Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Obedient Disobedience, Part 2

So I spent Friday's post outlining how much of what we might think of as obedience in our Christian lives, from a Biblical perspective, may not be obedience at all. We can, in response to the commands of Christ, read our Bibles, go to church, and spend time in prayer, and we can think we've obeyed Him. "He said to do those things, and I did them. I'm OK!" But if you read your Bible, went to church, and spent time in prayer simply because that was the right thing to do, but you were really burdened by doing all those things, then you actually have fallen short of Biblical obedience.

The Application

Having said all that, let me add the following.

Though truly God-honoring obedience comes out of delighting in Him, I also do know that there are times when we don't always feel like He's delightful. That's obviously because we've still got the presence of sin in our flesh. Our 'fleshiness' (that is, the presence of indwelling sin that the believer struggles against) sometimes -- even oftentimes -- gets the upper hand and renders us as if we were blind. It clouds our vision. We wind up delighting in things that aren't delightful (i.e., sin) and being bored by things that are absolutely thrilling (i.e., Christ). Or, as Paul puts it, we do what we do not want to do, and the very thing we do is that which we hate (Rom 7:14-25).

The question is, then, at those times when our flesh does get the upper hand and we don't feel like reading our Bibles, or praying, or going to church, should we just not do those things because it would be "obedient disobedience"? Given all I've said, do I say that unless we feel all warm and fuzzy about it, we should never obey God?

I answer with an emphatic, "No! We should indeed act in obedience to God and do those things!"

If faced with the opportunity to obey God, and you survey your soul and see your sin and it says to you that you're not delighting in Him, and that your obedience would be burdensome, I say, "Do it anyway." I say that for at least two reasons.
  1. The principle of grace in sanctification -- and obeying Christ out of delight and not duty -- never translates somehow into license for not obeying Him. That is, disobeying the command to rejoice in the Lord always is never an excuse for disobeying another command that He gives. Do not yield to the slavery of your flesh; if you do, your affections will never catch up with your actions.
  2. The second reason you should obey Him even when you don't feel like it is because what will happen -- invariably -- is that God will be gracious, and just by the beauty of Himself will win your affections... sometimes even in the process of doing what you didn't feel like doing.

So, I wake up in the morning and am tired. And because of the presence of sin -- my remaining fleshliness -- I don't feel like spending time with my Savior by reading His Word and worshiping Him in prayer. First of all, that's insane. I'm demonstrating that my sinfulness has clouded my vision such that I see the most awesome Person in the universe as boring. But, nonetheless, I don't feel like reading and praying. But, God is gracious to me, and He reminds me of His commands, and that I should obey Him. So, I walk downstairs, wishing I was in bed, or on the computer, and I read my Bible and I pray.

I'm saying, at that point, I must recognize that I've disobeyed Him. I have not kept His commandments as if they were not burdensome (1Jn 5:3), but as if they were very burdensome. He is not honored by such "obedience." I may have "obeyed" on the outside. I opened my Bible. I read it. I prayed. But I did not obey from the heart. My obedience was owing less to the glory and delightfulness of God in Christ, and more to my own guilty conscience and will power.

But, at the same time, it would have been wrong for me to go back to bed, or go open my computer, or turn on the TV, and say to myself, "I don't want to dishonor God by not obeying Him from the heart, so I'm not going to do what He says at all." No! Do indeed act as free men, as the Apostle Peter Says, but "do not use your freedom as a covering for evil" (1Pet 2:16). Rather, "use it as bondslaves of God." Don't add disobedience to disobedience! If you do, your disobedience will harden your heart and you'll never obey out of delight. And besides, even when I come to the Bible as if it isn't delightful, God is invariably gracious to me, and by the end of my Bible reading time, I've seen Him, and I'm thankful that I read His Word. He wins me over, and produces in me those very affections that I couldn't work up on my own.

What To Do

So, the take-away is: confess your obedient disobedience as sin. Confess to Christ that you haven't found Him as delightful, and as glorious, and as pleasant, and as satisfying as He actually is. Confess that that is your problem, and ask Him to overcome your fleshliness. Ask for grace to obey from the heart... that you would be so filled with all that God is for you in Christ, that satisfaction from that fullness would overflow into joyful obedience and delightful service. Tozer puts it this way:
O Lord, I have heard a good word inviting me to look away to Thee and be satisfied. My heart longs to respond, but sin has clouded my vision till I see Thee but dimly. Be pleased to cleanse me in Thine own precious blood, and make me inwardly pure, so that I may with unveiled eyes gaze upon Thee all the days of my earthly pilgrimage. Then shall I be prepared to behold Thee in full splendor in the day when Thou shalt appear to be glorified in Thy saints and admired in all them that believe. Amen.
Then, our obedience wouldn't make much of our will power, but it would make much of the glory of God in the face of Christ, which, as we behold it, transforms us into Christlikeness.

May God give us the grace that it would be so.

But we all, with unveiled face,
as in a mirror
the glory of the Lord,
are being transformed
into the same image
from glory to glory,
just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
- 2 Corinthians 3:18 -

UPDATE: Part 1, Part 3, Part 4

1 comment:

Mark D. Twombly said...

Mike, thanks for this discerning word. It reminds me that spiritual growth is a battle that must be engaged with the anticipation of future joy and benefit. We train to obtain the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24-25). We seek wisdom - that is, Christ Himself - as for hidden treasure (Proverbs 2:1-6). And we do all of this by the power of His grace (1 Corinthians 15:10). How wonderful it is to pray for more fervent desire with the expectation that He will grant it!

Joy may not be there now, nor immediately, but by His grace, it will come.

Praise God for His immense grace and patience toward us!

Mark Twombly