Saturday, March 2, 2013

Abiding in Christ - Obedience

Ultimately, there can be no lesson about how to abide in Christ without also discussing the importance of obedience. It’s the foundational requirement of discipleship, but if I'm totally honest with myself, it's the hardest thing to do. Obedience is more than following the directions we agree with or that make sense, it's also stepping out on the water when He tell us to join Him. It's scary and unsettling; we tend to plead with Him: "Just give me the pattern you want me to follow, and I'll figure out a way that I can do it for You, Lord!" But that's not the way He's made for us. He wants us to stay close to Him, following Him step by step, often without knowing where that second or third step will lead us. 

We can't fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) unless we are first following the Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:36-38) to be in a love relationship with God, remaining in Him... regularly... daily... ever more often... walking with Him. In religious zeal, we can tell Him: "I'd follow that uncertain path, but these are the plans I've laid out to serve You, Lord." But if we truly desire to transform the world so it reflects the Kingdom of God, it remains our primary mission to remain in His Presence, letting the uncommon way that He leads us change the world around us. It's not what we do but what He does through us. 

If God is Who I know Him to be (eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, and fully-good) and if He has created me to be the object of His affection, overlooking all my many faults, what kind of fool would I be to turn away from this great offer? So if "grace" is being offered what I don't deserve, whole-hearted gratitude is the only right response. And if the gift of grace is a life and and a love that I could never earn, everything I have is a small price to exchange for that gift. Dietrich Bonheoffer pointed out that the only right response to God’s grace is obedient discipleship.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “Ye were bought at a price”, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
An obedient disciple is not legalistic, following a rigorous set of laws while simultaneously pronouncing the same unachievable burden upon others. It’s true, we cannot legitimately claim to be followers of Christ without obeying God, but this is not the same as obedience to an earthly pastor or to a set of rules. Rather, following a pattern for righteous living is an idol that keeps us from Jesus, a way of justifying ourselves and thereby excusing us from the one opportunity we have to truly abide with Jesus. 

Like the rich man that missed out on his chance to be made perfect (see Matthew 19:16-22), we are all in danger of losing Christ in preference to a set of rules. The biblical definition of sin is to “miss the mark”; it is being less than perfect. Now if I take the example of the rich man from Matthew 19 and expand it, I understand that simply following a set of rules in preference to following Christ is a way to miss the goal. It’s a religious focus on form over substance or on structure over content; it is incorrectly concentrating on the cup rather than the life-giving water. Obedience to Christ is the only correct response to the grace that has been given to us and is a more powerful witness than any legalistic set of rules. In the presence of our Master, we genuinely reflect God’s love and compassion for people who have wounded us.

So a follower of Christ quite simply obeys the Master. A disciple’s obedience to the Master is demonstrated by prayer before making plans. Disciples are also open to divine redirection that can lead down paths they would not choose for themselves. The disciple follows the Master, even to death, figuratively or literally giving up one's life. But like Christ, our death to self carries an eternal reward. In dying to ourselves, we embrace an eternal life with Christ. As Jim Elliot, a missionary martyred in service to Christ, pointed out: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” 

Obedience fuels the fire of faith in our hearts and draws us closer to the God Who loves us. So while sin hides God’s Face from us, obedience to God opens us up to a greater experience of His Presence. If we truly want more of God in our lives, we need to lean into complete obedience. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Bonheoffer correctly pointed out: we don’t just obey because we believe, we believe because we obey. There's something in every act of obedience that makes our faith grow and that makes the reality of God more apparent. 

copyright ©2013 Mitchell Malloy (