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When studying the Bible or any Christian truth, it is always helpful to note how and when your topic occurs throughout Scripture. As you learn its place in God's pattern of Scripture, you will understand its significance in God's entire message. To prepare you to study obedience, let's look at various passages which reveal the mind of God concerning it.
"And the Lord God commanded the man" (Genesis 2:16). And later, "Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?" (Genesis 3:11).
Obedience to God's command, which was the virtue of Paradise, included every good behavior God desires in His Kingdom. It is the one condition of man's living there, the one thing his Creator asks of him.
Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Immediately they understood the difference between good and evil. They knew their sin would anger God so they hid themselves. Yet, God knew they had disobeyed Him. He could not tolerate disobedience in Paradise, "so he drove out the man ... the Lord God sent him forth from the garden" (Genesis 3:24,23). God said nothing directly about faith, humility, or love because obedience includes all of these things. God's demand for obedience is as supreme as His authority. Obedience is the one thing necessary in man's life.
Restoring Our Obedience
God carries the theme of obedience throughout His Word. In Revelation 22:14, He says, "Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have a right to the tree of life."
From beginning to end, from paradise lost to paradise regained, God's Law is unchangeable. Only obedience gives man access to the Tree of Life and God's favor.
You may ask how man gained access to the Tree of Life when his original disobedience closed the way. Romans 5:19 describes the work done through the cross of Christ. "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." (See also Philippians 2:8-9 and Hebrews 5:8-9.) The whole redemption of Christ consists of restoring obedience to its place. The beauty of His salvation is that He brings us back to the life of obedience, through which the creature can give the Creator the glory due Him. It is in this way that the creature can also receive the glory his Creator desires to give him.
Paradise, Calvary, heaven, all proclaim with one voice: "Child of God, the first and the last thing your God asks of you is simple, universal, unchanging obedience."
Old Testament Obedience
In the Old Testament, obedience always came into special prominence with any new beginning in the history of God's Kingdom. Noah, the new father of the human race, acted "according to all that God commanded him, so did he" (Genesis 6:22; 7:5,9,16). The Bible mentions Noah's obedience four times. God entrusts His work to the man who does what He commands. God will use the obedient man to save His people.
"By faith Abraham ... obeyed" (Hebrews 11:8). God chose Abraham to be the father of the chosen race because He knew Abraham had an obedient heart. After Abraham had spent forty years learning faith and obedience, God came to perfect Abraham's faith and crown it with His fullest blessing. Nothing could prepare him for this but a supreme act of obedience. When Abraham had tied his son on the altar, God said, "By myself have I sworn ... in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed. . in thy seed shall all the nations ... be blessed: because thou hast obeyed my voice" (Genesis 22:16-18). This blessing continued for Isaac. "I will perform the oath which I swear unto Abraham ... because that Abraham obeyed my voice" (Genesis 26:3-5). When will we learn how unspeakably pleasing obedience is in God's sight? When will we understand how great the reward is that He bestows because of obedience! To be a blessing to the world, be obedient. Let God and the world know you by this one characteristic-a will completely given up to God's will.
On Mount Sinai, God gave Moses this message. "If ye will obey my voice indeed ... ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people" (Exodus 19:5).
In the very nature of things, it cannot be otherwise. God's holy will is His glory and perfection. Only by entering His will through obedience is it possible to be His people. The Bible says nineteen times that Moses, while building the sanctuary where God was to dwell, acted "According to all the Lord commanded." Because Moses obeyed God, "the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. The glory of the Lord appeared unto all the people. And there came a fire out from before the Lord, and consumed ... the burnt offering" (Exodus 40:33,34; Leviticus 9:23-24).
God delights to dwell in the midst of His people's obedience. It is the obedient He crowns with His favor and presence.
After the forty years wandering in the wilderness and its terrible revelation of the fruit of disobedience, the Hebrews were ready for a new beginning. They were about to enter Canaan. In describing the Hebrew nation at this time, the book of Deuteronomy uses the word obey more frequently and speaks of the blessing obedience brings more than any other book. The whole idea is summed up in the words, "I set before you ... a blessing, if ye obey ... and a curse, if ye will not obey" (Deuteronomy 11:26-28).
Yes, "a blessing, if ye obey!" That is the keynote of the Christian life. Our Canaan, just like Paradise and heaven, is the place of blessing as well as the place of obedience. It would be wonderful if we could take it in! But beware of praying only for a blessing. Let us be concerned with obedience; God will take care of the blessing. Let my one thought as a Christian be how I can obey and please my God perfectly.
Obedience And The Kings Of Israel
Obedience was crucial again in the appointment of kings in Israel. In the story of Saul, we have the solemn warning about the need of exact and entire obedience in a man whom God is to trust as ruler of His people. Samuel commanded Saul, "seven days shalt thou tarry, till I come to thee and shew thee what thou shalt do" (I Samuel 10:8). When Samuel delayed, Saul took it upon himself to offer the sacrifice.
When Samuel finally came, he said: "Thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God which he commanded thee ... thy kingdom shall not continue ... because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee" (I Samuel 13:13-14).
God will not honor the man who is not obedient.
Saul had a second opportunity to show God what was in his heart. God sent him to execute judgment against Amalek. Saul obeyed. He gathered an army of 200,000 men, started the journey into the wilderness, and destroyed Amalek. But while God commanded him to "utterly destroy all. . and spare them not" (I Samuel 15:3), Saul spared the best of the cattle and Agag.
God spoke to Samuel, "It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he ... hath not performed my commandments" (1 Samuel 15:11).
When Samuel came, Saul said to him twice, "I have performed the commandment of the Lord; I have obeyed the voice of the Lord" (I Samuel 15:13,20).
He had obeyed, as many would think. But his obedience had not been entire. God claims exact, full obedience. God had said, "Utterly destroy all! Spare ... not!" Saul had not done this. He had spared the best sheep for a sacrifice to the Lord. And Samuel said, "To obey is better than (any) sacrifice ... Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee" (I Samuel 15:22-23). There is no substitute for obedience.
Saul's partial obedience is sadly typical of contemporary obedience which performs God's commandment in part, yet is not the obedience God desires! God says of all sin and disobedience: "Utterly destroy all! Spare ... not!" May God reveal to us whether we are indeed going all lengths with Him, seeking to destroy all sin, and sparing nothing within us that is not in perfect harmony with His will. It is only a wholehearted obedience, down to the smallest detail, that can satisfy God. Let nothing less satisfy you so that we will not say, "I have obeyed," while God says, "Thou hast rejected the word of the Lord" (I Samuel 15:26).
Benefits Of Obedience Jeremiah is also a book full of the word obey, though it usually complains that the people had not obeyed God. God sums up all His dealings with the fathers in this passage: "I spake not unto your fathers... concerning ... sacrifices: but this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God" (Jeremiah 7:22-23).
We need to learn that sacrifices, even the sacrifice of God's beloved Son, are subordinate to one thing-restoring His creature to full obedience. You cannot enter God's blessing when He says, "I will be your God," unless you "obey (His) voice."
In the New Testament, we immediately think of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ and the importance He placed on obedience as the one reason He came into the world. Jesus entered the world saying, "Lo, I come to do thy will, 0 God" (Hebrews 10:9). He always confessed to men, "I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me" (John 5:30). Of all He did and suffered, even to death, He said, "This commandment have I received of my Father" (John 10: 18). In Christ's teaching, we find everywhere that He claims the same obedience He rendered to the Father from everyone who desires to be His disciple.
During His whole ministry, from beginning to end, He said obedience was the very essence of salvation. In the sermon on the Mount, He began with that subject. No one could enter the Kingdom "but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). In His farewell discourse, He wonderfully revealed the spiritual character of true obedience. It is born of love, inspired by it, and opens the way into the love of God.
Take into your heart the wonderful words, "if ye love me, keep my commandments. And ... the Father ... shall give you another Comforter. He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he ... shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:15,16,21,23).
No words could express more simply or more powerfully the glorious place Christ gives obedience. It is only possible with a loving heart. Obedience opens the door to all God has to give of His Holy Spirit, His wonderful love, and His indwelling in Christ Jesus. No Scripture passage gives a higher revelation of the spiritual life or the power of loving obedience as John 14. Let us pray and earnestly ask God that, by His Holy Spirit, light may transfigure our daily obedience with its heavenly glory.
Living Daily In His Commandments The next chapter of John's gospel, the parable of the vine, confirms this idea. How often and earnestly we have asked to be able to live continually like Christ! We think that by studying the Word, having more faith, offering more prayer, or attaining more communion with God will make us Christlike. Yet we have overlooked one simple truth. Jesus clearly teaches, "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love" (John 15:10).
For Him, as for us, the only way under heaven to live in divine love is to keep the commandments. Have you known obedience? Have you heard it preached? Have you believed it and proved it true in your experience that obedience on earth is the key to a place in God's love in heaven? Unless there is some correspondence between God's wholehearted love in heaven and our wholehearted, loving obedience on earth, Christ cannot manifest Himself to us. God cannot abide in us. We cannot live in His love.
In Acts, chapter two, Peter shows how our Lord's teaching entered into him. He said it was by, "the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him" (Acts 5:32). He showed that the preparation for Pentecost was surrender to Christ. Later he said, "We (must) obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). We are to be obedient, even unto death. Nothing on earth can dare to hinder obedience in the man who has given himself to God.
In Paul's epistle to the Romans, he asserted, in the opening and closing verses, that "the obedience of faith among all the nations" (1:5; 16:26) was the reason he had been made an apostle. He spoke of what God made happen "to make the Gentiles obedient" (Romans 15:18). He taught that as the obedience of Christ makes us righteous, we become the servants of obedience. As disobedience in Adam and in us was what brought death, so obedience in Christ and in us is the one thing that the gospel makes known as the way of restoration to God and
His favor. Listening To And Obeying The Word James warned us, "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only" (James 1:22). He then described how Abraham was justified and his faith perfected by his works. In Peter's first epistle, obedience has an important place in his system. In I Peter 1:2, he speaks to the "Elect ...through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." He shows us that obedience is the eternal purpose of the Father. It is the great object of the work of the Spirit and a chief part of the salvation of Christ. He writes, "As obedient children.... (born of it, marked by it, subject to it) be ye holy in all manner of conversation" (I Peter 1:14-15).
Obedience is the starting point of true holiness. In verse 22 we read, "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth." Complete acceptance of God's truth was not merely a matter of intellectual assent or strong emotion. It was subjecting one's life to the dominion of the truth of God. The Christian life was, first and foremost, characterized by obedience.
We know how strong John's statements are. "He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar" (I John 2:4). Obedience is the certificate of Christian character. "Let us ... love ... in deed and in truth ... hereby we ... shall assure our hearts before him ... And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight" (I John 3:18-19,22).
Is God Listening To You?
Obedience is the secret of a good conscience and the confidence that God hears us. "This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments" (I John 5:3). We reveal our love for God, to Him as well as the world, through our cheerful obedience.
Obedience holds this high place in Scripture, in the mind of God, and in the hearts of His servants. We should ask ourselves if it takes that place in our hearts and lives. Have we given obedience that supreme place of authority over us that God means it to have? Is it the inspiration of every action and every approach to Him?
If we yield ourselves to the searching of God's Spirit, we may find that we never gave obedience its proper proportion in our scheme of life and that this lack is the cause of all our failure in prayer and in work. We may see that the deeper blessings of God's grace, and the full enjoyment. God's love and nearness, have been beyond our reach simply because we never made obedience what God meant it to be. It is the starting point and the goal of our Christian life.
Let this, our first study, awaken in us an earnest desire to fully know God's will concerning this truth. Let us unite in prayer that the Holy Spirit will show us how defective the Christian's life is when obedience does not rule everything. Let Him show us how that life can be exchanged for one of full surrender and absolute obedience. We can then be sure that God in Christ will enable us to live this life successfully.