Pleasing God Is Not Primarily About Your Obedience

August 20, 2011


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But What About Obedience?

Obedience is the natural response of a person who is living in the good of the Gospel. The first thing that the counselor should have done for Sandra was take her back to the Gospel to clearly and carefully unpack the Gospel and then walk Sandra through a better understanding of the Gospel before telling her she needed to please God.

If she has accepted Christ, then she has brought God pleasure. There is nothing more to do. She should be able to rest in the reality of God’s finished work.

Yeah, But What About Obedience?

If Sandra is a Christian she should be obedient, but she must be settled on the fact that her obedience does not in any way alter God’s opinion of her. As a Christian, she is “in Christ” and she cannot be anymore in Christ, because of her obedience, than what she was when she was regenerated. Secondly, she must guard her heart from the subtle deception that what she does through obedience can merit a better standing before God.

For Sandra, this is absolutely huge. She is insecure, a people-pleaser, co-dependent, performance-driven or, to use more accurate biblical language, she struggles with fear of man.

All of our righteousnesses (our works) are filthy before God. John Owen said that even our repentance (our work) needs to be washed in the blood of Christ (his work).

WARNING: If you are not daily affected by Christ’s finished work on the Cross, you can subtly slip into an obedience lifestyle, thinking that what you do pleases him as though there is some kind of merit you achieve through your obedience.

You’ll know when this is happening, for example, if you fall into the trap of believing that all good things or all bad things happen to you based on your obedience to God.

Okay, Yeah, But What About Obedience?

We should be obedient. But that obedience is primarily the outflow of a life that understands the Gospel. Obedience is not something you work at as though you need a list. Obedience is the logical life of a person who is born again. James teaches us this in chapter two of his book. If you are a Christian, the fruit will grow. Faith without works is dead.

  • Works is an assumption for the believer.
  • Growth is the assumption for a plant if the seed is good.
  • It would be odd for a plant not to grow. If it didn’t grow, it would be assumed the seed was bad.
  • It would be odd for a Christian not to obey God if the “seed” is good.

It would be better for Sandra to “work” at understanding the Gospel by getting comfortable in her understanding that God has a fabulous opinion of her because she is in Christ. If she understands the Gospel rightly (what Christ did for her), then there should not be any other option for her but an obedient lifestyle. We obey because we love him and the more we love him, the more we obey. However, if we put obedience as the method in which we please God, then we are setting ourselves up for legalism.

Never counsel someone to seek to please God until you have taught them what that really means: you please God by accepting his finished work first. I’ve never met a person who understands the Gospel rightly and has lazy obedience. That is contrary to the Christian life. A person who is affected by the Gospel is daily seeking ways to allow Christ to work through them for his glory.

For me, I like the term Gospel-motivated works as a way to define obedience. These posts are not so much about how to be obedient, as they are about the motive for our obedience. Unfortunately, the counselor was not careful in unpacking Sandra’s motive for obedience.

THE BIG IDEA: The counselor basically asked her to switch the object of her obedience, from man to God, but didn’t take the time to switch the motive for her obedience.

As Jesus would say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Of course you would. That is an assumption. The operative phrase is “if you love me” and the reason we love Christ is because he “first loved us”. We were first affected by the Gospel then we loved him.

You could say what Christ said this way,

If you have been affected rightly by my work (the Gospel), then you will love me and because you love me, you will keep my commandments. If the Seed has regenerated you, then you will love me by following me in Gospel-Motivated Obedience.