Loving obedience is obedience shaped by grace. It comes from deep within our hearts as God in his compassion draws us to himself. When someone is saved by grace through faith in Christ, a wonderful and entirely miraculous transformation begins to take place. Enraptured by God’s love revealed to us by Jesus we begin to see God’s glory and desire more of it.
This is the same desire that compelled a fascinated Moses to ask God, “Please, show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). Like Moses, we are drawn by an intense longing to know God. Unlike Moses, we have the privilege of gazing upon the fullness of that glory in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). Through the Holy Spirit’s power we are transformed from glory to glory as we continue to fix our gaze on Christ and establish our life on the foundation of the grace of God (2 Corinthians 3:18). The apostle Paul whose single desire in life was that he might know Christ, also drew his inspiration from his secure relationship with God through his total and permanent acceptance in Christ. He rejoiced in the fact that he was found in Christ, not having a righteousness of his own, and was enveloped with the glory of the righteousness of Christ. Little wonder then, that Paul was compelled to reach towards the goal of full maturity in Christ by making it his daily ambition and the principal focus of everything that he did (Philippians 3:8-9).
Deep down every saved person has that same desire to know God. How could we not be amazed at the depth of God’s love in sending Christ to be the substitute sacrifice for our sins and bringing us into the status of becoming the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21)?
Surely we relish being in this glorious position and long to revel in all the benefits it brings. The apostle John says, “Of his fullness have we all received, and grace for grace” (John 1:16). Paul outlines the unlimited resources and blessings available to us in Christ when he says, “He who did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). How can we not be so fascinated by all this that we make it a life ambition to get to know this God who has dealt so generously and mercifully with us? As Jesus reminds us, this knowledge is not merely intellectual but deeply personal and spiritual. It is a life-giving knowledge, “This is life eternal that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17: 4).
Jesus also showed us that the motivation for getting to knowing God is the deep satisfaction we sense is available in him. He said to the enthusiastic crowd who followed him after the miracle, in which he provided food for 5,000 people, “You seek me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (John 6:26).
He went on to explain that their fathers ate manna provided by Moses and died, but if they ate the bread he provided they would live forever. “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world” (John 6:51). The life that Jesus offers begins with forgiveness of sins but continues with ever greater revelation of the abundant life available in him (John 10:10). How is it, then, that we seem to experience so little of this abundant life? Why do we seem so distanced in our experience from this rich and deeply fulfilling knowledge of God?
Part of the answer is that we simply do not know how to seek God and respond to his love. We seem to have little appetite for him, no real hunger for him that drives us to him, desperate for more of him.
Hunger for God
Become a person who seeks after God, or perhaps better, hungers for God. Often we mistake knowing God for knowing about him. Knowing him in our hearts through love is compatible with knowing about him in our minds. But when we seek him with our hearts we begin to experience him and that confirms and enriches our understanding of him.
Sometimes we find it hard simply to open up to God and so we back out. We are so absorbed in our plans, our concerns and our activities that we fail to discern the presence of the one who is constantly revealing himself. We fail to turn to him disclosing our deepest longings, our anxieties or our fears. We play it safe by filling our spiritual hunger for God with facts, information and knowledge about him and fail to encounter him personally.
One reason for this is fear. We are afraid of what he might think of us and, like Adam, who knew he was naked, we hide behind our service, our meetings and our Bible studies. When we hear the sound of him walking in our garden we think he has come to rebuke us and condemn us, so we run away.
But once we experience his love we come to understand that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Slowly God’s love begins to rule, and replaces the fear that once held us in bondage. We discover that we can drop our defensive strategies that keep us both from intimacy with God and with other people. We are liberated from every attempt to get people to accept us by showing how gifted, clever, helpful or nice we are. We realise that all our previous attempts to keep people at a distance were based in groundless fear. We no longer fear people getting close enough to see us for who we really are because we no longer fear rejection. We are eternally loved and accepted in Christ.
Surrendering to his love
We learn that God wants us simply to surrender to his love. This is the only way to know him intimately and fully. Only this kind of knowing God can bring his transformation into our lives.
True inner transformation can only happen when we see God’s grace and accept his love. Before that, the best we can offer him is obedience based in fear, not love. I can begin to know God and respond to his love only when I know that I am deeply loved and totally accepted by his grace. That is the only way of feeling safe in his presence.
Until then our obedience will be at best a duty but never a delight. God wants more than obedience; he is looking for loving obedience. God’s love at work in us is the only thing that that will motivate us genuinely to choose his will above our own. Apart from surrendering to his love, obedience will remain a matter of having to, never really wanting to. It will be about right beliefs and dutiful obligations – the two most preached about topics in many Christian churches today. But God wants more than right doctrine and right conduct. He also wants our love.
It is true that God requires our obedience, but obedience of itself is no substitute for surrendering to his love. Those who love obey, but not all who obey love. God is not looking for servants, but sons. He does not want slaves, but lovers. Mere behavioural obedience may be rooted in many things, but without love it is cold, calculated and life-destroying.
That is the cardinal error of legalism. Legalistic obedience – obedience that follows the letter of the law but ignores the Spirit of love – operates out of fear and guilt. It is motivated by a desire to manipulate God in order to ward off his displeasure, to satisfy our needs, to answer our prayers or simply to reward our obedience with the things we most want in life.
Sometimes we offer God our present obedience hoping it will atone for our past sins, but we can never be quite sure when we have done enough, and so we remain in bondage.
This kind of behaviour motivated by fear leads us not only to try and earn God’s favour but also to look to others for approval. How many times people in churches change their behaviour merely to please others or to avoid their censure. That is a poor motive and falls way short of genuine spirituality.
Knowing the love of God is the only basis for the kind of obedience that pleases God. This does not mean, however, that we do nothing until we are overwhelmed with his love. As we take a step of obedience in response to the love we know, God steps in and manifests his love and presence as never before. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21).
This does not mean God will only love those who love and obey him. Rather, Jesus is saying that the way to experience his presence and deeply know his love is by responding to his love by faith with loving obedience, trusting that God will come through for us and manifest himself to us. In this way we prove and experience for ourselves that God’s way is “good, perfect and acceptable” and we are well on the way to being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
Surrender to God’s will only becomes possible when we believe that God wants our happiness and fulfilment. When we “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8), we gladly surrender to his love and yield to his will knowing that it will lead to life and everything we long for deep inside our hearts.
Imagine how we might respond to God if we were gripped by a deep conviction, at the foundation of our being and identity, that we are deeply, unconditionally, eternally loved and totally accepted by God in Christ? The possibilities are endless.