tremendous promises of God – ALL these blessings coming upon me and overtaking me. I know the blessings I want – scads of people turning to Jesus. I wouldn’t mind at all being overtaken by that, but I surely won’t see it if I’m not abiding in obedience, and not just outward action that looks obedient, but obedience from the heart out of a desire to please my Redeemer rather than myself.
In the end, obedience actually is a beautiful word. It expresses total surrender to the Bridegroom, just as he expressed his total surrender and devotion to the Father through his perfect and costly obedience, even unto death on cross. Think of the blessing that flowed from that.
“And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.” (Philippians 2:8-9, ESV)
- How have you seen obedience to God pay off?
- What rights are hardest for you to lay down?