Building a Better Obedience. The Psalmist (119:56) delivers a huge challenge to us when he sings, “This is how I spend my life: obeying your commandments.” His statement sets an extremely high standard and typically we conclude that living such a life of obedience must be difficult. Won’t we need to exercise great will-power if we are to approach the psalmist’s high standard? And our practical experience tells us we often fail—we fail to manufacture enough will-power thus we fail to be obedient in so many important ways.
But wait a minute, Jesus said “...my yoke is easy, my load is light” (Matt. 11:30). How can spending our lives obeying God’s commandments be an “easy” thing? How can such a load be “light”?
Equipped For Obedience. God equips us with two ‘tools’ with which we can build into our lives a better obedience. We find these tools to be surprising, amazing, mysterious and at times even miraculous. These tools are 1) a promise, and 2) a reward. Both are provided by the Holy Spirit, the ‘new’ spirit dwelling within our new hearts.
The Promise. Amazingly this is not a promise which we, the believer, must make to God. Rather this is a promise which God makes to us. We find it in John 14:15, Jesus’ words to his worried disciples: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Yes, we typically read/hear this verse and interpret it as an order from Jesus—he is insisting that we be obedient. But look/listen more closely, meditate, reflect, chew on this verse until the promise is also evident.
· Jesus states the condition: “If you love me”
· Jesus issues His promise: “you will keep my commandments"
· In other words He promises if you will truly love Jesus then the Holy Spirit will enable you to be obedient and keep Jesus’ commandments.
Some translations of the bible drop out the words “you will.” That kind of translation encourages (forces) us to conclude that we must manufacture will-power in order to obey the commandments and obey the word of God. But when we actually realize the “you will” and hear the promise then we are not on our own to be will-powerful. As we live-out our love for Jesus the Holy Spirit empowers us to obey. Jesus does not say exactly how He will fulfill His promise to us, but it is a promise and He is a promise-keeping God. Let Him do His work - let Him spiritually form us.
Wow! Will-power is not the main factor in our obedience - God's promise is the main factor. Will-power is required as we work out our salvation (see Phil. 2:12-13) but will-power is only secondary. In this approach, obedience is partly our doing and mostly God's doing. Here's the biblical principle:
"Love is the foundation of all obedience" - Alexander Maclaren
The Reward. When we work on our relationship with Jesus—when we exercise and express our love for Him, He not only enables us to obey, He also rewards our obedience. Jesus repeats the promise and explains the reward in John 14:23, “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.”
· Jesus states the conditions: “If anyone loves me” and “keep(s) my word”
· Jesus states the promise: “Father will love [you]” - “we will make our home with [you]”
· In other words, we are rewarded with Father God and Jesus becoming even more settled in our souls—we experience more of God’s heart-satisfying and life-changing presence when we love and obey Him.
Motivation. God’s promise and reward serve as the supreme motivation for obedience. Every time we breathe-out a thought or expression of love for God, we breathe-in more of His reality, more of His presence. This is a form of practicing His presence and we experience a growing relationship of closeness with the Trinity. This loving, relational activity brings about more restoration of our soul. Yes, we build a better obedience through loving Jesus, trusting His promise and receiving His reward.
· In what ways have you been ‘trained’ to assume that will-power is the driving force behind obedience to God?
· Why is it difficult for many of us to ‘see’ the promise of John 14:15?