I always knew obedience was important, but somewhere along the way, I had gotten confused about its nature. Did obedience gain salvation for me? Did it lead to my salvation? Or, did obedience flow from my salvation? Both ways of thinking about it seem to recognize a strong connection between salvation and obedience, but the latter better captures the essence of what a life of discipleship, of obedience to the Lord, is all about.
A few years back, a TV commercial depicted a young man wrestling with a huge dilemma.
Culturally, for generations, his family had practiced arranged marriages. That was the way marriages worked in his home country. That was his heritage. He had, however, lived in America for several years, and over that time, had come to question this ancient practice. Shouldn't he have, after all, the freedom to choose for himself who he was to marry? In the TV commercial, his questions have become very personal. He is at a moment of crisis. Why? Because his parents had picked out his future wife and this unknown woman was to arrive at an airport in the USA where the two would meet for the very first time.
There he stood, waiting obediently and compliantly in the airport terminal, flowers in hand and a rather despondent look on his face. She would arrive any minute. He dreaded that encounter.
Then she stepped into the terminal. In an instant, his countenance changed dramatically. As she walked into his line of sight - She was gorgeous! She was a knock-out! She was the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on. In that moment, dread was transformed into delight. The thought of marrying this woman was no longer a burden to be endured, no longer an obligation to be met, it was a gift to be celebrated.
What had changed?
He had seen her.
Back to obedience. Like I said, personally I had a view of obedience that was just off somehow. I had grown to see my service to God as pure obligation. A burden to carry. When I was a young adult, going to church on Sunday morning was a duty to be performed. Volunteering to serve . . . well, that was something I did grudgingly. It was something I did because I knew Christians were supposed to do. Obedience to the Lord was a burden to be endured.
What changed for me? I saw the Lord! The Gospel became real for me personally - Jesus, God's son, loved me so much that he died for me. Once I got a clear vision of who the Lord really is, I found myself so deeply in love, that I became moved by that love into his mission - obedience flowed.
Drew Dyck, author of Yawning at Tigers, talks about the TV commercial about the young man at the airport in his book. He says, “Once we gaze upon his grandeur and glory, obedience ceases to be arduous. Once we grasp his great love, serving is no longer a duty—it's a joy!”
Jesus calls us to this intimate connection - the one between obedience and love. "If you love me, you will keep my commandments (John 14.15 NRSV)."
When that connection does not exist, when obedience is not moved by love, you can tell. Obedience suddenly gets interested in doing less. Obedience detached from love thinks in terms of minimums. Obedience gets interested in asking "What is the least I can do?"
This kind of obedience asks questions like – Is this necessary for salvation? Is this essential? Do I absolutely have to go to church? Can't I be saved without that? And, do I really need to tithe? Again, obedience disconnected from love begins asking, "What are the minimums? What is the least I can do and still keep my salvation in tact?"
Look, once you behold the jaw-dropping beauty of Christ, once you are shaken to your core under the weight of the his love poured out for you at Calvary, and once you get some idea of the marvelous things he has planned for you going forward, then you stop asking, “Do I really have to?” Love makes you want to do more, not less. I’m sure the young groom-to-be when he finally saw his gorgeous fiancé wasn’t thinking - "Boy, I sure wish I had spent less on these flowers!" Right?
As Christ followers , obedience overflows out of our the depths of our love for him and gratitude for what he has done on our behalf.