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Welcome back to part 4 of our Celebrating God with Your Obedience Series. Today we’ll consider the final piece of our 4-part definition of obedience.
If you’ve been with us from the beginning then you know we’ve been building a very profound expectation for obedience, one that’s — admittedly — impossible to achieve.
Can we be honest for a moment? How many of us consistently do the right things in the right way for the right reasons? Really?
When I present this information in churches and camps and schools and counseling, I point out that when we learn that obedience is doing the right thing, we all knowingly nod our heads as we realize that our obedience isn’t that pretty.
But then when we understand that even the right things we do aren’t obedience if we’re doing them the wrong way, we cringe because we’re starting to realize how little we actually obey.
And then when we learn that even when we’ve done the right things in the right way, we still weren’t obeying if we did them for the wrong reasons, then most of us wonder if we’ve ever truly obeyed.
And — if you’re being honest — some of you may have had the same feelings. How can I ever live up to God’s expectations on my life? It’s impossible!
Well, the reality is that it doesn’t matter what we think. The Bible says, “Be holy as I am holy,” and then God defines what holiness is. His expectation is clear, but it’s also achievable. However, it’s not achievable in our strength. No, no.
This is why we praise the Lord that He — knowing that we sinful humans would be incapable of fulfilling His law — made a provision for us. And it’s that provision about which we’re going to talk today.
But before we do, if you use social media at all, please consider liking and following The Year Long Celebration of God on Facebook and Instagram. We post worship prompts all throughout the day to try to help you consciously and intentionally seek the Lord.
And also don’t forget about the free episode notes, transcript, and worship resources available on our blog at CelebrationOfGod.com. We’re finally transitioning all of our celebration resources to our new website, but it’s not all there yet. If you’re looking for something in particular but can’t find it, there’s a link on the homepage that will take you back to our old site. All of the Celebration of God material will be available there until it’s all finally housed on our new site.
And — with that — let’s complete our definition of biblical obedience.
Comparatively, this is going to be a shorter episode than the previous one. And today’s application is going to be relatively cut and dry.
1. Acknowledge your need.
This should sound a lot like the end of last week’s episode. However, whereas last week we were acknowledging our need for God to help us see our unconscious motivations, this week we’re acknowledging our need for God . . . in absolutely everything.
The first step that must be taken before a person will get help is that they have to acknowledge that they need help. Alcoholics need to acknowledge they have a problem. Drug addicts need to realize they’re not in control of the situation. And humans need to realize that they are completely incapable of obeying.
Have you ever grappled with the fact that it’s impossible for you to obey God?
Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
First, true obedience always matches with the glory of God. Therefore, true obedience is always a God-thing because we all fall short of God’s glory.
Second, Isaiah 64:6 says, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”
Left to ourselves, our best goodness — our highest form of fleshly obedience — is nothing better than clothes polluted with menstrual fluid. And before you think I’m being unnecessarily hyperbolic with that description, that’s exactly to what the Hebrew word is referring.
And then we see in Proverbs 21:4: “A high look, and a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked, is sin.”
When an unbeliever is working hard to provide for his family, he’s still sinning.
And Proverbs 12:10 tells us that, “Even the compassion of the wicked is cruel.”
Now, the idea that things like compassion and hard work and righteousness wouldn’t please the Lord may seem strange to you, so consider Romans 8:6-8: “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
The fleshly mind — which is referring to an unregenerate mind — is an enemy of God.
I may have used this example before, but it doesn’t matter how adorable it is when a terrorist tucks his daughter into bed and sings her to sleep, he’s still a terrorist bent on the destruction of a nation. And — in the case of terrorists hellbent on destroying our country — he’s still our nation’s enemy.
The same is true with unsaved humanity. We’re all born enemies of God.
But that reality is actually amazing because it underscores the awesomeness of God’s love. He doesn’t love us because we’re lovable; He loves us when we’re rebels against His rule — enemies of His kingdom — and He loves us simply because He’s awesome.
This is what all of us need to understand. We can’t obey the way God commands because we’re all born His enemies.
But . . . He has a plan for that too. Knowing that we couldn’t save ourselves, the Father sent His Son.
But know this — just because you may be born again doesn’t mean you have the personal power to obey God. No, that’s not biblical either.
Thankfully, knowing that we couldn’t obey in our own strength even after being saved, He sent His Spirit.
So, after acknowledging our need, the second thing we need to learn is . . .
2. Recognize that God wants to help you in your inability.
Now, I want to make sure that I address anyone and everyone who may be listening. Many times on this show I will assume that my listeners are genuinely born again believers. But I know that there are people who listen from time to time who know they’re not a Christian. And there are likely others who believe they’re saved, but they’re deceived.
So, I want to speak to unbelievers and believers alike.
In I John 1 we learn that we cannot be “in the light” without a relationship with God. We cannot live righteously (which is the outcome of obedience) if we don’t have a relationship with God — if we’re not His followers.
How does having a relationship with God enable us to do right? How can we now do the thing it was impossible to do before? How do we now hit God’s mark when before we couldn’t?
I John 4:13-15 says, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.”
Those who have a relationship with God have the Holy Spirit.
Romans 8:9-11 then describes the benefits of submitting to the Holy Spirit: “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
And Philippians 2:12-13 wraps up this whole concept with a beautiful bow: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
That, my friends is the answer to our obedience problem. Whether it’s our inability to know and understand what’s right, whether it’s our sinful deficiencies that make it impossible for us to do anything the right way, or whether it’s our blind incompetence when it comes to having the right motivations, the Holy Spirit is here to help us do what we otherwise would be incapable of doing.
So, the fourth part of our definition of obedience is . . .
4. Obedience is doing the right thing in the right way for the right reason and in the right power.
You see, we’re all like vacuum cleaners. We’ve been created to do a job, but we’ve been created to need power to do said job. If you don’t plug in the vacuum, it won’t work no matter how hard you try to drag it across the carpet. It must be connected to a power source before it will be able to clean.
My friends, we all need to humbly come to the end of ourselves and realize that we cannot glorify God without His help, and we need to do so as soon as possible. Then we need to submit to Christ as the head of our lives. We need to follow Him and be born again.
If you never have, I — with all my heart — encourage you to surrender to the Lord in faith.
And for those of you who are genuinely born again, when it comes to disobedience, please remember that any right thing that’s not done in the right way for the right reasons and in the right power actually attacks the character of God!
In Genesis 39:9, when Joseph was being tempted to commit adultery with Potiphar’s wife, he said, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”
Yes, we sin against our authorities when we disobey them, but regardless of whether you’re saved or unsaved, your sin is ultimately against the Lord.
And our righteousness will only ever be ultimately from the Lord.
So, how do you obey in the right power if the power is not of you? That my friends is a great mystery. You’re right to acknowledge that the power isn’t yours; it’s God’s. And we know that God will not be bossed around by us. So, how do we access that power?
We’re going to investigate this question a little closer in a moment, but let me say right here that it’s actually a simultaneous occurrence.
If I’m not functioning in the Spirit, then I can be certain that I’m not truly obeying God, because if I really am doing the right thing in the right way for the right reason, that can only ever be accomplished by God in me. The first three cannot exist without the fourth, and — without the fourth — we will never be able to do the third, and the first two — if we’re lucky enough to actually get it kind of right — will only ever be superficial filthy rags.
Now, I’m going to read most of Ephesians 5 and make comments along the way.
Don’t tune out. This is going to answer how we know we can obey in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 5:1-21, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”
There is the perfectly holy, divine expectation for our obedience. We need to imitate God and live as Christ lived.
On the other hand, “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4 and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them; 8 for you were formerly darkness.”
This again reinforces that God has expectations for what we do and how we do it. We are disobeying when we do the things God forbids.
Continuing in verse 7, “but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light 9 (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), 10 trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; 12 for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. 13 But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. 14 For this reason it says, ‘Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.”
We’ve been discussing these very concepts over the past few episodes. God expects us to live in the light as He is in the light. This is goodness and righteousness and truth that truly pleases the Lord. We could say, this is obedience.
And we’re supposed to be so intentional and conscious about our submission to righteousness and rejection unrighteousness that we consciously expose the works of darkness. That will not happen accidentally. We don’t take a stand against works of darkness when we’re flitting through life not giving careful thought to what God would have us do, how He would have us do it, and why He would have us do it.
Now, pay close attention to verse 15, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise.”
Be careful. The Greek word translated “careful” refers to seeing, looking, watching, being aware, taking heed, and considering. These are mindful things. You will never be accidentally careful. Care is conscious and intentional.
Wisdom is also intentional. It’s knowing and understanding God’s expectations and then trusting Him by doing as God says.
Then in verse 16 we read, “Making the most of your time, because the days are evil.”
Again, this is an intentional concept. “Making the most of your time” refers to ransoming something, redeeming something. You don’t accidentally ransom someone being held hostage.
Continuing on, “So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit,.”
The imagery here is so powerful. As we consciously know, understand, and submit to God’s will for His glory, we will be filled with the Spirit in a similar way that a person who is drunk is controlled by the alcohol.
Of course, being drunk is a sin, and it’s condemned all throughout the Bible, but the picture is pregnant with meaning.
Alcohol removes our control of our physical functions. In a very different, but metaphorically similar way, submission to the Holy Spirit results in Him completing us. He comes in and does what we could not do in our own power. He amply supplies us. He helps us accomplish that which we were impotent to accomplish.
Now, take careful note. We’re being commanded to imitate God. This requires that we live righteously and stand against sin in its every form. And — to do so — requires that we learn what is pleasing to the Lord and understand His will. This takes care and wisdom, and it can only be accomplished as we study the Scriptures.
Let’s review real quick before we finish up today.
In order to obey in the right power, you need to . . .
1. Acknowledge your need.
2. Recognize that God wants to help you in your inability.
And . . .
3. Learn from God’s Word.
We’ve made this point all the way from day one. You can’t know what the right thing is outside of the Word. You can’t know how to obey outside of the Scriptures. And you can’t understand the only Christ-honoring motivation for your obedience outside of the Bible.
Psalm 119:9-16, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. 10 With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandments.11 Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You. 12 Blessed are You, O Lord; Teach me Your statutes. 13 With my lips I have told of All the ordinances of Your mouth. 14 I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, As much as in all riches. 15 I will meditate on Your precepts And regard Your ways. 16 I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word.”
This is why, starting in Ephesians 5:19 we see that the result of being filled with the Spirit is, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.”
The Word of God will flow from us in conversation and song, we will be thankful, and we will obey in the fear of God.
Now, before we conclude today — I wasn’t planning this, but I think it’s so perfect — I want to read a portion from Romans 8, starting in verse 1. “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, [set their mind on] the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. 12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”
Amen and amen!!
I hope that excites you! I hope the reality that you can truly obey God — you can consciously do the right things in the right way for the right reason in faith and empowered by the Holy Spirit Himself.
But remember, we’re not marionettes. Sanctification is the cooperation between the Spirit and the Saint. We need to purposefully submit to God and draw near to Him before He will draw near to us. We will only have perfect peace as we train our minds on the Lord. Things in our life will only work together for our greatest good as we intentionally love God and work according to His revealed purposes.
As we do this, in the moment we do this, we’re being empowered to do it by the Spirit. It’s not a prerequisite for Holy Spirit filling, it’s a wonderful, mysterious chicken and the egg. Which comes first, the empowerment or the obedience?
They’re simultaneous. It’s a miracle, and we praise God that He loves us enough to participate in it.
So, there you go. Know the Word, study it, and submit to it. And as you consciously and intentionally and carefully and wisely apply God’s Word to your every belief, thought, desire, feeling, word, and action, you will receive the power necessary to truly glorify God in each of those areas.
Now, we’ve completed our 4-fold definition of biblical obedience. I know you’ve heard it many times, but it bears continual repeating: True obedience that glorifies God is doing the right thing in the right way for the right reason in the right power. And that is the only obedience that pleases the Lord.
But we still have one episode left. However, before I tell you the content of that episode, don’t forget to share this series with your friends so that they too can grow in their worship of God.
And then 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 single best example of perfect obedience and learning how to do the same.
I’ll see you then!
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.