The answer is “Yes!”
We are always looking for real answers to help us navigate this life. Today, I want to give you the most important practice in life that will change you.
Are you ready for it?
Many Christians talk about how they love to follow Jesus, but they get uncomfortable talking about that “o” word.
We tend to think of obedience as opposite of grace and faith. This is probably because when we talk about obeying we are usually referring to God’s Law, and we tend to put Law and Gospel as opposites of one another.
The issues with obedience go something like this:
“Having to obey God feels domineering on my life: we don’t have to focus on that anymore because Jesus came to free us from rules and regulations.”
“If this is just going to be all about rules that I’m subjugated to, then I can’t live like that. I need freedom.”
The Bible describes our resistance to obedience in Ephesians 2:3, All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.
I’ve had people come up to me before and ask, “Does God want me to be happy or just to obey Him?” I echo what I’ve heard John Piper say before, “That is like saying, ‘Should you pursue apples or should you pursue fruit,’ because if you obey God’s commands…you are pursuing joy and so obedience and joy can’t be contrasted like that.”
But here’s the great news. Happiness in God is a kind of obedience. The two can definitely go together. Check out some of these commands He gives to us:
Rejoice in the Lord always, and again, I will say rejoice. Philippians 4:4
Delight yourself in the Lord. And he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, oh righteous, and shout for joy all you upright in heart. Psalm 32:11
All of these are commands to obey. We find ultimate and true happiness in our obedience to what God calls us to do. When we obey God, we become more like Him and our hearts begin to beat more like His. We cling to a happiness that is better than this world can bring. We are reminded that happiness in things, marriage, money, health, fame, and success is not the goal of life. Happiness in God is the goal of life and you cannot get there without obedience to Him.
Happiness and obedience go hand in hand.
Rather than being opposite of grace like some may think, obedience is participating in the salvation by grace. And participating in the salvation by grace is what each of us were made to do in this world. We find our greatest fulfillment in this world when we are doing what God designed us to do. And you and I were designed to obey God.
So what does obedience actually look like?
In his book Surprised by God, Chris E. W. Green used a painting to describe what “listening obedience” looks like:
“Henry Ossawa Tanner’s painting The Banjo Lesson (1983) shows what a “listening obedience” is like. The young child, just learning to play, cannot even hold the instrument with ease. But the teacher embraces him and holds the banjo, leaving room for the boy to stand on his own and allowing him to play by himself. Neither one looks at or even seems aware of the other. Both the boy and the man attend to the instrument, their attentions fused in the effort of making the song.…
…In much the same way, as we go from faith to faith, learning to obey more fully, our attention increasingly fuses with God’s, we find ourselves obeying without self-regard. Following Christ, then is listening raptly to a teacher’s voice, a teacher who hides behind us, so to speak, making room for us to “play” on our own.”
Once we get a new understanding of what obedience by following Christ is, we can see why Jesus calls us to follow Him.
Matthew 4: 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
John 10:27: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
Spend time with Jesus. Look at his words. Listen to Him. Find what you were made to do in this world through His words. Don’t look anywhere else. We live in a world that likes to give a lot of answers to how to follow Jesus, but the obvious natural teaching comes often in the Bible, but never more as matter of fact, than by Jesus’ own brother James:
James 1:22: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
God wants us to follow Him because it is what we are made to do. Obedience is the most natural response to the grace received at the grave. When we follow Jesus we are joining in on what He has already done. It’s not about us. It’s about Jesus. And when it’s all about Jesus, even in the midst of difficult and dark times, you will be a happy person.
Which commands for you bring the most joy? Which commands for you are the most difficult to follow?
-Written by Zach and Allison Zehnder
Green, Chris E. W. (2018) Surprised by God. Eugene, OR. Cascade Books.
* If you are struggling with knowing how to be obedient, or where to even start, that’s why I created the 40-day Red Letter Challenge. It focuses on the five most frequent and important commands that Jesus gave to His followers to put into practice. If that’s of interest to you, you can buy the workbook here,