Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Just Obey

Years ago, an intern at our reformed, grace-focused, gospel-centered church preached a sermon on the Ten Commandments. He opened with an illustration about how many of us in grace-focused churches secretly, subtly resist the words righteous, law, or obey. He said something then that has stayed in my head ever since. “If the idea of a sermon on righteousness fills you with dread, you've been listening to the wrong people.” I have at points in my life had exactly that reaction to a message or article on obedience. I believe looking back that this reaction was because those teaching on righteousness and obedience talked about it in a vacuum. They did not do it in the atmosphere of gospel grace. And righteousness and obedience removed from gospel-grace become unattainable obligations. They become oppressive weights. God hates law apart from grace, and Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of this day in very clear terms over exactly this issue.

But when taught in the atmosphere of the gospel, obedience stops feeling like an obligation and starts feeling like wisdom. Righteousness is no longer a weight about our necks but a benefit that is strongly helpful in life. Instructions to obey become truly the light at our feet illuminating an extremely treacherous path.
Psalms 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
I just got back from a long trip to visit family on the east coast. I got to talk with two friends who are finally emerging from struggles, particularly in marriage, that lasted at least a decade. Both of them, in different states and who do not know each other, told me how incredibly important and powerful obedience was in the midst of the worst parts of their crises. Just obey. That was key. And neither felt like that obedience in the middle of their crisis was an obligation that weighed them down. It was a blessing. God's instructions in His Word on how to respond in crisis were HELPFUL. Those instructions and commands helped my friends avoid pitfalls that would have seriously complicated their already stressful situations.

One of my friends was in a long struggle in her marriage, and I won't share the details of what they endured. But the oppressive weight of obedience that actually became a tender blessing was the instruction in Ephesians to wives to respect their husbands. Unconditional respect to a husband removed from the atmosphere of gospel grace immediately feels like an unfair obligation. But much like unconditional love to a wife, her obedience in giving unconditional respect to her husband (as God gave His unconditional grace and love to her) ministered great grace to her husband. That command became a sweet, HELPFUL instruction that aided them in their recovery. I plan to write more on unconditional respect in the coming weeks--it's such a beautiful, helpful instruction.

After both of those conversations during my trip, the last remnant of suspicion over the words obedience or righteousness has been fully washed away in my own heart. After years in a fundamentalism that made me cringe when the words were uttered, I now fall on my knees in thankfulness to God for giving us instructions in His Word that are so very helpful. If you need wisdom and helpful advice in the midst of crisis, my first loving encouragement to you is to simply OBEY GOD. Whatever His instructions in His Word, trust the Spirit as He speaks to you through reading the Word on your own and the preaching of the Word. And just obey.
Psalm 85 
8 Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly. 9 Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land. 
10 Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. 11 Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky. 12 Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. 13 Righteousness will go before him and make his footsteps a way.

13 comments:

  1. amen. may as well start seeing and practicing righteousness now the way the Lord does, since in His kingdom one day, there will be ONLY righteousness. Come, Lord Jesus.

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  2. After childhood abuse, the concept of submission/ obedience stirred a hurricane of emotions, thoughts, images, smells, and sounds that engulfed me during my teenage and young adult years.
    God blessed me with a spiritual understanding that his commands are to PROTECT me. To ensure the fruits of His disciplines, to bring about His plan.

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    1. This is beautiful, Debi. I hate how these good words and beautiful gifts from God have been marred for so many through misuse and abuse. Praise God for guiding you through that all.

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  3. Recently my friend became convicted about her use of an illegal drug to "fix" a problem in her life. The problem was very real, the drug seemed to really help, and yet the Lord revealed to her that disobeying the laws of the land was hindering her relationship with him. She told me of how she caught herself singing, "Trust and obey for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus.." and how this confirmed the conviction she felt from God. Two weeks ago this lady, despite her fears of not being able to cope without this drug, chose to worship the Lord through obedience. It has been a beautiful thing to see the scripture you quoted lived out in her life, especially the phrase, "righteousness and peace kiss each other." She testifies, and it is quite evident to see, that she has entered a place of joy again. Her relationship with God has entered that peace and it came through trust in God and obedience to his word.

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  4. Thank you for the reminder. It so important for those of us recovering from spiritual and other forms of abuse. The particularly twisted result of abuse by christians is that it even "spoils" God's good commands for our blessing. Thank you for reminding me that obedience submission and trust (to God) are the way to peace.

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    1. Exactly, Anonymous. May God protect us from the horrible fallout of abuse -- that we are suspicious of His good commands.

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  5. The law and obdience is so important. Even though we are no longer under law but through the spirit we follow the father in relational terms. Some people who have commented have been through a lot. God Bless you with peace and may Christ truly heal you.

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  6. This post reminds me of a phrase I heard years ago, "Do the next right thing." In and of itself that phrase oozes will power. In the context of our Father and the grace He has lavished upon us in Jesus, it takes a totally different meaning. He reveals the next right thing in His word and by His Spirit and then enables us to do it. Thanks for the reminder that to Just Obey is both sweet and safe because of the gospel.

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  7. Unconditional respect - what is that? Would love to understand this better and look forward to your writings on it. The book Love & Respect, one my husband really has embraced (and I'm still trudging thru) talks about this. He desperatly needs this from me, but I struggle with understanding how it can be conditional. Respect is earned, no?

    Thanks for your writing, Wendy. I'm working thru By His Wounds this summer and really enjoying it. Keep it up!

    Julie

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    1. Julie, I too am working through Love and Respect. The concept of conditional verses unconditional love has been key for me. I would be ticked and disturbed if my husband treated me as if I had to earn his love. Yet I often treat him as if he needs to earn my respect. It was profound to me to realize that respect IS his love language. When I show him only conditional respect, to him I am showing him only conditional love. That has been key to aiding me in applying it in my home.

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    2. That is a profound realization. I think it's the phrase "unconditional respect" that is so new to me whereas unconditional love I've heard all my life. Even the word respect is something I think I'd benefit from studying. And prayer is much needed too! Thanks for your reply.

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  8. This reminds me of a phrase from Andrew Petersen's song "Dancing in the Mine Fields" about marriage : "And it was harder than we dreamed But I believe that's what the promise is for."

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  9. This post describes my church. I attend a church where a large number of the members have been burned by churches that focused so heavily on obedience without any mention of grace. In reaction to this there is a new legalism in terms of extreme Christian Liberty. I have been told that I am a legalist because I want to daily study the scriptures and pray and because I wont have alcohol at my bible study (because I worry for those who might struggle with alcoholism) to just list two. Trying to lovingly guild or confront those I am supposed to be discipling is ten times more difficult at this church. How can you lead well in this kind of situation?...I'm at a loss...

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