I’m learning, slowly but surely, that obedience to God and freedom are inextricably linked. I used to think that freedom came when I could “do whatever I want.” Some days, I still do.
Obedience just sounds so… boring. It conjures up images of a rambunctious puppy going to obedience school to learn how to sit and stay for its master. The fact remains, however, that we were created to be like our Creator. We were made to love God and love others, and it is only then that we will be living fully alive and free. While not a perfect analogy, I once heard it compared to how a fish is designed to live in water. Say that one day the fish is tired of being obedient to his design of living only in the water and decides to see what else is out there. Once he gets on land, though, he finds himself unable to sustain life. Is the fish allowed to do whatever he wants and go out on land if he wants to? Sure. Is he going to be thriving in that environment? Definitely not.
When we obey God’s perfect design for our lives, we are living in the freedom that comes from stepping into who we were really made to be. For example, I was not made to be full of hate and anger and jealousy. When I am, I’m a slave to those things, and I’m miserable. But when I let God’s spirit work in me to produce love and patience and compassion, I’m free from the anger/jealousy/etc that once enslaved me.
As Jesus puts it, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin… but if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.” (John 8:34, 36)
Things get sticky for me when I find myself obeying God out of fear rather than love. We are told that God’s perfect love casts out our fear (1 John 4:18). I take that to mean that when we are in relationship with Him, our obedience can flow out of a joyful heart rather than out of resentment, fear, or a dreadful sense of obligation. As followers of Christ, we never have to fear punishment, because Jesus has already taken it all for us.
In John 14:15, Jesus says,“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Is Jesus just some tyrant, commanding us to prove our love for Him through submission? As I’ve pondered that verse, I’ve come to realize that maybe I have it all backwards. Maybe Jesus isn’t asking us to prove our love, but rather pointing out the simple truth that when our love for Him is genuine, we will naturally find ourselves wanting to obey Him.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not become burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” -Galatians 5:1
Jesus wants us to live free, and because of how we were designed, that can only come when we stand firm in our obedience to Him. For me, obedience has been a path lined with a fair amount of stumbling, but with enough glimpses of freedom and grace to keep me walking along that narrow way.
“I will always obey Your law, forever and ever. I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out Your precepts.” -Psalm 119:44-45