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First of all, let me say that I really appreciate your joining me today. I want these resources to help you better glorify God with your life, so your being here is a partial fulfillment of our mission. All that’s left to do is for you to mature in your worship of God . . . and that’s going to be up to you.
But — praise God — He’s given us everything we need to worship Him as He deserves, and . . . . this short series is literally all about growing in the most important form of worship we can ever lay before God’s feet — our obedience.
But before we jump into the this topic, I want to remind you that The Year Long Celebration of God is part of the Evermind Ministries Family. Evermind is a group of ministries dedicated to keeping God at the center of the human experience. The Year Long Celebration of God focuses on worshiping God every day of the year and helping others do the same. Truth.Love.Family. equips parents and children to thrive in the roles God has for them. Faithtree Biblical Counseling & Discipleship is a crisis counseling and discipleship training ministry that not only helps people be set free from their life dominating sins through the power of God’s truth, but also trains people to become biblical counselors. In addition to that, we work with pastors, parents, counselors, and teachers to help them grow in the skill of serving people with God’s Word. And then there’s AMBrewster Ministries which focuses primarily on preaching and public speaking.
I pray that as you interact more and more with the Evermind Family, you will be strengthened in your trust in God and your love for Him and His creation.
Also, if you’re new, be sure to check out CelebrationOfGod.com to access so many free tools including today’s episode notes, transcript, and worship resources. And if you’ve been with us a while, please rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts.
And now, let’s start our 5-part conversation about the nature of biblical obedience.
First, I want to warn all of us not to tune out because the word “obedience” sounds like a simple topic you discuss with children. The Bible actually has a ton to say about the obedience of Jesus — you know, the second person of the Trinity, God-incarnate. If obedience is important for Him, it’s important for us.
So, we’re going to start today’s discussion looking at why obedience is so incredibly important, then we’re going to look at the first level — the first layer — of what obedience truly is, then I want to view the importance of obedience from a different angle, and then end today’s episode by considering the role God wants us to have in teaching others to learn how to obey.
So, let me introduce some Foundational Concepts . . .
1. Obedience is worship.
If you’ve never heard our What is Worship Series, then it’s quite possible that you might not recognize that worship is not merely singing or praying. Worship isn’t just an intentional God-focus. It isn’t something that only happens at church.
Worship is obedience, and obedience is worship. They cannot be separated from each other. They are truly one and the same.
That means that perfect worship is lived out through perfect obedience. That also means that if our obedience isn’t perfect, well, then our worship isn’t perfect either. And that means that we need to continue growing as worshippers of Christ . . . and that’s what The Year Long Celebration of God is all about.
But you may be thinking, “How complicated can obedience really be? Isn’t obedience simply doing what you’re supposed to do?”
And I would agree with most of what you just asked. Yes, obedience is doing what you’re supposed to do . . . but it’s so much more. The problem is that any time we engage with ideas in a superficial way, we’re not only going to miss really important truths, but we’re also probably going to mess something up.
For example, if I believe that love is nothing more than a feeling or speaking the words “I love you,” my relationships are going to struggle hardcore. Not only is that not what love is, but that understanding isn’t going to be deep enough to truly flourish in a relationship and weather the difficult storms.
But not only is obedience synonymous with worship and a multilayered concept . . .
2. Obedience is love.
Exodus 20:6 teaches that God shows “lovingkindness to . . . those who love Me and keep My commandments.” In fact, this truth is repeated all throughout the Old Testament. Sometimes it’s a direct quote from Exodus, and sometimes it’s worded differently, such as in Joshua 22:5 where he says, “Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God and walk in all His ways and keep His commandments and hold fast to Him and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise us that in John 14:15 Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”
And then in verses 23 and 24 He 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 abode with him. 24 He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.”
According to our Creator, obedience is the necessary outcome of genuine love for God.
But there’s a third Foundational Truth that must lay at the roots of our spiritual growth.
3. Obedience must be learned.
Hebrews 5:8 — referring to Jesus — says, "Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” And Philippians 2:8 tells us, “And being found in human form, [Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Think about that.
This is similar to Luke 2:52 that tells us, "And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”
Now, we don’t have time to discuss how it is that the perfect God-man, Jesus Christ, increased in anything or learned anything. The simple point I want to make is that — like proper worship and love — obedience must be learned.
You do not come hardwired to worship God, love Him, and obey Him. In fact, the Bible says we come into this world with sin and foolishness knotted up in our hearts. We don’t seek after God, and we passionately pursue self-worship at every opportunity until the moment God opens our eyes to our need for Him.
And progressive sanctification — something about which we talk a lot on this show — is the process of growing in our love, worship, and obedience. So, not only does obedience need to be learned the first time, it’s something that we’re constantly learning.
Okay, with these three Foundational Truths laid — Obedience is worship and love, and it must be learned — over these five episodes, we’re going to build a working definition of obedience. That definition is going to have four vital parts. In fact, I’d argue that “obedience” that doesn’t conform to all four parts of the Bible’s definition isn’t true obedience. And I believe that most Christians today are functioning off an amputated understanding of Biblical obedience. At best, it’s partial obedience. And — like anyone who’s grown up in the church — you know the partial obedience is no obedience.
Now, with all that said, I have to admit that the first part of our definition isn’t going to surprise you. It’s not a mysterious concept known only to sage old men.
The Definition of Obedience
So, you may be underwhelmed to learn that . . .
1. True obedience is doing the right thing.
“Aaron, haven’t we already established that?”
So right you are. But this is where we need to start. And — believe it or not — this point isn’t as easy to understand and practically live out in our lives as we’d like to make it sound.
Let’s be fair, do you always do the right thing? I know I don’t. If doing the right thing were so easy, why do we struggle with it so much?
And that’s a really important question. Sometimes we disobey because we don’t want to do what we know is right, but other times it’s because we don’t know what’s right.
And that brings up a really important question. What is right? How can we know what’s right?
What if some authority tells people to do something that’s not right? How do we know if they’re right or not? How do we know if we’re right? Who’s right in a disagreement? Does the fact that a person is older or richer or more famous make them inherently more prone to being right?
Let me start by saying that you cannot — it’s absolutely impossible for you or anyone else to — understand the concept of true obedience without first understanding some biblical doctrine.
Allow me to segue into this point by observing that it’s always been the Christian’s second highest calling to be a light to this dark world. This involves teaching our families, friends, and communities the truth about God. Thankfully our Christian culture seems to be catching back up with that calling. We’ve seen the importance of doctrine and apologetics coming back into the church.
But here’s the reason you will need to learn some doctrine before you can truly understand obedience: if obedience is doing what’s right, we must grapple with the doctrine of Truth.
The Doctrine of Truth
This, my friends, is Philosophy 101. “What is philosophy?” you ask. The simplest definition is “philosophy is why you do what you do,” and we discussed this in great detail in our Grow Your Worship Series.
In that series we not only discovered why you do what you do, but we also learned how to determine what your philosophy of life is, as well as how to know what you truly believe. And it’s questions like these that have plagued mankind for thousands of years.
For example, in John 18:38, Pilate looked into the eyes of the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and he asked, “What is truth?” That question has echoed down the annuls of time as it has been asked and re-asked by every human who’s ever lived. And until Christ comes back, that question will continue to be asked. It must be asked.
Whether or not Truth exists — whether or not “right” exists — and what that Truth happens to be will directly and powerfully affect every human alive today. It will affect you every day of your life.
So, what is truth? What is right?
Unfortunately, we don’t really have time to discuss this question at length — to get super-apologetical — so let’s answer it by making one key observation: without God, right and wrong cannot exist.
If we are the mere product of evolution, if there is no absolute truth, if everyone does what’s right in his own eyes, then there can be no objective definition for truth or right. The best for which you can hope is to hang out with people who think like you do. But you still will likely be out-shouted by any group that’s larger than yours and believes differently than yours, so you’d better collect as many people to your side as possible if you want to be able to live the way you want without being bullied.
But you likely won’t find anyone who thinks exactly like you do, so you’re either going to have to politely convince or downright threaten others to agree with you. But it will pay off. Eventually, when your group is big enough to legislate your definition of right and enforce obedience to your definition of right, then you should congratulate yourself, because you’ve done exactly what every culture and government has striven to do.
Of course, the same fate of every other culture and government in history will also be yours. Eventually another group of people who believe that truth is different from your definition will overthrow you, or their ideas will outlive you.
And once you’re gone, every other human will have to do what you did. They’ll have to figure out what they think is right, and hopefully find others who agree with them so they can live out the rest of their lives in some shallow semblance of peace.
So, basically, truth will have to be what you make it because there can be no objective, absolute truth. No human can know any better than any other human what right is because right is what you make it. And the more numbers you have, the better chances you have of making right what you want it to be.
And what I’ve just described to you is the embodiment of might makes right.
Without an objective, absolute authority, there is no truth.
Thankfully . . . since God is Who He says He is, then — as the Creator of the universe — He is the absolute Authority, and He definitely gets to decide what’s right and wrong. And since He never changes, His definition of right and wrong will never change. All Truth then is God’s Truth.
Let’s look at some biblical examples of this: in Genesis 4:3-7 we read, “In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. 6 The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.’” Here we see that God is the one who decides what “doing well” is. He also gets to decide the consequences for doing right and wrong. And He helps us know how to overcome the temptation to do wrong.
In Leviticus 10:1-2 we read, “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.” Once again, God gets to authorize what’s right, and He gets to prescribe the consequences for not doing right.
And then in Acts 5:1-11, we learn about a couple named Ananias and Saphira. Most of you will be familiar with their story. They sold a piece of property and decided to give a portion of it to God. But when they presented it to Peter, they lied and said they were giving the whole amount. Of course, there wouldn’t have been anything wrong with keeping the property. There wouldn’t have been a problem with keeping all of the money, let alone only giving some of it to the church. But they lied. They lied to God, and He gets to decide what’s right and wrong. And God says that lying is wrong.
Now, before we move on, the truth that God gets to determine what’s right and wrong (as well as the corresponding consequences) may concern some people. If God were like us, we wouldn’t have any more confidence in God than the Romans did in their capricious deities.
But God is not only the ultimate Authority who get’s to choose what’s right and wrong, He’s the ultimate, loving authority. That love compels Him to do what’s in our best interest. He’s also the ultimate, loving, holy authority. He will never change. What’s right will always be right, and what’s wrong will always be wrong. We have no need to fear the fact that God defines Truth. In fact that reality gives us purpose and peace and the ability to know that we’re doing right.
So, if obedience is doing what’s right, and right is whatever God decides, then we have two important responsibilities:
1. We must study to know what is right.
Listen, my friends, if you want to be the best disciple of Christ you can be, you need to douse yourself in the Bible. You need to swim Its length and breadth and wash in Its purifying fathoms. Only in the knowledge of Christ do we have everything we need for life and godliness.
And . . .
2. We must do right.
If what you’ve been asked to do is right, then you must do it. To not do it would be disobedience. To not obey is sin. And based off what we learned today, a mature Christian should love to obey. If we love God, we’ll obey Him. If we're obeying Him, we’re going to love and obey anyone who instructs us to do what is right. It will be a joy.
Of course, we aren’t as mature as we like to think, and that’s why God gave us His Word and spiritual authorities.
Okay, now, our first Big Question was “What is the first part of our definition for obedience?” Then our second Big Question must be, “What happens if I don’t obey?”
My friends, we started looking at why obedience is so important, and we were reminded (or learned for the first time) that obedience is synonymous with worship and love.
Now I want to reconsider why obedience is so important, but this time I want to look at it from the other side of the fence. We really need to understand the severity of this issue we’re discussing. We need to truly believe that it’s not okay to disobey . . . ever. It’s not admissible or dismissible.
The Consequences of Disobedience
Let’s consider Romans 6:16-18. "Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
Paul presents this as something we should all know. If you present yourself to someone as a slave, you belong to them. With that seemingly obvious metaphor, Paul tells us that if enslave ourselves to to sin, we will earn death, but if we enslave ourselves to obedience, we inherit righteousness.
Do you see how important this is?
So then we must ask ourselves, why are we sometimes so cavalier with our sin? How can we abide our bad attitudes? Why do we make excuses when we listen to music that doesn’t glorify God? Why do we try to ignore the nagging in our spirit when we get into or stay in romantic relationships with people we know aren’t drawing us to the Lord? What about our pessimistic or unkind or complaining speech?
Every time we disobey, we're enslaving ourselves to sin. We’re earning death.
But then Paul goes on to give us the hope that should embolden us: “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”
Praise God that those of us who were slaves to sin and death can become servants of obedience!
Now, human slavery to humans is a terrible thing, and nearly everyone listening to me today has some very strong opinions on the subject — and rightly so. Wars have been fought over this.
And we all understand that it was nearly impossible for most slaves to become free from their human masters. Generally, the only way a slave could gain a new master was if their previous master sold him or her. And that’s exactly the picture we have in the Scripture. God graciously offers to buy back those who submit to Him!
Still, this idea — no matter how beautiful and amazing it is — won’t sit well with some of you. You don’t like the idea of being set free from one master only to be enslaved to another. That flies in the face of our inherent desire to be our own god.
But the reality is that there is no such thing as the “freedom” defined by Hollywood. All humans are always subject to someone. There may be a few humans who are genuinely free from any responsibility to other men, but . . . we’re all responsible to our Creator.
We’re either a slave to sin or a slave to God. There are no other options. And praise God for the joyous reality that we get to be His slave!
So, yes, a discussion about obedience is eternally significant. And we should be forever grateful that there is hope for all of us in Christ.
But there is also hope for your family and friends and coworkers. And that’s why we speak the truth in love to the world and our fellow believers.
So, I want to revisit an idea I mentioned earlier that part of our call to be salt and light and a sharpening iron in this world is a call to lead people to worship, love, and obey God — not as a way to earn His favor — but because He deserves our obedience.
So, how do we do this?
Evangelism and Discipleship toward Obedience
1. We need to show the world who God is and how Truth cannot exist without Him.
The atheist worldview is a depressing one indeed. We have the opportunity to show them the true joy that comes from living the way we were created to live.
But a distant deity is not whom we serve. So . . .
2. We need to introduce them to God in a way that they are in awe of Him.
We serve an awesome God!
Are you passionate about the awesomeness of God? How can we encourage others to be passionate about Him if we ourselves aren’t passionate about obeying our Savior? We need to model for the crowd of people in our lives the unfathomable amazingness of God.
And then . . .
3. We need to teach them what love is.
What is love? This is a topic I look forward to discussing more on this show in the future, but it’s so incredibly important because the world has no idea what it is to love themselves well let alone love another human or — dare I say it — God.
In fact, the idea of truly loving God is foreign in so many religions because people basically worship their deity as a duty based out of fear. You can’t love an impersonal, uncommunicative, unsacrifical god.
And if we don’t have the love of God in our lives, we can never truly love anyone else.
4. As they learn what love is, they’ll learn that loving God requires obedience.
The two concepts are inseparable.
5. And then we will need to teach them what biblical obedience really is.
Yes, this study is first and foremost for us, but it’s also for our friends and children and fellow church members and coworkers and communities.
Jesus commissioned all of His disciples with these three tasks: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”
That “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” is obedience. It’s the third part of being a disciple of God. We become disciples by putting our trust in Him, then we’re baptized, and then we learn to obey all that God expects of us.
And the first lesson we all need to learn is that obedience is doing the right thing.
But this is just the first, most superficial understanding of obedience. There is still so much more to learn, and I look forward to walking through it with you.
But before we go, I want to posit one more question: “How do you do the right thing?”
Our next episode is entitled, “The Best Way,” and we’re going to learn that it’s not enough to do the right things if we don’t do them the right way. I plan to not only help us understand the second facet of true obedience, but we’ll walk away with a number of super practical helps for sharing this truth with our fellow disciples.
And though how we do the right thing will lead us to a deeper understanding of biblical obedience, even that topic is more superficial than we might realize.
Hopefully by the time we’re done, our understanding of obedience will deepen to such a degree that it — first — impacts our relationship with God, and — second — equips us to teach others what true obedience is.
Please share this episode on your favorite social media sites so that more people can learn what it is to truly worship God and help others in their lives do the same.
And while we move through this study together, if you come to the place where you recognize that your obedience really needs to mature, please reach out to us at Counselor@CelebrationOfGod.com for personalized help.
And — of course — join us next time as we seek to better know, love, and worship God and help the people in our lives do the same.
To that end, we’ll be discussing the best ways to worship God by obeying Him and our authorities.
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The Year Long Celebration of God is a discipleship experience designed to equip followers of Christ to better know, love, and worship Him as they help others in their lives do the same. We exalt God, teach His people how to practically worship Him every day of the year, and train them to disciple others.
Whether it's a small group, church, classroom, one-on-one, or community relationship, this resource is guaranteed to draw people closer together as they draw closer to God.
AMBrewster is the creator of The Year Long Celebration of God and host of its podcast.