In an email exchange with a friend, he made this observation:
“If there are no other species out there (in the universe) unless created by Father, we are responsible to obey him. That’s our responsibility. He will bring the end of the age in his time.”
Reading it, I felt a ping in my yuck meter.
“…Responsible to obey him.” There was a time when I’d have felt comfortable with those words, but no longer. He was a good enough friend to push back playfully:
I agree on all points, though I’d substitute “a love to embrace” for “a responsibility to obey. Love will always lead us to obedience but obedience does not always lead us to love. That’s how I see the new covenant.
He simply wrote back, “Full agreement here.”
So how do you see your relationship with God today? Do you consider it your responsibility to obey him or your joy to embrace his love?
The Old Testament seems to confront us with the need to obey God because we are afraid of him. That’s our responsibility, or so we thought. However, laced throughout the Old Testament is also the language of lovingkindness and mercy. And the writer of Hebrews tells us they couldn’t enter God’s rest, not because of their disobedience, but because of their unbelief. They didn’t trust his love and goodness, and not believing in him, they continued to look to false gods and foreign powers to comfort them.
Jesus underscored the power of his Father’s love when he was here. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” You could read that under the eyes of the Old Testament to mean that keeping commands proves that we love him. But the whole mission of Jesus proves otherwise. He meant, “If you discover the depth of my love, you will find yourself following me to the ends of the earth.”
That’s what I’ve discovered to be true. Those who seek to follow Jesus focused on fear and obedience are not always pleasant people to be around. They are often frustrated and angry, just like the Pharisees were. Thinking their relationship with God is secured by their performance, they are exhausted by their efforts and frustrated at the lack of results. Moreover, they push their frustration onto others by judging their misdeeds and trespassing on their lives by telling others what they should do.
Thinking our responsibility is to obey him draws us right back under the law, and it will kill us. According to the writer of Hebrews, that’s why Israel couldn’t enter God’s rest—not because of a lack of obedience but because of their unbelief. They didn’t believe he was wholly good and that he loved them even in their darkness. If they had, he would have filled up in their hearts what sin seeks to fill.
Jesus has offered us a better way. Come live in his love, grow to trust him, and you’ll find yourself following him with great joy and freedom.
And that’s the obedience that matters.
If you need some help exploring this shift in thinking, Wayne wrote He Loves Me: Learning to Live in the Father’s Affection to do just that.