As we discussed in previous posts in our series on “A Call to Obedience,” obedience is submitting to God, not simply following his commands. Driving the speed limit when you find yourself next to a police cruiser isn’t obedience. It’s compliance. Similarly, following God’s commands because you fear the very real consequences is mere compliance, and that grudging compliance will not sustain you when you are deceived by the illusion that God is not present. What will sustain you is a healthy relationship in which you are enraptured by your Heavenly Father, and obedience flows out of your love for Him. As Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)
Joyful obedience, the kind that is evidence of salvation, is not a transaction or contract in which God gives us salvation and we pay him with obedience. It is a covenant, written in our hearts, in which God pronounces his perfect love for us, love so strong as to forgive our sins against us, and we, receiving that gift, are so enraptured by that love and forgiveness that we submit to his will. Is it no wonder that God chooses both to illustrate his Kingdom as a marriage (c.f. John 3:29-30) and to command us to live our marriages as a reflection of his Kingdom (Ephesians 5:21-33)?
“Easy-believism” or “cheap grace” attempts to mold God’s will to ours, and that disease is evidenced by a lack of fruit or a crop of bad fruit. Legalism attempts to force God’s hand – to reduce the marriage covenant of Christ with his bride to a civil union with a prenuptial contract.
On the other hand, true saving faith molds our will to God’s, yielding the good fruit of obedience. This fruit marks us as a new creation even as it takes us out of step with the world.
The moment we make up our minds that we are going on with this determination to exalt God over all, we step out of the world’s parade. We shall find ourselves out of adjustment to the ways of the world, and increasingly so as we make progress in the holy way. We shall acquire a new viewpoint; a new and different psychology will be formed within us; a new power will begin to surprise us by its upsurgings and its outgoings… (A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God)
The world works through contracts, contracts which are transactional, quid pro quo. Each party of the contract is bound to the requirements of that transaction, whether money, service, or product. If one party fails to uphold those conditions, the contract collapses, triggering civil or criminal consequences, voiding the other party’s responsibilities, or both.
Again, a contract is binding. Participants in a contract seek to gain incentives and avoid penalties. They are legally bound, and are obligated to uphold the agreement.
Where a contract is binding, a covenant is liberating. Rather than focusing on those incentives and penalties the other party can provide or impose, a person in a covenant focuses upon the other person in the covenant. The covenanter seeks not personal gain (or to avoid personal loss), but to uphold his or her promises to the person with whom the covenant was made.
The world relies on contracts rather than covenants because contracts require only incentives and penalties to be effective. Conversely, God works through covenants. Covenants require truth, integrity, trust, and mercy, virtues lacking in the world but eternally present in God.
One of the deepest problems with marriages in our Churches is that we treat them as worldly contracts instead of God-honoring covenants.
Unlike the world, God offers us a covenant. Rather than focusing on our deeds, he focuses on our persons. He offers us everything – his Spirit (Luke 11:13), his love (John 14:21), and his salvation (John 3:16) – and asks only that we accept it. And because he first loved us, we respond with covenantal love, a love that is evidenced by obedience to his commands. God by his holy nature will not fail to uphold his covenant, but we due to our flesh certainly will often fail to uphold our covenant. But because his covenant with us is irrevocable, God will continue to be faithful, patiently waiting for us to repent from our sins, confess them for what they are, and turn back to joyful obedience to him.
So, how do we do this? How do we put obedience into practice? Please come back for the next post where we discuss “Answering the Call to Obedience.”