The Freedom of Obedience

Intro: “Life is a fountain”

Do you want to know God better? A sure fire way to live in a daily, personal, intimate relationship with him? I’m going to give you the secret this morning. It’s the secret everybody has been looking for for centuries – and there it was all this time, right under our noses. It’s so simple, I don’t know how we missed it, but there it is, in black and white, in John’s own writing.

But I have to warn you, it isn’t for the faint of heart. It isn’t something you are going to want to hear. In fact, it’s a four-letter word – a word you won’t even hear on cable TV, it’s so repulsive. Do you want to hear it?

John says, “Obey.”

I knew you’d be disappointed. You were hoping for something mystical and spiritual, we want a formula or a secret ritual. And I’m sorry, but obedience doesn’t sound very glamorous or spiritual. It sounds pretty mundane and tedious. But there it is in 1 John 2:3 – “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.”

And in fact, John continues the thought by telling us that it’s not optional, there’s no getting around it or alternative route to knowing God: “The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” If you meet someone who claims to be in love with God and have a spiritual walk with him, but does not live in obedience to him, you know that he is a liar. You can’t have one without the other.

There are a lot of substitutes out there for obedience.

Some people try to substitute sincerity. If I’m sincere enough about what I do then surely that will be good enough for God. I hear this one a lot these days – and not all of it out there. I hear it often from our own lips. Obedience to God’s commands becomes secondary to heartfelt sincerity. Trueness to God’s Word takes a backseat to feeling good about what you’re doing.

How silly do you think you would sound walking up to a ticket counter at the airport and asking for a ticket. The ticket salesman asks where to and you reply, “it doesn’t really matter, I know that whatever flight I get on will take me to where I want to go. Just make sure I get a good seat.” Sincerity is important, but it is no substitute for obedience.

The other substitute is outward conformity. Obedience is not just a matter of going through the motions. If we think that just performing the right rituals and repeating the right words is what God means by obedience, we have misunderstood. Jesus condemned the heart-less conformity of the Pharisees when he quoted Isaiah, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” God not only wants right actions, he wants a right heart.

Obedience is a tough ticket to sell these days. Obedience sounds so rigid, so legalistic, so anti-grace. And so obedience has fallen by the wayside as a standard of righteousness or a requirement for a relationship with God.

Obedience is hard to enforce. If you’re a parent, it seems that everyone around you is telling you just let your kids do what they want, you wouldn’t want to harm their psyche, and God forbid you should violate their civil rights. If you’re a teacher, you can’t insist on obedience anymore – even Kindergarteners will look you in the eye and tell you that you can’t tell them what to do.

Obedience sounds so restrictive. And we love our freedom. We like to have choices and options, we like to be the master of our destiny. Our motto, even in the church, is “no one’s going to tell me what to do!” And so authority erodes, respect for leadership is gone, and we hear the recurring refrain from the book of Judges ringing out, “In those days Israel had no king and everyone did as he saw fit.”

We’ve convinced ourselves that my rights include doing whatever I want to do, whenever I want to do it and no one has the right to restrict me in any way, because that would infringe upon my God-given freedom.

We think that when we get rid of rules and “thou shalts” we will finally experience true freedom. Nobody telling me what to do, where to go, what I shouldn’t do.
• But how free was the prodigal son when he took his share of the inheritance and went to a far country? It wasn’t long before he found himself stealing food from the pigs just to keep himself alive and wishing he was back home.
• How free was David while he was trying to hide his sin with Bathsheba? In his own words: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” (Ps 32:3-4). Does that sound like a man who is living a care-free life of freedom because he got to do what he wanted?
• How free was Jonah when he was trying to flee from God’s presence? Three days in the belly of a fish will cure you of any notion that you are happier running away to keep from obeying God.

But it’s interesting how over and over again in the Bible we see obedience as the gateway to true freedom. Names like Moses, Abraham, Daniel, even of the very Son of God himself, the Hebrews writer tells us, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb. 5:8).

True freedom is not “getting to do whatever I want to do.” True freedom is getting to be everything God wants me to be. And when God puts certain restrictions in our lives, he’s not denying us some legitimate pleasure, he is protecting us so that we can enjoy the real pleasures he has prepared for us.

When God commands, “You shall not commit adultery,” is he a killjoy keeping us from enjoying some real pleasure? No, the truth is, he knows the devastating effects of adultery, the broken relationships, the pain of betrayal.

When God commands us, “You shall not covet,” is he restricting us from something that would truly make us happy? No, he knows the prison of envy and jealousy and how truly enslaved we are when our hearts yearn for something that does not belong to us.

God’s commands are like warning signs, signaling the dangers which lie beyond the bounds of his will for us. He knows that true happiness, real joy, lie within the boundaries of the path he has established for us.

Sin and disobedience always take us further away from God and from his will. Sin and disobedience, rather than creating freedom and happiness, always produce heartache and loss of freedom.

You hear this thought throughout the Scriptures:
• Prov. 14:12 “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”
• Jeremiah 10:23 “I know, O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps. Correct me Lord, but only with justice – not in your anger, lest you reduce me to nothing.”

When it comes to navigating our own course and keeping our feet on the right path, we’re not very good at it. We need those signposts, we need those warning flags. We need God to direct our steps and chart our course through the minefields of sin.

Let me outline four qualities of the kind of obedience that honors God:

Immediate – have you ever had one of your kids respond, “Later” when you asked them to do something? How did it make you feel? True obedience recognizes God’s timeline and the urgency of doing what he commands.
• Illustration – Raid at Entebbe – 102 hostages rescued, 3 killed because they did not obey the commands of the rescuers

Active – His commands are not just for thoughtful consideration, not academic meditation, but doing.
James 1:22-25 “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.”
• The perfect law gives freedom. Not merely listening to the word, but doing what it says. Obedience doesn’t ponder and debate the value of what God says – it immediately and actively pursues it.
• When God spoke: Noah built, Abraham went, Paul preached, Isaiah said, “Here am I send me.”

Whole-hearted – Did you ever do something, but your heart wasn’t in it? Or you didn’t want to do it, but you did it just to get it done? It wasn’t very fulfilling or satisfying was it? God wants our obedience to be from our whole heart. Think about the power of what Jesus calls the greatest command: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30).

Complete – God doesn’t want partial obedience. He doesn’t want us to be selective of what we want to obey and what we don’t want to obey. He wants our obedience to be complete.
• Illustration – Man’s will for son – how many times did the son obey the father?

Why is obedience so important to God? Does he just have this thing about control and authority? Or is there something deeper? We find our answer in vs. 5 “But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him.”

Obedience really reveals the heart of a person. When God looks in our life and sees eager, whole-hearted obedience, he sees a heart that belongs to him. And in our obedience, we are demonstrating our love for God in a very real, tangible way. The verse literally says, “the love of God is made complete.” There’s a double meaning in that, and I believe John meant for us to understand it in both ways:
1) Our love for God is made complete as we obey him with all of our heart.
2) God’s love for us is perfectly realized in our life as we experience the true freedom in obedience.

What is the real and ultimate demonstration of obedience? John says it is found in Jesus Christ – vs. 6 “This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” If we want to see obedience demonstrated in all of its fullness, in absolute perfection, we look at Jesus. Do you want to obey God, do you want to live in him? Walk as Jesus walked. Follow behind him, putting your feet in his footprints. What you see him do, you do. His actions, his attitudes, his love, his forgiveness, his selflessness, his heart. Imitate him as closely as you can and you will find yourself firmly living in the will of God.

There is nothing more fulfilling and satisfying than finding yourself firmly planted in the center of God’s will for your life. Trusting in him, allowing him to rule in your life, finding the Holy Spirit shaping you more and more into the likeness of Christ, experiencing that joy that comes from giving your life completely to him.

Those are the evidences that we truly know God and are living in relationship with him.