Imagine this scene: a man lies naked, hungry and cold. A stranger approaches and offers these words, “I wish you well. Be warm, and filled.” Then the stranger walks away. Now imagine the stranger who walks away is Jesus.
Unthinkable, right? Too many Christians possess just such an image of Jesus when it comes to the issue obedience. God wants us to obey his will. It’s good. It’s necessary. The problem is many of us see ourselves as incapable of obedience. We have failed too often. We find ourselves naked and cold, in desperate need. And into our helpless situation, we imagine that Jesus walks up to us and says, “be obedient” without offering any practical help.
Would the grace God demand from us something we cannot give? If we were “miserable sinners” before turning to Jesus, why does Jesus expect his followers to become obedient to his will? How do we become something other than “forgiven miserable sinners?” Some believers find themselves trapped in a Christian existence of forgiveness, more sin, and more forgiveness.
The good news is that God’s grace does something more than say, “Be warm and filled.” Jesus calls us obey, but he does not leave us on our own. He demonstrated how to become the kind of follower who is not trapped in the forgive-sin again-forgive cycle.
The Jesus way of teaching believers how to obey is contained in the famous verses we call The Great Commission:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
The Great Commission does not command obedience, but rather discipleship--which makes obedience possible. Discipleship is God’s plan to grow in obedience. Jesus breaks discipleship to two functions--immersing believers in the three revealed identities of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and instructing disciples in how to obey everything he commanded. To separate obedience from teaching how to obey would be the same as merely saying “Be warm and filled” to a naked homeless person, and Jesus wouldn’t do that.
The church, however, has fallen into the “Be warm and filled” fallacy. We attempt to “teach” obedience apart from relationship. In fact, obedience cannot be taught apart from relationship, it can only be demanded. Sitting in church listening to the demands of obedience usually results in guilt--a guilt incapable of producing fruit.
A better pattern is the family model. Good parents teach their children to obey in an atmosphere of mutual love and commitment. Fathers and mothers love their children, and children love their parents. Relationship and obedience grow side-by-side. The love felt by both parents and child provide the motivation for discipline from above and effort from below. Healthy families provide examples of obedience. Day-by-day children can witness whether true obedience lives in the household.
New life in Christ means the Father has provided a new family for each of us. We become a part of God’s household. If obedience resides in the house, it becomes a way of life--something for us to enter into, not something imposed from the outside. Obedience becomes the natural response of loving hearts. The family of God becomes the context for learning how to obey. Our obedience helps provide a setting for others to discover the way of life. This is one of the reasons that our obedience is not merely a personal matter. It’s also why some Christian mystics describe God as Father and the church as the mother of our obedience.
Could you be God’s means of grace is someone else’s life? If you respond to the Great Commission by making disciples, the answer is yes.