Obedience is an important ingredient in the culture at Providence Classical Christian School. Teachers stress it, as do I. One of our school’s slogans is, “Obey right away, all the way, every day, in a cheerful way.” The Bible speaks to children and commands them to obey parents and all authorities over them. Though “obey” may be regarded as a four-letter word by some, for our students joyful obedience is a virtue, a beautiful adornment for a well-ordered life.
As the hymn says, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
But there is a danger in stressing obedience. We must be careful never to give children the dangerous illusion that if they have obeyed their parents and teachers, then they are acceptable to God. That would be a terrible cause of stumbling and a sure way to ensure a millstone will be hung around our necks. Instead, we must be consistent in communicating to children – both with words and with example, in discipline and in instruction – that they cannot obey their way to acceptance with God. Instead, they (like us) need Jesus Christ to be their Savior, who gives us a new heart and transforms us so that we love doing what is pleasing to Him, obeying human authority included. This is to say that we require children to obey, but we always want to lead them to ask, Why obey? And then we want to lead them to answer biblically.
This is precisely the question author Paul David Tripp asks and answers. It is the best of news (for us and for our children) that we are set free from trying to win God’s favor by obeying Him well enough. It is also good news that our obedience is established by His grace toward us.
There’s simply nothing you can do to gain God’s favor.
You have to accept this and remember it: you will never be righteous enough for long enough to satisfy God’s holy requirements.
Your thoughts will never be pure enough. Your desires will never be holy enough. Your words will never be clean enough. Your choices and actions will never be honoring enough. The bar is simply set too high for us to ever reach.
We all live under the same weight of the law, crippled by the inability of sin. We’re better at rebelling than submitting, more inclined to arrogance than humility, more skilled at making war with our neighbors than loving them. We leave a trail of evidence every hour that we’ve fallen short of the glory of God one more time.
So what’s the point of obedience in the Christian life? Well, this hard-to-swallow pill of bad news is actually the doorway to eternal hope and joy, not depressive self-loathing. How? It’s only when you accept who you are and what you’re unable to do that you begin to understand and celebrate the necessity of God’s gift of grace.
Let’s put the bad news and the good news together. The Apostle Paul writes, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” but that’s only half of the story. He continues, “and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:23-25, ESV)
A propitiation is an atoning sacrifice. The sacrifice of Jesus appeased the wrath of God and created a reconciliation between God and all who place their faith in him. In more simple words: you don’t need to obey to gain God’s favor.
Don’t misunderstand me: grace doesn’t make obedience optional. Obedience is the life-long calling for followers of Christ. But, your obedience is never a fearful payment. It’s a hymn of gratitude to the God who met you where you were and did for you what you could not have done for yourself.
Your obedience doesn’t purchase God’s love for you; Christ’s blood is the only purchase that could do that. Rather, your obedience is a thankful expression that you understand the significance of God’s love being placed on you.
So today, humbly admit that you’re more messed up than you think you are. And commit once more to a lifestyle of obedience, not because Jesus needs you to, but because you understand how much you need Jesus.