Obedience to the Will of God
Romans 1:5 “. . . the obedience that comes from faith.”
Imagine this scene. A church beautifully bedecked in flowers. Pews filled with people dressed in their best. Organ music playing quietly in the background. The air of excited anticipation almost tangible. The groom, immaculate; the day so long awaited has finally dawned and the precious moment of marriage is about to unfurl. Suddenly, a musical fanfare announces that the wait is over, and heralds the arrival of the bride. The people stand; the groom turns to view his precious bride in joyful expectation . . .
But imagine the shock, for groom and congregation, as they see the bride arrive – her hair matted and unkempt; her face and hands grubby and unwashed; her tee-shirt paint spattered and her jeans tattered. Shoeless she is sauntering down the aisle, hands in pockets and arriving at her groom greets him with a smile and declares: “Ooops, so sorry, clean forgot about this, so busy with the decorating. Didn’t get a moment to change. Still, I’m here now, eh!” – and then shrugs her shoulders.
That’s not really what we expect at a wedding is it? If anyone is going to be ready for a wedding, it tends to be the bride. She will very often have been living and re-living the anticipation of this day for months. It will have been the constant subject of every conversation with her mum, her friends and her bridegroom with increasing intensity as the day drew near. So when the day finally does arrive – she is more than ready.
And that is surely how it ought to be for the church at the coming of the bridegroom, Jesus Christ. We, the church, the bride of Christ, should be adorned and ready. Not busy with our own preoccupations; not full of excuses; and not unwashed, unready and far less than at our very best.
The Apostle Peter tells us how we should prepare for the end of the age, and, by implication for the marriage of the Lamb, he says: “You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and SPEED ITS COMING.” (2 Peter 3:11-12) Did you get that? We can speed the coming of the day of God; and this morning I’d like us to spend some time seeing how we can do just that.
But let’s begin with Jesus. How did Jesus live His earthly life and match up to the call the Father put on Him? Bear in mind too, that Jesus had the single most important call anybody ever had on their lives. The eternal future of all mankind hung on the completion of the task that he was called to fulfil. So how did He approach his call? Well, here’s an indication of his investment in accomplishing that call:
• In John 6:38 Jesus said: 38For I have come down from heaven not to do my WILL but to do the WILL of him who sent me.
• In John 4:34 we read,34“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the WILL of him who sent me and to finish his work.”
• And in John 5:30 he confirms: 30”. . . I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. “
So we need to understand that while Jesus had a will of his own, in order to accomplish the Father’s purpose for mankind through him, he had to submit his will - or, use his will, to do as the Father required. As it tells us in Hebrews 5:8–9 “8Although he was a son, he learned OBEDIENCE from what he suffered 9and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.“ So HOW did Jesus fulfil the call of God on His life? He did so by being obedient to the will of the Father.
Indeed, it’s interesting to consider that part of the perfection required of Christ as a sinless sacrifice for mankind, was not only that he should meet all the requirements of the Law and not sin, but also that He should be fully obedient to the will of the Father?
I always rejoice and thrill at the thought of God’s grace towards us; and the grace of God, has featured repeatedly in my Sunday messages here at Elim Hope Church. But, we have to be careful that in running from the error of thinking that our salvation depends on any element of WORKS on our part, we don’t then fall into the deception that salvation does NOT involve obedience. A deception now being called “hyper-grace” by some, and, a deception that seems to be flourishing in parts of the church worldwide just at the moment.
The blessings and the benefits of the New Covenant are received by grace through faith, yes. But our faith inevitably PROVOKES us into responding to God’s call on our lives with OBEDIENCE.
At the beginning of the letter to the Romans, Paul affirms the basis of his apostleship with these words: “. . . we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” (Romans 1:5) So he is telling us here, very plainly, that you CANNOT separate OBEDIENCE from FAITH because the one issues from the other.
It’s important then to be absolutely clear WHAT the Bible really teaches about obedience for the New Testament Christian. If we look at the Old Testament there is no doubt that obedience primarily refers to obedience to the Law. But in the New Testament obedience is fundamentally about obedience to the will of God – and this is the very obedience that Jesus demonstrated and displayed so perfectly throughout His time on earth.
Now paradoxically, I want to take Abraham as a key illustration of this truth. I say “paradoxically”, because of course Abraham is very much an Old Testament character. But, we can legitimately use him as an example of what I’m calling “New Testament obedience” because Galatians 3:8 tells us: “The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham:. . .” And we find what God “announced” to Abraham in Genesis 22:18, where He says: “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, BECAUSE you have obeyed me.”
Question: How many people did God promise Abraham would be blessed through his offspring? Answer: ALL NATIONS ON EARTH.
Question: WHY did God promise this to Abraham? Answer: BECAUSE HE OBEYED HIM
Now have a careful listen to Genesis 18:18-19: “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
Question: What did God require Abraham to do for his children and his household in order to receive what God had promised him? Answer: He required him to direct his household to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just. To me, that sounds a lot like telling them to be OBEDIENT TO GOD’S WILL!
But listen to Paul picking up on this very point. In Galatians 3:29, he says: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” And what are we as Abraham’s heirs required to do? What did God require him to direct his heirs to do? He required them “to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just”. So Paul is telling us that as Christians the righteousness we receive by our faith in Christ opens the door to the possibility of an acceptable obedience, obedience, not to the law but to the will of God. An obedience which in fact is NECESSARY to obtain God’s promises.
Now if you struggle with hearing that from me, let the Apostle James spell it out for you. In James 2:21–24 we read this: “Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he DID when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he DID. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he DOES and not by faith alone.”
So, what am I saying here? Well, whilst we do need to affirm that without faith - it is impossible to please God, and that without faith we cannot receive anything from God, it is equally vital that we understand that the response of faith is always obedience. For, without obedience there is no way we can ever walk in that close, warm, intimate fellowship with God to which He has called us. Obedience is and always has been since time began the way into the real blessing and fulfilment that God has in mind for mankind.
Remember the Garden of Eden. The one condition God placed on man’s tenancy in the Garden was obedience to His command that “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17). While he walked obediently he enjoyed the blissful and fulfilling experience of Paradise. No sickness, no misery, no trauma, no worry, no lack and continual and perfect communion with God. Why? Because man’s obedience to God’s command secured for himself both the promise and the provision of God for his life.
Now Paul tells us in Galatians 3:14 “He (Christ) redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, . . .” So essentially, if we will walk in the obedience of faith; if we will walk making God’s will our focus, as Abraham did, then we too will enjoy and benefit from the blessing which Christ’s redemption has secured for us. Paul sums this up for us in Romans 5:19 when he writes: For just as through the DISOBEDIENCE of the one man (that’s Adam) the many (that’s us) were made sinners, so also through the OBEDIENCE of the one man (that’s Jesus) the many (that’s us) will be made righteous.
We will have our trials, we will face opposition, ridicule, persecution, setbacks, even disasters, but if we maintain a walk of faith and obedience, we shall also enjoy God’s blessing. Indeed, we have been born, haven’t we, into the “faith family” of Abraham – which IS the family of the blessed!
So what does the Bible tell us about living in obedience to God’s will?
1. Well, first, a lifestyle of “the obedience of faith”, of obedience to the will of God, is the key to real spiritual NUTRITION. Just as we recognise how important it is to nourish or bodies with good and appropriate food and drink, so we all know that as Christians it’s vital that we nourish our spirit. We know that we receive that spiritual nourishment as we fellowship with one another, as we worship, as we read and study God’s Word and as we maintain a strong and vital prayer life. But do we recognise quite as clearly the place of OBEDIENCE to God’s will in providing spiritual nourishment? Jesus clearly did. Listen again to John 4:34 “My FOOD,” (my nourishment) said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” Doing God’s will then is to be the FOUNDATION of our spiritual diet and provides the basis for all of our spiritual growth and development.
If we are praying and worshipping; if we are reading and studying God’s Word; if we are fellowshipping with brothers and sisters in Christ; that’s a good thing, and, each plays a vital part in a healthy Christian life. But if at the same time we fail to walk obediently in God’s will, then we will fundamentally undermine our potential for fruitfulness and blessing in our Christian life.
But, by determining to walk in obedience to the will of God we put ourselves in a place of amazing potential for blessing and usefulness, because then we are in the very place where God can use us to fulfil his purposes – the purposes indeed for which you and I have been given this short time here on earth.
2. Secondly, obedience to the will of God is our DEMONSTRATION of the truth that we are members of God’s family. It is the evidence that we are amongst those that Paul speaks of in Galatians 4:4–5 when he said: “. . . God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” It is the evidence that we are indeed in God’s family – that we are adopted sons and daughters BECAUSE in Matthew 12:50 Jesus declares: “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Amazing as it sounds, in Christ, we share in that same intimate family relationship that Jesus has with the Father. In John 15:10 Jesus tells us: “If YOU keep my commands, YOU will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. And, in John 14:23 Jesus says: “Anyone who loves me will OBEY my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” There simply cannot be a more important reason for us to give ourselves to obeying God’s will than this – that this is the way to be in God’s family and the proof that we are!
3. Thirdly, obedience to the will of God opens the door to spiritual revelation and discernment in our lives. Listen to Jesus again, in John 7:17 where He says: “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” Now that’s a very special, and very clear cut promise that each of us who chooses to do God’s will, will be enabled and empowered to discern the truth of Christ’s teaching. If you like, putting it very simply, committing to walk in obedience to God’s will, will just light up God’s word in our lives. We will see the truth of Jesus’ words with fresh understanding and so enjoy with new anointing the power and revelation of the Word.
These are just some of the brilliant blessings and benefits that we can enjoy if we choose to walk in obedience to God’s will. But this is also really serious stuff for each of us for our future. This is something we each need to take to heart and respond to diligently because ultimately this is how our lives as Christians are to be judged.
Whilst we know that thanks to Jesus’ triumph at Calvary our sins are dealt with and that the sin problem is resolved; our “works”, our life for Christ, here on earth is still to be judged. We can’t opt out of that. So, we can’t afford to just resign ourselves to a life of failure and weakness, of spiritual mediocrity, and lost opportunity telling ourselves “we just don’t have what it takes”; or that we were only given one talent rather than five, because we are still, all of us, accountable to God. As Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:10 “. . . we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” and as Hebrews 2:3 challenges us: “how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?”
There’s a chilling passage in Jeremiah 7:23–24 that speaks to us on this point. It says this: “. . . I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you that it may go well with you. But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward.
So, if we are to avoid going backward rather than forward in our Christian lives we MUST take SERIOUSLY, and we must take PERSONALLY, the need to walk in obedience to God’s will. We need to take ourselves in hand, reject the lie that we can never change, and trust the Word of God because as it reminds us in Ephesians 6:8 “you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do. . . “
But let me finish with this. We need to appreciate that this is very much our choice. We can choose obedience or we can choose disobedience. And whilst in some areas of our lives we have to recognise that this can be very difficult indeed, we must persevere and not just capitulate and resign ourselves to failure.
Perhaps most of all we need get hold of a vital truth, the truth that when we choose to be obedient to God’s will we are actually empowered by God to do what is otherwise quite impossible. Let me repeat that: when we choose to be obedient to God’s will we are actually empowered by God to do what is otherwise quite impossible. This is precisely what Paul emphasises in Philippians 2:12–13. “. . . continue (notice that word “continue”) to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.
In other words, we mustn’t imagine that we can do this ourselves; but we MUST engage with the truth of God’s Word that God is actually working in us to bring about His purpose of a faith filled and obedient people. We must sow, we must water and we must grow this truth in our minds and in our hearts until it fires up our will and transforms our lives. For this is the call God has put on all of us who by His grace have been called to be heirs of His promise to Abraham. And, of course as Peter tells us, this is the way to “speed His coming”.