this Anachronistic Obedience
September 11, 2012
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines anachronism as, “a person or a thing that is chronologically out of place”, and also as, “a misplacing of persons, events, objects, or customs in regard to each other.” As with the picture above, we understand intuitively (or should) that certain things don’t go together, as well as the idea that things tend to follow a certain order in life.
And yet somehow, when it comes to the subject of obedience to God, Christians can often throw this understanding of the order of things out the window; seemingly oblivious to it. We’ll get to the anachronistic part momentarily, but the first problem we face when it comes to the subject of obedience to God is simply a complete misunderstanding of what that actually is! It ends up looking like this: we, who have been redeemed by the blood of the spotless Lamb of God through no effort, choice, or even desire of our own, suddenly get the idea that we need to start paying God back. One of the most obvious ways we try to do this is by “rule keeping” and/or making the ideas of obedience to God and “filling up our account with Him” synonymous. J.D. Greear says in his excellent book “Gospel” that we often land in this place because we view the gospel as the “diving board” into salvation instead of being the pool itself. Or, to put it another way, the gospel is the “starting pistol” that begins the race rather than the race itself. This faulty understanding of the gospel will invariably lead us to the assumption that God has gotten us started in Christ, but we now have the impossible task of earning what Scripture says from start to finish can never be earned.
But the purpose of this post (and my second point) is to suggest that – if we can ever get beyond the idea of obedience to God as somehow earning our salvation – we can just as easily fall victim to a whole new problem viz. an anachronistic understanding of obedience that sees love for God flowing out of obedience to Him rather than our obedience flowing out of love for God. The main problem with this understanding is that it completely sucks the life out our ability to ever obey God!
So, this is where things start to get kooky. Has anyone ever been driving past one of those ‘speed traps’ just a little bit too fast and thought to themselves as they’re flagged down, “Man, i love the police department!” Or been sitting under a mountain of receipts and folders during tax time and felt deeply, “I really love Canada!” How about standing before a counter full of dishes you now have to wash from the Thanksgiving dinner that you just made? Is anyone’s heart overflowing with joy for the gift of family at that moment? Matt Chandler (Matty C) said it best when he said, “Obedience [he used the word discipline] won’t bring about love, but true love will always include obedience [discipline]” So, we actually switch the order that God has lovingly laid out for us when we imagine that trying really hard to be obedient will somehow create deeper love for Him, even though we see this nowhere else in life.
Try something really “radical” then: follow the way God designed things to work, and see if the result is not remarkably different. You can find innumerable examples of this design in Scripture, but here are two i think illustrate this understanding well:
The first is found in the book of Exodus. God miraculously frees His chosen people Israel from slavery in Egypt through signs and wonders and plagues and, finally, by parting the Red Sea for them to cross over, while destroying the pursuing Egyptians in the same path. The thing to see here is that it is only after God has rescued and redeemed His people that He gives them His good laws to obey in Ex. 20.
The second example is seen in the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5 ff. where, again, it is only after Jesus describes the blessedness we have as born again children of God (Matt. 5:2-11) that He goes on to define what obedience to the law (and its depths) actually looks like.
Consider your own experience even: who among us, out of gratefulness and love for the cook, doesn’t go into the kitchen after the Thanksgiving feast, role up our sleeves and dig into helping cleaning up for them? What new parent, out of the joy and love for this new member of their family, does not surrender sleep and sanity to sit up with a screaming baby at 3:00 am? And what redeemed sinner, staggered under the weight of the heavy price that was paid for them on the cross, does not joyfully offer service to their Saviour and His Bride? Yet in every case, He is always the initiator. He, Whom is called ‘Love’ Himself, always gives us the gift first that then elicits the loving response.
He, to Whom we owe all things; the One of Whose love so amazing we sing ‘demands my soul, my life, my all’, demands these, not to repay Him in any way, nor out of any sense of duty, but simply out of the overflow of a grateful heart. When we get the order right, then, obedience to His commands is not burdensome, but our true delight and the plain evidence of our love for Him (1 Jn.5:2,3).
Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small!