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All believers know that obedience is part of the Christian experience. God expects His people to obey Him. We have several reminders of this. There are those two stone tablets made famous in the Charlton Heston movie. There is the picture of God as Father and us as His children. There is the account of Adam and Eve eating of the Tree of Knowledge.

We all realize that God has every right to expect certain behavior of us, and throughout the Bible, He exercises that right. We all realize that there are commandments He has given us which apply to us as a whole. We should love each other. We should all abstain from immoral behavior. We should give. We should not get drunk. We should pray. We are accountable to Him for the way we raise our children.

These and many other truths are universal, applying to everyone. Since we all have a basic understanding of that concept, I am going to skip over it, and focus on one aspect of obedience, that of obeying Him on an individual basis.

Besides those commandments which we should all obey, there are times when He gives us commands on a more personal basis. He may tell an individual that He wants him or her to handle a situation a certain way.

NOTE: This is a good time to interject that when I say “tell” or “speak,” I have never heard an audible voice from God, yet I know there are times when He has impressed upon me that He wants me to do something (or, many times, He wants me NOT to do something). It is a feeling I get inside, and I know it’s Him speaking. In the past, He has told me to confess and apologize when I have done something to offend someone. He has told me to pray for a friend. He has told me that He wants me to fast for a particular time period. He has told me to say a certain something to a friend who needed to hear it. I realize this may be new to some readers, and some will be skeptical when they hear someone talk of God speaking to them. I can tell you that it does happen, and when it happens to you, you will know it’s Him.

Having said all that, it is important to know that just because we may know it’s Him speaking to us on an individual basis, there is no guarantee that we will act in obedience. Jonah is one example. He knew it was God telling him to go to Nineveh to preach; there was no doubt in his mind. He did not say to himself: "Maybe that’s not God. Maybe it’s just random thoughts popping into my head." Yet he chose to disobey Him.

In that case, God chose to use radical methods to bring Jonah around to His way of thinking, but He doesn’t always do that to individuals. However, I can guarantee you that if you know it’s Him telling you to do something, you are better off in your own personal circumstances obeying Him. He simply knows better than you and me what lies ahead, and many times He impresses upon us to steer our lives in a particular direction because He knows what’s going to happen. Now let’s look at what God’s word has to say about individual obedience:

What is obedience, anyway?

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word translated into English as obedience means "to hear." The New Testament agrees with this, and gets more detailed. The Greek word means "to hear or listen in a state of submission" or "attentive hearkening." Another use of the same word means "to trust."

Jesus was obedient

John 5:30

"I [Jesus] can of myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me."

Luke 4:43

"but He said to them, I must preach the Kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent."

Romans 5:19

"For as by one man's [Adam's] disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s [Jesus'] obedience many will be made righteous."

Examples of the correct way to practice obedience to His commands

Matthew 4:18-22

"And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ They immediately left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him."

Examples of the incorrect way to practice obedience to His commands

Exodus 3:10

[God speaking from the burning bush] "Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt."

Exodus 3:11

"But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?’"

To make a long story short, Moses spends the rest of Chapter 3 arguing with God, and the Lord has an answer for every one of Moses’ excuses to get out of the job. Finally, in Chapter 4 verse 13, Moses asks God to send someone else. God’s reaction is in the next verse:

Exodus 4:14

"So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses."

OUCH! I don’t know about you, but the absolute last thing I would ever want is to have the Lord angry with me.

In Matthew 19:16-23, we are told of a man who wanted to come and follow Jesus, but he was not willing to follow Jesus’ command to sell everything. Actually, he might have done it if he had taken the time to think about it, but the Lord wanted him to do it immediately, just as Simon, Andrew, James and John had dropped their fishing equipment without hesitation to dedicate their lives to the Lord.

The story of this man, often referred to as the Rich Young Ruler in modern discussions, is applicable to us for that very reason: he was expected to obey God immediately, without worrying about his possession or other worldly concerns. Sadly, this man is not alone. He lost a chance at salvation. You and I may have salvation, but we are still called to immediate obedience, and the thing that will keep us from this is the worries of the world, and possessions, both of which are temporary anyway. This is why Matthew 6:21 says that where your treasure is, there is your heart also.

One final point here can be made if we will remember what was said earlier about the definition of obedience. The Greek and Hebrew words translated into "obedience" both are centered around the concept of trust. If you don't obey God when He speaks to you, you are essentially saying, "God, I don't trust Your will for my life. I don't think You have my best interests at heart. I know better than You, so I will handle this one myself." As you can imagine, this sort of attitude can upset the Lord greatly. Which leads us to . . . .

Disobedience has consequences

Jeremiah 7:13-15

“And now, because you have done all these things,’ declares the Lord, “and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you but you did not answer, therefore, . . . I will cast you out of My sight . . .”

Remember Lot’s wife

While God was gracious enough to rescue her from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, she dared to look back, and lost her life because of it. Her looking back was a sign of dissatisfaction with what God had provided. She was willing to obey Him, but she still had a place in her heart for her old sinful life. This is a slap in God’s face, and in a way, a rejection of Him and of the salvation He was offering to her. We need to obey Him, and be happy with it, because He truly has our best interests at heart, and our circumstances will always be better when we choose to follow His commands.

Sometimes, we don't obey Him because it will make us uncomfortable

In the first four verses of 2 Timothy chapter 4, Paul warns Timothy, a young church leader, to preach the truth, even if the recipients of the message don't want to hear it. In verse three, he says: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth . . . "

Paul obviously is implying that these believers who want their ears tickled are not pleasing God, and if you and I truly wish to please God, we need to be willing to hear Him speak, even if He is speaking through a fellow believer, and even if it hurts to hear it. The truth of the matter is that God never called us to be comfortable. According to 2 Corinthians 4-5, any comfort we get comes from Him. We are called to glorify Him with our lives, a task which will often require us to step out of our comfort zones.

Experiencing Him should cause us to want to obey Him

Peter was an apostle who, as you may know, messed up several times during the time Jesus was walking the earth. He cut off a guard’s ear. He lost faith while walking on water, and had to be rescued by Jesus’ hand. And, of course, he denied association with Jesus just before the Crucifixion. When listing all of Peter’s bonehead moves, however, it is interesting to note that none of them occur after the Resurrection. That is, once Peter had seen the risen Christ, he was all of a sudden able to keep his eye on the prize. He had singleness of purpose, and could no longer let his own will get in the way of doing God’s will.

If you have a difficult time obeying the Lord’s voice, you should consider that maybe you have not really experienced Him. Not that you aren’t saved, but that you haven’t been in a place where you truly connected with God. Once you have, you will never be the same, and obedience will come easier for you, just as it did for Peter. The idea of how to cross this line is beyond the scope of this little lesson, but I recommend Henry Blackaby’s book Experiencing God for more on this.

God delights in obedience, and if we love Him, we will want to make Him happy

1 Samuel 15:22

"And Samuel said, 'Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice . .'"

John 14:21,23

“He who has My [Jesus’] commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and He who loves Me shall be loved by my Father, and I will love him, and will disclose myself to him. . . 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.”

And Finally . . . . Obedience will make your relationship with Him better

James 2:21-26

“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works, when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”

We could go on about what “justified” means, but without trying to stir theological debate, I must state here that I am one who believes man cannot lose salvation. Therefore, this passage describes the importance of obeying God in respect to our walk with Him beyond our initial salvation. What James is saying, then, is that our obedience does have a significance. Once we are saved, we can choose not to pursue Him aggressively, but we are the worse off for it. If you are truly saved, and over time, you choose to follow the world instead, you will still enter eternal life, but your walk with Him while in this life will not be rewarding. You will be missing out on all the joy and peace that comes packaged with a relationship with Him. You will try to replace that joy with the world’s imperfect substitutes, which cannot satisfy. The question is, what kind of walk do YOU want to have?

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