What does it mean to be obedient to God? To some, this may seem like a simple question with an even simpler answer. We are obedient to God when we obey Him and His Word. But if someone were to ask you to explain this in further detail or to make it more practical, what would you say?
Perhaps you would tell them to obey the Bible. But what about the Old Testament laws? Where do they fit in with all of this? And if we’re not required to obey all of the Old Testament laws, which rules of the Bible are we supposed to obey and what makes them different from the rest? Truth be told, depending on your denominational views as well as personal beliefs and experiences, your view of what obedience to God looks like may be different from your fellow Christian neighbor.
So what does it really mean to be obedient to God?
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- Obedience to God is NOT about following a list of rules.
Rules are easy. We like rules. And while it may be true that following them can be difficult at times, we like to know what our boundaries are and what is expected of us. It gives us a sense of security, and in the end, we even get to maintain a bit of control. After all, it is up to us to make the choice to follow the rules in the first place.
Look at the Pharisees, for example. If anyone loved having rules, it was them. They loved them so much that they added additional rules just so they could feel good about following them. Not only did they brag about their “righteousness,” they would distort and use the rules against others… including Jesus. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, they used the rules to try to trap Him. But if Jesus made one thing clear throughout His time here on earth it was this: God isn’t looking for rule followers. He is looking for those who are pure in heart… those who obey because it is their desire to please Him… those who love them with their whole hearts because He first loved them.
- True obedience stems from a transformed heart.
The heart is a funny thing. The Bible tells us that it can be deceptive and wicked. (Jeremiah 17:9) But the Bible also tells us that when we are born again, we are given a new heart. God removes our heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26, Hebrews 8:10) This new heart is what makes true obedience possible. Instead of following the rules just because, our obedience can stem from a heart that knows the truth and longs to obey.
- We are called as Believers to live by the Spirit and the laws written on our hearts.
Our new heart beats only for Jesus. It longs to obey Him. And not only that, but we are told that God’s laws are written on this new heart. Now, we must remember that it is still possible to have this new heart and not be using it. We can certainly as Christians make the choice to walk in our old way of life. But we don’t have to… When we abide in Christ and live by the power of the Holy Spirit, this new heart can be trusted. It longs to obey God!
- Jesus simplified it all when He said to walk in love.
I think as Christians, we focus a lot of our attention on sin and following the rules. But this isn’t how Jesus taught us to live. He summed up the entire law in one simple commandment. Love. Think about it this way: If we are walking in complete and unconditional love towards God and others… a God-given love that stems from the heart… what sin could we possibly commit?
Sometimes we get so caught up in the list of rules that we forget their purpose. Sure, I have never murdered anyone, but I have looked at someone in hatred. My heart was murderous, even if my actions weren’t. But if I am walking in God’s love, even my heart can be pure.
And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” – Luke 10:26-28
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. – John 13:34
Being obedient to God means living by the Spirit and walking in His love.
We are not living in the days of the Old Covenant. We have to make sure we remember this truth as we strive to be obedient to God. The Israelites of the Old Testament didn’t have what we now have in Christ. Our Messiah has come, defeated sin and death, and He has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Old Testament laws were given as part of the Old Covenant… a covenant that was given as a “guardian” until Jesus would come and was made obsolete by the New Covenant. The book of Hebrews tells us that this old covenant had flaws. It was not God’s best for us. If it had been, there would have been no need to replace it. (Hebrews 8)
Under the New Covenant, we have the cross and the forgiveness of Christ. We also have the power of the Holy Spirit. Can you imagine trying to obey God without Him? The truth is that the Law served this very purpose… to show us our need for God’s transforming power in our lives.
Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. – Galatians 3:23-27 (NIV)
So what does it mean to be obedient to God as His child?
We abide in Him… trusting Him to guide our lives, to train us to live righteously and to empower us to be all He created us to be.
We listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, trust the law He has written on our hearts, and obey from a heart that is filled with God’s love.
*If you’d like to further your studies and find out what Paul had to say regarding our differences when it comes to obeying God and Old Testament laws be sure to check out Romans 14:5-23.
*Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.