Growing In Faith: Obedience

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church.  My name is Phil Human and today we are continuing a series we began last month about Growing our faith.

I appreciate Neil and the band working hard on that great song by Switchfoot called Dare You to Move.  And that one line in the middle of the song really captures the feeling of this series.

The tension is here
Between who you are and who you could be
Between how it is and how it should be

I dare you to move

The bottom line of spiritual growth is simply – God wants us to grow.  And if we want to grow in our faith, and He wants us to grow – nothing will stop us.  But it will require movement.  It will require effort – and a willingness to keep at it – and sometimes it will require picking ourselves off the floor and moving forward.

We have two more weeks in this series.  We will wrap it up next Sunday before we begin a series about the book of Ephesians.  And today we are going to talk about the importance of submitting ourselves to one of the simplest of all spiritual disciplines.

This discipline is the easy to understand, and yet often very difficult to pull off.  And that is the discipline of Obedience.

The simplest of all disciplines is to learn to obey Jesus.  Did hearing the word obey make you wince a little bit on the inside?  Well you wouldn’t be alone.  That’s why it’s difficult to pull off – but very important we learn how to become the kind of person who naturally and easily obeys Jesus.

Here’s our outline today.  We will start by looking at

The importance of obedience. 

Then the motivation for obedience,

and then finally overcoming the fear of obedience.

First let’s talk about the importance of obedience.  And let’s take a look first in the Old Testament at a story involving the first King of ancient Israel – a man named Saul – who was given specific instructions in 1 Samuel 15 – where he was told that after the battle – all the cattle and animals were to be given to God as an offering.  And yet Saul keeps the best of the animals for himself and he gets busted for it.  And Saul says – and Saul says – well, I was holding these back sure but I was going to give them as an offering another time.

And the prophet Samuel says these words…

“What is more pleasing to the Lord:
your burnt offerings and sacrifices
or your obedience to his voice?
Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,
and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.

1 Samuel 15:22

Saul, the Lord isn’t interested in paying religious games.  And to obey him is the real test of faith in Him.  Saul said what many of us say – I know God says this – I know the bible is clear about this…  but I’ll do it my way.  And God will understand.  He doesn’t care…

And what Samuel teaches us is that WE are the ones who don’t understand – obedience is where the rubber meets the road in our faith.  What’s the point of saying – I have grown so much in my faith, but I will not do what he has asked me to do.  In what sense am I growing?  In my resolve to do it my way?

Jesus highly emphasizes the importance of obedience.  Like in Matthew 7, for instance.  Now – let’s not lose sight of this – this is how Jesus concludes the sermon on the mount.  The one sermon that basically outlines his plan for the transformation of our souls.

He details how we can become the kind of people, safe in His Kingdom, who don’t have to tear people down with anger, rage, contempt, and lust.  We teaches us how to avoid the biggest and most common traps humanity falls into – the love of money, anxiety, the dangers of living to please people.  And he paints a picture for us of becoming the kind of people who are so marked with love that we can naturally and easily love even our enemy.

How does Jesus conclude this masterpiece?

24 “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. 25 Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. 26 But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. 27 When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

It’s as if Jesus knew ahead of time that we might try every imaginable way to avoid doing what he knew to be best. So he concludes his sermon by putting the ball in our court, so to speak.  Which foundation shall we build upon?  His way, or ours?

How does he conclude his time with his disciples?  On the last day that Jesus was with his disciples – by this time he had been crucified and risen and taught for 40 days after the resurrection – he gathers his rag tag team of believers around himself and gives them a final charge.  It’s been called the Great Commission, and this is exactly what it says…

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Gang – this is the last verse of the book of Matthew.  These are the final words of Jesus according to Matthew’s book of the life and times of Jesus.

Why is obedience so important to Jesus?  It is the proof that we have repented.  Repent means to change the way we think.  And so, does it make sense to say, I have given my life to Jesus.  I trust him for my eternal future.  But today?  I’ll do it my way?

Does it make sense to say we trust Jesus for the next life, but not for this one?  And if we say we trust him in this life, then we will have no problem obeying him.  Trusting that he knows best about life and how to live it.

We often define faith here as  – thinking highly enough about Jesus to trust him with every aspect of our life.  And so the question to answer is simply, “Do you think highly enough of Jesus to do what he asks you to do?”

Clearly Jesus places great importance on obedience.  Now – let’s talk about our motivation for obedience.  And let me start by putting out there two wrong motives for obeying.

We have a dog named Kirby.  He is a fairly obedient dog.  My daughter taught him tricks – she bought a bag of treats and taught him to shake her hand.  Eventually he learned that if I obey this girl – and perform for her – I’ll get a treat!

That’s one way to motivate someone to obey – but it’s not the way Jesus motivates us to obey.  We aren’t a dog!  He never treats us like one.  He never says – does Jimmy want a treat? Sit!

That said, obedience does come with rewards.   If we obey God is it likely to lead to a better life?  Yes, but the motivation for doing what God tells us to do can’t be rooted in a selfish desire to get something out of it.

That motivation isn’t strong enough – because the truth is that sometimes God asks us to do very difficult things.

The book of Acts is filled with stories where the apostles preach the good news of Jesus – they get arrested and beaten and told to stop, and what do they say?  Time and again – it’s better for us to obey God rather than you.

No – the motivation for our obedience has to be more than to get a treat or even something for our own good.

Now – the other side of training my dog Kirby.  We installed an invisible fence around the yard.  And he wears a little shock collar – and when he gets too close to where he should not be – Zing!

Some of you are like – where can I get one of those for myself?  Can I buy something so that every time I head towards doing something stupid – Zap!

But there in lies the real problem – see – punishment isn’t strong enough of a force to get us to obey either.

See – Kirby knows he is going to get a shock if he runs out of our yard – and yet – every once in a while – he sees a bunny and he is like!  Oh he loves the bunny!  And he says, Taze me bro – I don’t care – I’m getting that bunny rabbit!  And zoom – he gone.

He’s powerless against the bunny!  And some of you right now are thinking – “I know what the bunny in my life is…”  That thing that makes me run headlong into stupid decisions.  That thing I feel I must have…

And so what is the motivation that will be able to help us obey – even when faced with the bunny!?

Jesus tells us plainly a number of times, in the book of John.  That motivation is love.

Our motivation for obeying Jesus can’t be to get rewards, or to avoid punishment.  We aren’t dogs, okay?  And Jesus never treats us like one.  Instead, the motivation for obedience is love.

John 14:15 “If you love me, obey my commandments.  Notice he doesn’t say if you fear me – or if you want something from me – no- if you love me you’ll obey me.

Now let’s not get derailed by thinking that Jesus is declaring that he loves only people who obey him.  Obedience to the law is not the “trigger” that makes one right with God.   Because none of us will perfectly obey him at all times.  Jesus didn’t come to die on a cross and then at the last minute throw down one last requirement that none of us will match up to.

Rather – the motivation for obedience is love for a Jesus who loved you first.  As a result – the essence of obedience is personal allegiance to Jesus.

The only way we can show God that we are relating to him on a personal friendship level is to obey him.  It’s the only way we show God we aren’t using him.

Now – you have a computer – you use the computer.  It is an impersonal object that responds to your input.  You use a computer to reach your goals.  It doesn’t matter the goal of a computer – it’s there for your use.

God does not want us to treat him like he is a tool in the toolbox.  He is there when we need him, so long as he performs as expected upon request.  God does not want to be used because no one wants to feel used.

You probably know people who use people.  Worst humans ever, right?  Maybe you’ve been in a relationship where you feel the person used you – and it’s awful to come to the realization that they don’t really love you.  Right?  They are using you.

God’s a person.  He is no different.   God wants us to relate to him in the context of a loving, personal relationship.

The bottom line is that Obedience shows that we are relating to God as a person.  Not a force.  You use the force, Luke.  But we love God and respond to him in love.

When you love someone deeply – it brings you great delight to please them.  Yesterday I was home watching a little football on the TV when Jody came home from doing some food shopping – and he came in holding bags of groceries – and she says – there are more down in the car – can you help me?

I didn’t say – Nah.  I don’t think so.  I immediately got up and helped.  Why?  Because I love my wife.  And that’s an easy way to show her that.

The more you love someone the more joyful it is to want to find the will of that person so that you can adapt and change to please them.

Now let’s talk about the reality – which is that sometimes we don’t want to do what Jesus asks us to do.  We can understand all the benefits of obedience – and yet – there are times when we say, Nah.  I don’t think so.

So lastly, How do we overcome the fear of obedience.

And I think that’s the right term.  We fear the idea of obeying God because, let’s face it – we are Americans.  Freedom!

Here’s a little test – what is this song?  Well, it was originally entitled God Save the Queen!  Until America was like – We’ll take that too!  The Brits are like, But that’s our song?  America’s like too bad suckas!  That song is OURS now!  And we’ll change the words from

God save the queen,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us,
God save the Queen

to – My Country tis of thee – sweet land of liberty!  No one rules over us!  Give us liberty or give us death!

That’s us.  And that’s the problem.  Because we hear Jesus telling us that he expects us to obey him, we twitch a little on the inside – and it feels like we’re dying a little bit on the inside.  We don’t serve anyone….  that’s what freedom means….

And we’re convinced we are free –  but let me show you an interesting little conversation Jesus has one day with a bunch of Jewish religious leaders -it’s found in John 8

31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

What do we notice here?  First – Jesus expects us to obey him.  Remain faithful to my teachings.  Secondly – notice what is implied?  We are in bondage to something.  And that the only way to be free is to obey his teachings.

It’s counter – seems circular.  We are in bondage.  But by obeying me you will be set free.

Now let’s notice the jewish people – who by the way very much had the American mindset that they served no one – not the Romans, not no body.  33 “But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?”

Jesus says – oh really? You aren’t enslaved by anything, huh?  34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. 

What does Jesus mean?  He means we are all mastered by something.  He means what Paul means when he declares that sin made him a wretched man.  ˛19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.   Does this sound like the words of a free man?  No – Paul knows and so do we – that in our natural state – we are enslaved to sin.

Who can help him?  He asks!  Then in Romans 8 he gives the answer!  It’s Jesus.  Who says – follow me – go where I’m going.  I will set you free from the leg trap of sin that has ensnared you – and I will lead you to freedom.

Jesus says we are all serving something.  And the only way to be free – is to serve him.  We are all controlled by something – Jesus is the only master who leads us to freedom.

The greatest obstacle to the Kingdom of God is the kingdom of self.  And he extends an invitation.  Leave the tiny tyrant behind – come enter into a kingdom where we don’t have to run the universe anymore.  Come into a Kingdom where we might not be King or Queen – but we are treated like sons or daughters of one.  Because that is what we are!

Where we never need to worry that God is using us.   Instead, we can rest, knowing that whatever he asks of me – we are safe in his care.

Ultimately, we overcome our fear of obeying God by remembering what he has done for us.  We are serving the one who says to us – I have come to call you, not a servant, but my friend.   And no greater love has this – that a man lays down his life for a friend.  And that is what I’m doing for you.

So – finally – is there any area in your life where you know you are being disobedient to the will of God?  Any place you are just straight up stiff arming his leadership?  Any area where you are not cooperating with the Spirit?

Is today the time to repent – to express to God that you’ve been thinking about this wrong?  Is today the day you follow him into obedience, and experience the freedom that comes from following the sacrificial, servant leadership of Jesus?

Jesus has given us plenty of reasons to think highly enough of him to do what he asks.