The core characteristic that many people might find least sexy about Jesus is the same core characteristic that made him the Messiah: his willing obedience to God. Note that Jesus wasn’t just obedient – he was willingly obedient. It was this willful obedience of Jesus that God commended on a few occasions, saying: “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” God didn’t say “This is my beloved son, whose strong faith I admire” or “This is my beloved son, who is always so nice to people”. No, God didn’t commend Jesus for his faith or his works – he commended him for his obedience in doing what “pleased” him. If God places such emphasis on willful obedience, then we should, too.
But what does it mean to be willingly obedient to God? And why is it so important?
If we’re honest, we’d admit that most of us didn’t start our Christian journey being willingly obedient to God. Like horses newly saddle-broken but not yet completely OK with the bit in our mouths, many of us chomped and neighed and whinnied and even reared up a few times when we should just have quietly obeyed and got on with it. That doesn’t mean God is looking for mindless automatons for his kingdom – not at all. As an atheist, I was a rebel at heart, and I’m still a rebel as a Christian, but I target my rebellion not against God or the world but against false teachings, like Jesus did. During his ministry years, Jesus showed himself to be the very opposite of an automaton in everything he did, especially in how he treated women and outcasts, even though his obedience to God was unwavering.
Over and over again, especially in the Old Testament, God stresses the primacy of obedience. He tells us that if we’re obedient to him and his laws, good things will follow, but if we’re not obedient to him and his laws, bad things will follow. It doesn’t get any simpler than that, and yet many of us still find a way to mess up and then wonder why our lives are such a disaster.
Are you obedient to God? Do you obey all of his Commandments, or do you cherry-pick the ones you want to obey and turn a blind eye to the rest? Is God’s way your way? Are you kind to your parents in your mind as well as in your words, or do you trash-talk them and blame them for your problems just to get sympathy from people? Do you want to have certain things that you don’t really need only because other people have them? Do you believe it’s OK to kill people in self-defense or in defense of your property or loved ones? Being obedient to God starts with obeying the Commandments – all ten of them, with no exceptions.
You’re also expected to obey God’s direct orders to you. These are tailored to your circumstances and your abilities. They often come in the form of tests and temptations. If you’ve ever disobeyed God’s orders (that is, not taken his advice), you’ll have suffered for it, like I did. Early in my Christian journey, I was still very willful and wanted to do things my way – not because I didn’t love God, but because I thought I could keep on doing things my way and it would be OK. So, if God indicated that I should do something that I didn’t like or wasn’t on my plan, I sometimes didn’t do it. Whenever this happened, I ALWAYS suffered for it.
I’ve learned now not to argue with God. If he says go, I go; if he says stay, I stay. If he says to say this, I say it, and if he says don’t say that, I don’t dare say it. I’ve learned to be willingly obedient by being disobedient enough times to understand that disobedience to God only hurts me (if not immediately, then at some point down the road). Obedience to God is a way to tap into God’s protection. The Commandments aren’t for God’s benefit but for ours. I wouldn’t say I was ever willfully disobedient to God in the 20 years I’ve been born-again, but I’ve definitely been disobedient due to not taking God’s laws and advice seriously enough, and I think I’m not alone in that.
If you read the Bible through the dual lenses of obedience and disobedience, it’s quite illuminating. In fact, you come to view the other core traits of Christianity (faith, hope, love, forgiveness) as offshoots or outgrowths of willing obedience to God. Without willing obedience to God, there is no genuine faith, no genuine hope, no genuine love, and no genuine forgiveness, because it is God’s Spirit that engenders faith, hope, love and forgiveness in a soul, and God’s Spirit only goes where there is a willingly obedient heart. I spent enough time in the cold clutches of organized mainstream Christian religion to know what fake faith, fake hope, fake love and fake forgiveness look and feel like. That’s the automaton effect I mentioned earlier – obedience, but not willing obedience. May you never be an automaton for God; there is no pleasure in it (neither for you nor for God) and no reward of any real value.
Scripture tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. If we fear God as we’re meant to fear him (not “reverentially”, as some claim, but with an understanding that God means what he says and always keeps his Word), then we’ll obey his laws because we don’t want to experience a negative reward, in the same way as little children obey their parents because they don’t want to be yelled at or spanked. The more we obey God’s laws, the more it not only becomes habitual to do so, but the more we’re positively rewarded for our obedience. As the positive rewards increase, our desire to be obedient becomes a part of us, not an external decree that we’re adhering to.
When this stage is reached, we have entered into a state of willful obedience. This is when “doing God’s will” is the norm and we can’t imagine doing otherwise, even when doing God’s will requires sacrifice or pain on our part. This is the real test of whether or not we want what God is offering us or what the world is offering us. These tests will come, but remember that God will only test us to our endurance capacity. God is not a merciless task-master; he is our loving father. But we need to grow up right and strong if we’re to be considered worthy of God’s heavenly kingdom, and burning away the worldly fat is part of that process.
I hope you’re all doing your best to be willingly obedient to your Heavenly Father, like Jesus was. Of all the habits you can form in this life, choosing to be willingly obedient to God is the only one you actually need, as everything good will flow from it, just like everything bad will flow from disobedience.
Choose obedience to God and his laws. Choose it enough times that it becomes second nature to you. Keep choosing it to the point that you can’t conceive of NOT doing God’s will, no matter what the temptation. And then teach others to do God’s will.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
“…he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.”