Obedience is a fundamental aspect of the life of Christ. Christ’s obedience took Him to the Cross, but His love for us was not birthed out of His obedience. It was the other way around. The source of His obedience, was His love, which is His very nature (1John 4:8). God’s plan was not to send Christ to live an exemplary life, that we now must try and imitate, through obedience. He never had a plan to save the world through our obedience. His plan was to save the world through His love.
To God, obedience was never something that we bring to Him, as if we have made it ourselves! The only obedience that pleases God, is that which His love has birthed in our lives, obedience that is of the Spirit, that is the gift of God (Eph.2:8,9). Godly obedience is not about will power, but about a will empowered by the Spirit of God. Jesus told Nicodemus that flesh always gives birth to flesh (John.3:6). Obedience that is birthed out of a life filled with the fear of rejection, will never lead to the character of Christ, for love was the root of His obedience, not fear. Threatening people never produces godly obedience, but a self-centred and self-serving obedience (1John 4:18). Such obedience can look impressive, but even if it results in me giving away all I own and sacrificing my own life, if it was not birthed by the love of God then it “profits me nothing” (1Cor 13:3) The obedience of the religious in Jesus’ day, led only to pride and division. It was that sort of obedience to God, that persecuted and then crucified Christ. Such obedience has a zeal for God but does not know Him, because it is self-centred (Rom.10:3).
For every believer, our union with Christ in God means there is no longer ‘your’ obedience, in the sense that you have been left alone to produce obedience by yourself. The Father expects you to produce nothing by yourself, not even repentance! (1Cor.12:3, John 15:5). You do not have that sort of life anymore, an ‘alone by yourself’ life; a life that boasts that “I have been obedient”. Instead, every Christian should be able to say what the apostle Paul said, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me and the life I live now, I live by the faith of the Son of God.” (Gal 2:20) The obedience of the believer arises from their union with God in Christ, not from their separation from Him.
God’s plan was always to make men righteous not through their obedience, but through His. The apostle Paul boldly declared to the Romans that ‘men are made righteous by the obedience of the one man’. (Rom.5:19) Here is the news that sets you free from a life of self-effort (religion). That one man is not you! It is Jesus Christ. Yes, we are made righteous by obedience; His!
Our lives are an open book, as to whose obedience we are now relying on and operating in. Let your faith be rooted in His obedience, His life, and what will manifest in your life is the righteousness of God (John 15:4). But if you let religion, the spirit of the world, the spirit that says “You can do it for Him” subtly move your faith off His obedience and onto yours, then more and more what this world will see in your life is not God’s righteousness, but self-righteousness and all the division and finger-pointing that goes with it. If the gospel we have been sitting under has produced in us a self-righteousness, that loves to measure and define people according to their level of obedience to God’s commands, then somewhere along the road, we have been robbed of the power of the gospel (Gal.5:4). The power of the gospel is that it reveals the righteousness of God to be the gift of God (Rom.1:16,17) and that very revelation; that Christ has become for us our righteousness, our holiness, our redemption (1Cor.1:30), sets us free from the power of sin and death, for that came through the lie; that we could be like God, by ourselves. God never had a plan to save the world through our obedience. His plan was to save the world through His love. The obedience of God in our lives, is the work of His Spirit, His nature, His love in our heart, from which obedience is birthed (Gal.5:16). Obedience is only pleasing to God, if His love is the root, the source of that obedience. Let me put that another way. Obedience is only pleasing to God, if He is the Father of that obedience (Rom.8:14).
Imagine a young pastor in Africa who marries his sweetheart and he and his wife are very happy, but as the years go by, it becomes apparent that they cannot have children. They take medical advice and they pray and get their friends to pray, but months turn into years and she never conceives. Their constant prayer is “Lord we don’t want to remain barren. We just want to bear fruit.” The pastor’s wife becomes increasingly focused on her barrenness. One Spring he leaves to travel into the bush to lead an evangelistic campaign that will keep him away from home for 8 weeks. There is no phone coverage where he is going. When he finally returns home, his wife runs to greet him with the happy news that she is expecting. She proudly shares with him how she has been to the doctor that week and a scan has shown that she is six weeks pregnant. The pastor says, “But how can you be six weeks pregnant if I have been away for 8 weeks?” His wife replies, “But what does that matter, compared to the fact that I have a child? The goal was that I bear a child, right?”. “Wrong”, her husband replies. “The goal was that we bear our child!”
Any ministry that puts obedience before love, will be content with an obedience fathered by fear, guilt, or shame. But these fathers will never produce the obedience that the love of God conceives in us. They are the dead-beat dads of the spiritual world, for they leave us as orphans having to provide salvation for ourselves and our hearts full of anger and frustration. Jesus promised never to leave us as orphans, striving to make a name for ourselves and His medicine for that spirit of religion (self-effort) is His Holy Spirit poured into our hearts, by which we cry “Abba, Father” (Rom.8:15). He never asked Mary to produce a child, but to bear the child of His Spirit. He is not asking us to produce obedience, but to bear His, the obedience fathered by love.