The Balance of Obedience (Part 2)

The issue of authority played out one night in the following way:

The captain of the ship looked into the dark night and saw faint lights in the distance. Immediately he told his signalman to send a message” “Alter your course 10 degrees south.”

Promptly a return message was received: “Alter your course 10 degrees north.”

The captain was angered; his command had been ignored. So he sent a second message: “Alter your course 10 degrees south–I am the captain!”

Soon another message was received: “Alter your course 10 degrees north–I am seaman third class Jones.”

Immediately the captain sent a third message, knowing the fear it would evoke: “Alter your course 10 degrees south–I am a battleship.”

Then the reply came “Alter your course 10 degrees north–I am a lighthouse.”

In the midst of our dark and foggy times, all sorts of voices are shouting orders into the night, telling us what to do, how to adjust our lives. Out of the darkness, one voice signals something quite opposite to the rest–something almost absurd. But the voice happens to be the Light of the World, and we ignore it at our peril.[1]

We have seen in the previous study that the Lord Jesus Christ has given commands that are important and relevant. His instructions are authoritative because of Christ’s office as King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 17:14; 19:16). He prefaced the Great Commission with the reminder, “all authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth, therefore go…”

However, the gospel differs from world religions in that these commands are not steps to appease God and gain salvation; rather, they are descriptions of the kind of life that is birthed in the heart of every regenerate believer.

How can we give our Lord’s directive will the respect He deserves without lapsing into a law-based, self-effort kind of religious activity? Paul counseled, “… for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14b). What is the balance of obedience?

Let’s revisit John 13:34,35 as a summary of the distinctive nature of Christ’s commands. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” How are Christ’s commands “new”?

It’s not that love was a novel command. When Christ was previously asked, Which is the greatest commandment? He replied,

“‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37-19; Deut. 6:5).

Then, if love was so important in previous generations, what was “new” about His commands? The word “new” in John 13:34 is kainos–new as to form or kind. It denotes a qualitative newness.

1. A New Quality of Obedience

A. A New Quality of Relationship

There is a new quality of relationship that believers have with God. Jesus referred to the “new” covenant that He would establish through His death on the Cross as the lamb of God. At the Passover meal, the last Supper, “He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins'” (Matt. 26:27,28). Through His redemption and the sending of the Holy Spirit, God has created in His people a new heart and has “written” His law there by imparting His loving nature to us! “… the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5b; see Heb. 8:10; 10:16).

As Jesus said elsewhere, we are not just subjects, we are family; we are not just servants, we are friends (Matt. 12:50; John 15:14).

B. A New Quality of Love.

Although love had been revealed in conscience and Scripture previously, Jesus conveyed a new standard of love by saying “as I have loved you.” Wow! If “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is the golden rule, surely Christ’s supreme love is the “platinum rule.”

This quality of divine love is designed to be the special mark of the true Christian. The gospel should be presented in life and language. Albert Barnes observed,

“[Christ’s command] was new because it had never before been made that by which any class or body of men had been known and distinguished. The Jew was known by his external rites, by his peculiarity of clothing; the philosopher by some other mark of distinction; the military man by another. In none of these cases had love for each other been the distinguishing and peculiar badge by which they were known. But in the case of Christians …they were to be distinguished by tender and constant attachment to each other… Here they were to feel that they were on a level, that they had common wants, were redeemed by the same sacred blood, and were going to the same heaven. They were to befriend each other in trials; be careful of each other’s feelings and reputation; deny themselves to promote each other’s welfare.”[2]

May we this new quality of love flow from the new covenant relationship we have with the Lord.

2. A New Source for Obedience

A. A New Source of Power

Obedience to Christ’s commands comes from a new source of power. Apart from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the new nature He has created in our regenerated spirit, we couldn’t begin to obey the directives of Jesus. However, God’s Spirit in us is our ultimate resource for fulfilling His will. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:22,23; See 1 Cor. 6:19; Eph 4:24). “…that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4).

Since the one God is also three Persons(Father, Son, and Spirit), the Spirit of God represents the Life of Jesus Himself in us! No wonder Jesus affirmed that we are members of His body (Acts 9:4; Rom. 12:5). Since we are spiritually joined to the Risen Christ (1 Cor. 6:17), obedience to Him is not really about imitation, but about participation (1 Cor. 3:9). Jesus is the true Vine; we are the branches, expressing His life (John 15:1-5). Bearing the fruit of obedient living is credited to Him as we yield and depend upon Him.

B. A New Source of Motivation

If obeying Christ’s commands was just religious duty, the disciple would be trying to merit God’s acceptance and avert His judgement. Thankfully, the gospel is the opposite! Through Christ’s redemption believers have been saved by grace, are fully accepted, and are declared righteous! “… He has made us accepted in the Beloved [Jesus]. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph 1:6b,7). “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). So obedience is never to gain salvation, but is an evidence that we have been saved. “For we are His workmanship [a new person], created in Christ Jesus for good works [a new potential], which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them [a new purpose]” (Eph. 2:10).

By keeping in mind the new quality and source of Christ’s call to cooperation, we can obey Him as “under grace.” Then we discover that expressing His love–in the many facets of His directives–is a yoke that is easy, a burden that is light (Matt. 11:30). Since His commands are not burdensome (1 John 5:3), walking in the Spirit is prompted by grace and gratitude. To the extent we trust Christ to live His Life through us, our character and conduct will bear the fruit of obedience.

Part 2 of 2

[1] Illustration by Paul Aiello, Jr.
[2] Barnes Notes on the New Testament

Copyright 2013 by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non commercial use when credit is given the Scripture quotations are from the New King James version, copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson.

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