“God sets moral standards for His glory and our good. Thus, obedience is an act of worship and brings about human flourishing.”
— Brett Kunkle, Stand to Reason
I have started this post about four or five times since I titled it. I typed “Obedience” in the space and stared at this screen, knowing I had the words inside but not being able to channel them into some semblance of coherence. And I came to a conclusion:
Obedience is hard.
It is quite likely that I will stumble through this post and still not manage to reach coherence. But because the words are stuck in the neck of this bottle, I have to remove the stopper and pour them out.
I believe in obedience. As a parent, I have to believe in obedience. Otherwise, I will raise children with no moral compass, no sense of right and wrong, of limits and authority. And sometimes, yes, I do give them the “because I said so” line. “I’m the mommy. I don’t care if you don’t like it. You will obey, or you will be disciplined.” And because my children are basically good kids who have had limits all of their lives, they usually make the correct choice. Usually.
So why is it so hard when I’m the child?
The Father looks down at me and says, “because I said so.” “I’m your Father. I don’t care if you don’t like my rules. You will obey them, or you will be disciplined.” And often, the discipline isn’t so much something that God does to me but rather a natural consequence of my disobedience. This is life. This is how things work when we’re grown-ups.
Or is it?
Our country is populated by entire generations of people who don’t believe in and refuse to accept consequences. Don’t want to follow God’s rules? That’s all right–redefine the rules. It’s okay to take the life of an innocent if the innocent is unwanted, inconvenient, or burdensome. It’s fine to sleep around, practice serial monogamy, engage in whatever sexual practices suit you for the day because we can just call God’s rules old, outdated, patriarchal, unenlightened. Don’t worry about cheating on your taxes, engaging in voter fraud, or lying to the government in order to stay in the country and receive government benefits–it’s all okay, because it’s a means to an end, and after all, don’t you deserve to be taken care of?
Lest you think, my church-going friends and allies, that I give you a free pass just because you might agree with me on the above issues, let me accuse you of some disobedience as well. You call yourselves Christians, and yet you helped elect the most pro-abortion president in our history. How can you say you respect the unborn–or indeed, any human life–when you justify that behavior? And if you think I believe that all of the purity rings I see mean that our teens aren’t sexually active, you need to wake up–there are a lot of teens who wear those rings to satisfy their parents, and there are a lot of parents who think those rings mean they can breathe easy and stop being parents. Oh, and we aren’t immune as adults, either; sexual immorality is rampant in the corporate church, and in the name of love and unity, we overlook things that elders and pastors of another era would have confronted head on.
If legalism is law without love, then licentiousness, perhaps, is love without law. And we are indeed a licentious church, preaching love and acceptance and kindness and warmth and tingly, feel-good charity, all the while forgetting the law.
I do not preach legalism. I have no faith that the law itself can save me. And I know legalistic “Christians,” and they are . . . challenging, at best, and offensive at worst. Following the letter of the law, having faith that strict adherence to the law can save me, practicing a lily-white perfect outward appearance gives us a Pharisee–a white-washed tomb full of pride and arrogance and rot. And I have been a Pharisee, and worse, and it’s not fulfilling. Legalism is sin, I have no doubt.
But likewise, licentious behavior cannot lead to salvation, either. We preach love. We want people to feel good. But when we forget law, we cheapen the gospel. Why would anyone wish to be saved if we cannot make a case that there is a reason they need salvation? If there is no law to be saved from, if the law is flexible and morally relative, what’s the point of the gospel at all?
We cheapen and disgrace the name of Christ when we conveniently forget the law.
People say that we cannot “legislate morality.” While I agree that we cannot force people to believe that anything is right or wrong, we have to recognize that all law is some legislation of some morality. We have laws against theft, rape, murder, fraud, etc. because when we use a moral code to determine what behaviors are proper, all of society benefits. What better laws, what better moral code, than the one we already have–the Bible?
Obedience is law and love together. Obedience is love with limits. And sometimes, when we start with obedience, love follows. It’s true that we risk legalism, but I would rather risk legalism than licentiousness. While an individual may not benefit from legalism, society does. There is no societal benefit from licentiousness.
I admit that I have erred on both sides. I have been licentious and legalistic. My heart is a scale that too often becomes unbalanced. But I am beginning to understand, if not fully experience, that the perfect fulcrum is obedience–law with love, love with limits. By practicing obedience even when I don’t feel like it, I grow in love for Christ. By loving Christ more, I long to be more in obedience to Him. I cannot have one without the other and still be in balance.
Till next we meet . . .