The only cause of the power that darkness has over the world, with its ruinous consequences, is disobedience; the one thing that God demanded from His creature, man, was to obey His commands; all of the blessings of dwelling in the presence of God were dependent upon this one thing.
The thread that holds the Word together, from Genesis to Revelation, is God’s expectation that those whom He created will obey Him. In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, we read that Adam, who was able to eat of the tree of life, ate instead of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the fruit of which was forbidden to him. “Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” God said (Genesis 3:11). In the last book of the Bible, Revelation, in its very last chapter, we read; “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life” (Revelation 22:14). God doesn’t change and His righteous requirements of man haven’t changed; all through the Word of God, from the beginning to the end, and everywhere in between, is the unequivocal voice of our Creator demanding obedience from mankind.
Obedience is not something that is taught in religious circles today; it is an unpopular way of attracting adherents. The age of cheap grace prefers to recruit adherents by emphasizing the benefits offered to those of faith rather than drawing attention to the sacrifices required. If obedience does eventually get a mention, it is mentioned mainly in the context of the importance of obedience to the hierarchy by whatever name; popes, priests, prelates, preachers, pastors. This, it is said, preserves unity of the Body. This is total nonsense.
The Greek word for “obedience” is hupakoe from hupo, “under” and akouo “to hear”, and thus signifying coming under the hearing; one hears and one does; that is obedience in the Bible. Conversely, “disobedience” in the Greek is parakoe, from para “alongside” and akouo “to hear”, and thus signifying either hearing and disregarding what is heard, or refusing to listen.
Obedience is the most important word in the Bible and yet it is either neglected or misrepresented. Our relationship with God is founded on obedience; that of the Lord Jesus; if we are to follow Him then we, too, must become perfected in obedience as He was; obedience is foundational to true faith and salvation.
The First Adam
It was this neglect of obedience that led to the fall. Adam was made by God to dwell with Him eternally; it was no part of God’s plan that Adam should die; death was not programmed into Adam at creation; he was perfectly made to last forever. Adam was not required to do anything other than obey God in respect of one thing; to refrain from eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God imposed no other requirements upon Adam; he was not required to sing songs of worship to God, offer sacrifices, bring tributes, make tithes or anything that later became associated with the way back to reconciliation with God. He was required only to obey the one command God gave him; to refrain from eating the fruit that God had forbidden him.
The importance God placed on obedience to Him is demonstrated in what happened to Adam and the human race since that time. Death came in and with it, the authority that God had given to Adam over the earth and all that dwelt therein was yielded up to Satan; man was now demonised; as Paul put it to the Romans (Romans 5:17), by one man’s disobedience, death reigned. As the father of mankind, our father in the flesh that is, what Adam handed down to his descendants was death, the inevitable death of the flesh that was inherent in the irrevocable propensity of carnal man to sin.
There are two things that man must do if he is to have the eternal life for which he was created and which was lost in Adam. Firstly, he must be begotten again of the Spirit of God; this involves recognising God’s righteous judgement of sin and trusting completely in Jesus as atonement for his own sins and for reconciliation with God. Secondly, he must learn to abide in Christ for the holiness without which no-one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14); this involves putting off the old carnal man descended from Adam and living instead in the continuous and abiding presence of Christ Jesus.
The first step is judicial and the second step dynamic. When a man is born in the flesh, he is united with Adam in death; when he is begotten again, he is united with Christ in eternal life. Thus, at that point, he is judicially accepted as righteous and the sentence is redeemed; “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). This is the judicial principle.
But the judicial relationship is validated only in the dynamic; he has Christ’s righteousness only by abiding in Christ; his participation in Christ’s obedience and the righteousness that flowed from it must be as real as was his participation in Adam’s disobedience and the lawlessness that resulted. In other words, as the natural man was predisposed to have the thoughts, values, attitudes, disobedience and sin of the world, so, in the spiritual man, these must be supplanted by the thoughts, values, attitudes, obedience and righteousness of Christ. That is the dynamic relationship that underpins the judicial relationship; one cannot be separated from the other and these things are not a matter of profession, but of fact.
Jesus, the Last Adam
As we have seen, the stamp of Adam is on all his seed; disobedience to God is the distinguishing characteristic of all who are of Adam; it is the singular family resemblance that abides in all Adam’s children. In the same way, the one mark of resemblance, the bond of union, in those who are of the seed of Christ is obedience to God. Jesus Himself defined the parameters of what family means; “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50). Obedience to God, then, is the defining feature and mark of resemblance in God’s own family. Just as it was only through His obedience to the Father that Jesus was able to purchase our salvation; so it is only through our obedience to Him that we are able to inherit that salvation.
A principal purpose behind the sacrifice of the Son was to enable the restoration to man of absolute obedience to God. The Law could not accomplish that; it contained no power within itself to compel obedience; it just laid down the divine parameters and set out the penalty of rejection. But the Son came, saying, as prophesied of Him in the Psalms; “I have come to do Thy will O God” (Hebrews 10:9). His life was dedicated to this one principle; to seek to do not His own will but the will of the Father who sent Him (John 5:30). He was the last Adam, who came to undo what the first Adam had done; “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15;22) and “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).
Of the Son, the Word tells us that He learned obedience.
Though He was a Son, He learned obedience from that which He suffered, and being made perfect. He became the source of eternal salvation to all those obeying Him (Hebrews 5:8-9).
He had to learn obedience because the Father did not reveal His will to Jesus all at once; it was a step by step thing. Each act of obedience prepared Him for the next revelation of the Father’s will. He was not born with the knowledge of what was before Him but learned only from fellowship with the Father; In the prophetic Messianic Psalm it is written; “My ears you have opened” (Psalm 40:6). They weren’t opened all at once, but gradually, as circumstances gave opportunity.
The key to Jesus’ obedience was humility; power with God was its fruit. Jesus, we are told, although being in nature God, emptied Himself and took on the form of a servant and humbled Himself, being obedient unto the point of death and death on a Cross (Philippians 2:5-10). He only said and did those things that the Father told Him to do or say (John 8:28-29). The Son’s total yieldedness to the Father’s will was met by the Father’s continuous and unrestrained bestowing of His divine power working in the Son. The power in Christ’s life was not His, but the Father’s (John 14:10); it was released to Him because of His obedience. His obedience is the treasury from which not only the penalty for our past disobedience is paid, but also out of which the grace for our present obedience is supplied.
We learn from this how man is to obey God; just as Christ obeyed the Father because He lived in the presence of the Father, so too man can only obey Christ as he lives in Him; he lives in Christ and it is Christ that obeys; that is the principle. It is a common deception to strive for obedience in the flesh, but if man can be obedient in his own strength, why was it necessary for Christ to die? The reality is that we cannot obey in the flesh; it is programmed to disobey God; man is inevitably predisposed by his inheritance in Adam to disobedience. The consequence of our humanity is that the best of men are, at best, still men. Obedience does not and cannot come from our own efforts; it is only as we spend time with Christ as He did with the Father that we will have the courage to yield all of self up to Him and trust Him absolutely.
If obedience is the demand, to what are we to be obedient? The answer to this is the voice of God; the rhema; every rhema proceeding from the mouth of God. God is not saying the same thing to every one of His children; He knows us personally and ministers to us as individuals; each one a priest to Him in the priesthood of all believers. God’s plan for each one of us is marked out in the scriptures; each one must find it for himself and only God can help us.
There is a chicken and egg problem here; the only way to hear God’s voice is to be obedient, whereas the only way to be obedient is to hear the voice of God. There are many who listen to the voice of men and do not seek to hear the voice of God; similarly, those who are disobedient will not hear the voice of God. A heart commitment to obey is a prerequisite to hearing God and unless that is present there is little likelihood that God will bother speaking. Having said that, God is faithful and He will use His best efforts to make His reluctant and stubbornly disobedient sheep hear His voice, and that will often be at the cost of suffering to the sheep; Jesus after all, had to learn obedience from the things that He suffered, and we are called to follow Him.
If we can grasp the significance of obedience to God as presented in the scriptures and witnessed in the life of Christ, and know that this is what we are truly called to, it becomes a burning desire in the heart of the believer, a passion that will overcome the hesitancy and weakness of the human condition. It is only as we are obedient to God that He can open our ears to hear His voice.
We must hear the voice of the Lord – the Word without the voice does not carry with it the power to obey. In that sense it is like the sign that signifies a speed limit; it is a word of authority but has no power within itself to make man obey. The Word of God coming from the voice of God is different; this is the rhema coming from the One Who Is and cannot be ignored. The only power to obey is in the presence of God and His voice speaking to us; it is the Word of a Living God who must speak for Himself if His word is to exert its divine power in us and bring forth the obedience for which it was sent. It is because of the power and authority in the voice of God to man that most Christians prefer to hear the Word of God from the voice of men; it carries no authority with it and can be safely ignored. This was the situation with the Jews who, after hearing God speak, were frightened and told Moses that, rather than hear God directly, Moses should hear from God and tell them what God said;
“You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:19).
As a result, Moses, who heard God’s voice directly, obeyed God and Israel, who didn’t hear God directly but only through the man Moses, didn’t obey. It is written (Psalm 103:7) that God made known His way to Moses but to Israel He only made known His acts. There is a significant qualitative difference here. Subsequently, God was critical of Israel for not knowing His ways and said;
“They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways” (Psalm 95:10).
Hebrews 3 tells us that, consequently, Israel could not enter into His rest and the generation that was with Moses perished in the wilderness. It all began with refusing to hear from God and preferring to hear from men. Of such as these, Paul wrote that their faith rests on the wisdom of men and not the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:5). The power of God is not in the wisdom of men but in obedience to God. Human wisdom and human will, no matter how strenuously applied, cannot command the power of God’s voice to bring about obedience in man.
God has promised that His sheep will hear His voice (John 10:27), but we cannot hear His voice by our own efforts; they must fail; it is only God’s holy presence, consciously and continually experienced, that can keep us from disobeying Him. Jesus learned obedience and so must we – and in the same way; laying down our self life and our self will. It is only unbroken fellowship with God that will enable us to hear His voice and only hearing His voice directly will give us the power to obey. That is what Jesus had.
Of Jesus it was prophesied; The Lord God has opened My ear” (Isaiah 50:5) and; “My ears Thou hast opened” (Psalm 40:6); and if obedience is our passion, you can be sure that He will open our ears to hear. If any man is willing to do God’s will, he will know the way (John 7:17); It is His job to speak and ours to hear; but to hear we must be in the holy presence; then, and only then, will we hear the holy voice and our hearts will be stirred to obey.
Habits of Obedience and Disobedience
Obedience to God is the quality that marks us out as belonging to Christ; it is the silent testimony of the true nature of our faith. Obedience is not episodic or a once only act; a life of broken and irregular fellowship with God is an unhealthy and defective life; obedience is a life principle, a way of life. The natural man is naturally disobedient; his disobedience becomes a habit; but in the spiritual man obedience to God must become the habit that replaces the habit of obedience to self.
Habits are those things that mean that, whenever we are presented with the same circumstances, we will act in a certain way. They are powerful influences that will determine behaviour unless they can be retrained and reprogrammed. Habits have a strong gravitational pull that ensures that we will respond in a given situation as we have in the past. Habits do not go away of their own volition; they must be broken and new habits developed and this requires a great deal of energy on our part.
Consider, for example, a rocket being fired off into space; the overwhelming bulk of the rocket is taken up in fuel to force the vehicle through the gravitational pull of the earth. So it is with habits; once changed and brought into line with the will of God our habits can offer clear travel; but to break through in the first instance can only take place after much effort and energy is invested.
In the scriptures, the gravitational pull of the heart in one direction or another is called “the mind”; it is the sum of our dominant desires. Where we allow our minds to dwell is a crucial matter in terms of what the scriptures have to say. “For the mind of the flesh is death, the mind of the spirit life and peace” (Romans 8:6). It is not sufficient to spend a half hour or so in reading the Word and meditating on the things of God, only to revert to a mindset of worldliness for the rest of the day. On the contrary, Paul writes that we are to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). This is something more than a “quiet time”; this is total surrender of self to the rule of Christ. The only way that can happen is for us to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23). This means breaking habits of thought.
Religion and Disobedience
Obedience is, and always was, fundamental to man’s relationship with God; “Obey My voice and I will be your God” He said (Jeremiah 7:23). Can we truly say He is our God if we don’t obey Him? Sadly, the answer in post-modern Christianity is “yes”; the interpretation of “grace” as divine tolerance of sin has brought the Church to a place where, in practice, it provides an affirmative response to Paul’s rhetorical question, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1).
In commercialised Christianity – “Christ Incorporated” – obedience to God is not a suitable topic for mention; obedience to “Leaders” perhaps, but not obedience to God. How can it be that God is able to speak to organised Christianity that demands a letterhead and a secretary and a website and all the gimmickry of the commercial enterprise? This is apostate Christianity, in which there is much praying for little return; it is like sending a farmer into a field without a plough. But let the obedient man of faith go alone into the wilderness and get on his knees and put himself in a position where he must get the answer from God and God alone; that is when you will hear God speak!
The Church very uniformly still sees as men see and judging after the manner of men’s judgement. So much eager beaver religious work is done out of a carnal desire to do well and make good. So many hours of prayer are wasted asking God to bless something that is geared not to the glory of God, whatever men may say, but to the glory of men. Much sacred money is poured out upon men who, despite their teary appeals, seek only to make a fair show in the flesh – a crystal cathedral or a private jet. This is all nonsense and the true believer should turn from it. The fact is that no man is worthy to succeed until he is willing to fail and until he is willing that the honour of succeeding should go to another. God will bless a work where to succeed is not necessary for happiness. The man who is elated by “success” and cast down by “failure” is still a carnal man. “Success” does not make a man closer or dearer to God; our great honour lies in being just what Jesus was. It is only obedience that God honours.
If we make a profession of being followers of Jesus, yet live as carelessly in the world so as to be indistinguishable from those of the world, we are as Judas, who betrayed the Son of Man with a kiss (Luke 22:48). Religious hypocrisy is the armour bearer to heresy and infidelity, because the “much fair speech” (Proverbs 7:21) of the religious world is directed towards drawing us into the “deceivableness of unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:10). We may offer the kisses of baptism, fellowship, communion, Bible study, prayer and worship, all declaring our love for Jesus; and yet still betray Him in disobedience. This is so commonplace amongst Christians as to be unremarkable; the world hates the Church not because it is faithful but because it is not. There is one sacrifice that God desires above all and that is obedience. If that is not offered, all other sacrifices are without meaning or consequence. “Sacrifice and meal offering you have not desired” (Psalm 40:6). And yet that is what is still offered by His people, whereas the sacrifice that God desires is the “sacrifice of righteousness” (Psalm 4), which is what was offered by the Son; “I come to do Thy will” (Psalm 40:7-8).
Obedience is the only sacrifice that God requires of each one called to be a son.