The key to properly motivated obedience.
So why does a through hiker succeed at hiking 2,190 miles from Springer Mountain, GA to Mount Katahdin, ME? Strength? Endurance? Proper planning? Luck?
What do you think the one key to success is for a long distance hike?
All of those things play a small role in the process, but the star of the hike, is obedience. Obedience? “You’re pressing now man. Nobody is making them, compelling them, ordering them to hike 2,190 miles.” You’re right, nobody is making them do it. No gun to the head order to hike. However, obedience is the right term to use here. The hiker is obedient to the hope, the process, to the goal. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t put one foot in front of the other some 5 million times. Every hiker hopes to make it to the finish line, and not just finish but to do so strong and well. If they didn’t have hope, all that effort would be senseless bordering on masochistic.
Why is a hiker obedient though? The motivations for attempting a through hike are as varied in number as the individuals that attempt it. Ask any hiker the why question and the answer you’ll most often receive is, “I’m not sure why. I’m still figuring that out.” This seems like a pretty big deal to attempt on a whim, but it happens. Many are trying to find some meaning or fulfillment or purpose in or for their life when they attempt a through hike. They are seeking, something.
For the Christian man or woman, obedience is a lot like this. We know we want to be obedient but we really aren’t sure of the real reason why. We are motivated by so many things to be obedient but unfortunately, most of those motivations are wrong.
So what is the proper motivation for being an obedient Christian and how can I have that motivation? It has a lot to do with the topic of Grace.
As we talked about earlier, these grace bits are very small and very large, even eternal, all at the same time. The challenge we face as Christians is that since the Fall, Adam and Eve in the garden, we’ve gotten hardwired to have to make things even or square between us and others, and too often between us and God. Too often we treat obedience as our payment to God for all the grace that He has provided us including salvation. “Well, since Christ died for me, the least I can do is be obedient to the tenants of Christianity, to His commands, follow the rules of the church.” Gratitude is a great emotion for daily worship but a dangerous motive for obedience.
John Piper calls this the debtor’s ethic. For example, “Look how much God has done for you. Shouldn’t you, out of gratitude, do much for him?” Or, “You owe God everything that you are and have. What have you done for him in return?” Each of those statements starts well said and well intended but finish poorly. They would each do well to stop early. Look how much God has done for you. Period. End of statement. You owe God everything that you are and have. Period. End of statement.
There are three problems with the debtor’s ethic line of thinking. First, it is impossible to pay God back for all the grace he has given us. We can’t even begin to pay him back, because Romans 11: 35–36 says, “Who has given a gift to him [God] that he might be repaid? [Answer: nobody.] For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.” We can’t pay God back because anything we would use to do so, He already owns. He made it to begin with.
Second, even if we succeeded in paying him back for all his grace to us, we would only succeed in turning grace into a business transaction. If we can pay him back, it isn’t grace. Romans 4:4 “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.” If you try to negotiate wages with God you nullify grace. If I’m hiking along and come to a road crossing and there’s a person there cooking burgers, handing out water and sodas, and candy bars and energy bars and chips, my initial tendency may be to give him something, anything in return. Your friends have you over for dinner. You tell them, “That was so good. Next week, dinner at my house, I’m cookin’ you’re eatin’.” The dinner your friend provided went from grace to a trade. I pay the guy a few bucks for the meal he cooked at the trailhead and it is no longer a grace it’s a transaction.
Lastly, gratitude as a motivation for obedience overlooks the importance of faith. Gratitude looks backwards to what you have received. Faith looks forward to what will be received. Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
This faith is the power that preserves the grace quality of human obedience. Obedience does not consist in paying God back and thus turning grace into a trade. Obedience comes from trusting in God for more grace — future grace — and thus unlocking the infinite resources of God’s love and power. 1 Corinthians 15: 10 “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” The grace that enabled Paul to work hard in a life of obedience was the daily arrival of fresh supplies of grace. This is what faith trusts in—the continuing arrivals of grace. Faith looks to the promises like, “I will be with you wherever you go” Joshua 1: 9, and in that confident faith ventures, in obedience, to take the land. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” “God is faithful” is a statement of past grace. What He has proved through your’s and countless other lives, past and present. “Will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear” is a promise of present and future grace. I can have faith in that. “Provide a way out” is also a promise of present and future grace. Specifically looking to the work of the Holy Spirit, and again, something I can put my full faith in. By having faith in the promises from God himself, my obedience is given a voice, an action, the power to be exercised. I can choose to ignore or deny the promises of God. That is my free will, but when I remove my faith in those promises, my disobedience is likewise given a voice, an action, the power to be exercised.
The biblical role of past grace —especially the cross— is to guarantee the certainty of future grace: Romans 8:32 “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all (past grace), how will he not also with him graciously give us all things (future grace)?” That “all things” includes the ability to be faithful, loving, righteous, as well as, obedient. Trusting in future grace is the enabling strength of our obedience. The more we trust in the grace God has in storage for us, trusting in God Himself, the more we give God the opportunity in our lives to show the glory of his inexhaustible grace.
Find the immeasurable power of obedience in your complete surrender to a faith in a God who can and will do all the heavy lifting with you. He must increase and I must decrease.
I will take the promises of future grace and do some radical acts of obedience on it. Yes / No