Friday, January 29, 2010

Obedient Disobedience, Part 1

To provide a little context for the following, it comes from something I wrote a while ago in regards to a conversation I had about obedience and the Christian life. I've slightly adapted it where appropriate.

We must be sanctified by grace, and not a legalistic system, whether it be the Law of Moses or any other law. God doesn't present us with a list of things to do and not to do as the means (or motivation) for our sanctification. He presents to us Christ Himself, and by beholding Him, we are transformed (2Cor 3:18).

And so what's necessary for the orthodox, conservative Christian to recognize about the way he lives is Christian life is that it's not obedience at all if we grit our teeth and clench our fists and struggle and say, "Allllll riiiiight. Off to church, I guess," or, "I really don't feel like doing this, but I know you tell me to read Your Word, so here I go." That's not the second half of 1 John 5:3, which teaches us that the love of God is not only that we keep His commandments, but that we keep His commandments while finding them 'not-burdensome.' No, that would be demonstrating in action that His commandments are indeed burdensome.

The point that I think needs to be made over and over again within churches and other Christian circles, is that God gives us the grace in Christ to obey Him with joy. Many of you will be familiar with John Piper's effective little sound-byte on this issue, and I think he's spot-on. He often says, "Christ doesn't save us to make much of us; He saves us to enjoy making much of Him forever." And so the person who goes to church, or reads his Bible, or prays, or seeks to serve his neighbor against his will, but does it because "it's just the right thing to do," dishonors God.

Because it's as if that person is saying, "I know You tell me, God, that going to church and reading Your Word and praying are all good for me. And I know You reveal Yourself to Your people through those means as they obey in loving submission, but I honestly just don't think You're satisfying enough, pleasing enough, beautiful enough, to have me enjoy obeying You. Sure, I can muscle it down, but it's not enjoyable."

That's not obedience that glorifies God. That's moralism, and anyone can do that. Anyone -- born again by the Spirit of God or still dead in their trespasses and sins -- can do things they don't want to do if they're really pricked in their conscience that they should do them. But that's not grace. That's law. And so that dishonors not only the finished work of Christ on the cross, but also the beauty and pleasantness of Christ Himself.


"But," a reasonable detractor interjects, "isn't that a really complicated way to describe something that the Bible often describes so simply? Why can't we just read John 14:15 and 1 John 5:3 and be done with it? Why the extended explanation?"

Those are extremely good questions.

The answer for why we can't just leave it there is because we've gotten really good at being Pharisees. We've gotten really good at doing things "just because."

In John 14:15 and in 1 John 5:3 the doctrine of sanctification by grace -- and the doctrine of enjoying God in Christ as the basis of the Christian life -- is there. We've just largely ignored it. Someone quotes those verses, and everyone nods their heads in agreement. But then they deny that confession by their actions. Evidently, we understand different things when we read those verses.

Think of the Westminster Catechism. All true children of God affirm that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. And we affirm that because we believe Scripture teaches that clearly. We also believe, for the same reason, that God does everything to glorify Himself to the utmost. Now, if that's true, it means that it is God's desire for His children (those to whom He reveals Himself) to enjoy Him. And so He's not honored by someone obeying Him just because they know it's the right thing to do as much as He's honored by someone who knows Him, and has tasted the satisfaction and the fullness that is in Christ, and given that -- that I know my God -- he loves to obey. It's at that point that we exclaim: Of course His commandments are not burdensome! And it's a delight to keep those commandments, because when I do, I get more of Him!

That's the love that Jesus is talking about in John 14:15. He is not saying that love for God is commandment-keeping. That's just not what the text says. Love for Christ -- that's one thing -- produces joyful obedience to what He commands -- that's another thing. Neither is He saying, "Your task is to prove your allegiance to Me by keeping My commandments." He is simply declaring that those who truly love God, who delight in Him, who know Him and enjoy Him, will, out of that love, keep His commandments.

"I don't know," responds our reasonable detractor. "Why can't we just say, 'If you're a Christian, a follower (= disciple = student) of Christ, do what your Lord tells you to do'?"

I say: We absolutely can say that!

But, unless the person you're talking to implicitly affirms and understands the principle of grace, that God makes it a delight for me to do what He tells me to do -- simply by making me able to see Him as He really is -- they will miss out on His glory, will not enjoy Him, and thus will fall short of Biblical obedience. And like I said earlier, I think many Christians don't implicitly affirm or understand that principle of grace in sanctification when they hear, "Do what God tells you to do." So in those instances in which that misunderstanding is even remotely possible, it's already complicated, and needs to be explained.

The Application

Now, all of this brings up another question. Someone asks, "So, based on all you've said here, does that mean that if I don't feel like reading my Bible or going to church, that even if I do read and if I do go I'm sinning?"

Yup. That's what it means.

"So does that mean I shouldn't read my Bible or go to church unless I do feel like it?"

Nope! It doesn't mean that at all!

I'll flesh that out a bit in the next post.

UPDATE: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

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