What is obedience?
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According to the Webster dictionary, it is willing to do as one is told; when I looked it up on the Internet, it says obedience is compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another’s authority.
The Bible tells us to be obedient to the commands, laws, and regulations that God has given to us in the Torah. The question of whether or not Yeshua (Jesus) made those laws obsolete is not part of this discussion, but we are basing this entire message on the idea that the Torah was not done away with, as many Christian religions have taught.
The real problem with obedience to God is that the Bible tells us to be obedient, if for no other reason than to receive blessings (Deut. 28), but then it also tells us that we are all sinners from birth. You can find this in Ecclesiastes 7:20 or Romans 3:10 or Psalm 143:2 or Jeremiah 32:30, just to name a few places, so we are told to be obedient but the Bible tells us we can’t be obedient. At least, not all the time.
Do you remember the drash Yeshua told in Matthew 21:28-32 about the father and his two sons? The father asks his two sons to help in the field, one says he will do it but never does, the other says he won’t, but later changes his mind and goes out to help. Yeshua asked which son was obedient and they answered the one who actually went out to help. The point is that it doesn’t matter what we say, what matters is what we actually do. Even if we initially decide not to obey God, when we do it is considered to be obedience. And those who say they will obey, even if they want to when they say it, if they don’t actually obey then they are disobedient.
But, I gotta go back to the Bible telling us we are all sinners, which is the same as saying disobedient. So if I want to be obedient, but I cannot be obedient, then what’s the use of trying?
My take on this is that we have to be a little bit of both: willing to be obedient and being obedient as best as we can. No one will ever be sinless, no one will ever be perfect, and no one will ever not sin. That is, by definition, being disobedient, yet there are so many sinners throughout the Bible who were considered righteous! Abraham pimped out his wife… twice! Jacob disrespected his father when he lied to him. Judah slept with his daughter-in-law. Moses was a murderer. Samson had serious anger management issues. Need I go on?
I believe that true obedience begins with the desire to obey. Shaul (Paul) wrote about being “under the law”, which meant obeying as the means to gain righteousness and, thereby, salvation. The desire to obey had nothing to do with this form of obedience- it is what we would call “going through the motions.” The Prophets tell us, continually, that God sees the heart and cares not for the blood of bulls and sheep but that he desires our obedience. I believe this means that God doesn’t want us to just go through the motions but expects us to want to obey, and whether we do so perfectly or only partially if our heart is in the right place then we are considered to be obedient. We can say faith is more than just believing that Yeshua is the Messiah, it also incorporates a heartfelt desire to obey God. And, as James says, when we have faith we will have works that demonstrate that faith.
My belief (and you may disagree) is that the kind of obedience God expects from us is, first and foremost, a willingness and desire to do as he says. Then we must do as he instructs us which, because of our innate iniquity, means we will never be able to do so perfectly. This is where God’s compassion and understanding come into the mix. Just as loving parents know their children will do wrong, even when they want to do right, God understands our weaknesses and incompetence. He accepts us when we want to do what he has told us we should, and do so to the best of our individual ability. Of course, we must also feel true remorse when we fail to obey and have a humble, contrite spirit when we come to God to apologize and ask for forgiveness.
Time out for a moment…let me ask you: Do you ever apologize to God? I do. I don’t just come to ask for forgiveness, but because I really feel bad when I screw up I also apologize to God for not doing what he wants me to do. After all, if I apologize to people to show respect for their feelings doesn’t God deserve at least that much?
Let’s finish up today’s message with the answer I would give to the original question “What is obedience?”, and that answer is: obedience is first and foremost the willingness to do what one is told and secondly, actually doing what one is told as best as one is able.
My friends, we can never be sinless but we can always sin less, so go forth with both the willingness to obey God and demonstrating how genuine that willingness is by actually doing what he says, as best as you can. That is the kind of obedience that, I believe, God will honor.
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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!