The Journey to Obedience

If you love me, you will obey me! (John 14:15)

The life of a disciple of Jesus is not a complicated one. It is actually very simple. It comes down to one very basic response…. “Obedience.”

The challenge is that we absolutely suck at it! We really really really struggle to truly obey from the heart.

Give us religious rules to follow (legalism), or give us “grace” that will cover all our challenges (libertinism), or give us lots of things that we can keep busy with (limbo), but just don’t speak the living word to our innermost beings in such a way that requires us to surrender and obey (Lordship). We will generally do anything to get out of having to truly surrender to and obey the Lord from our hearts. But this is not what the Lord desires:

“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22)

He wants us to hear His voice, and obey Him.

Legalists drown out God’s voice with their religious rule keeping, and libertines sear their consciences with a false idea of God’s love and grace. Those that find themselves in a state of limbo are those that acknowledge His Lordship outwardly, but resist it inwardly. They generally ignore His voice, run away from His voice, try to drown out His voice, or a range of other tactics which keep them in a state of spiritual limbo.

None of these three camps are able to live in the freedom and power of the Kingdom. They may talk the language of the Kingdom, but they are unable to live in it.

The writer to the Hebrews takes dead aim at all three these groups when he compares them to Israel.

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
    on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
    and saw my works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
    they have not known my ways.’
11 As I swore in my wrath,
    ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,

“As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’”

although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said,

“They shall not enter my rest.”

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

If you would like to read the portion that the writer is referring to you can read the account in Numbers 13 & 14. It describes how Israel faithlessly disobeyed God by not entering and taking the promised land that He gave them to take because of their fear of the strength and the size of the people in the land. 

Because of their disobedience He kept them from being able to enter the land and instead He led them back into the wilderness as a punishment. All those that had disobeyed first needed to die before Israel could enter into the promised land. Only those who faithfully obeyed were able to enter the land with the new generation of Israelites.

What is so interesting about this story is that a few months prior to this event Israel had seen God do numerous powerful miracles to bring them out of Egypt and out of slavery. So they were not unaware of His power. Yet when He commanded them to enter the land and told them that He would give it into their hands, they shrunk back in fear. To the point that they wanted to return to slavery in Egypt. It’s hard to believe. But it happened. And it reveals something very significant.

Faith is not automatic.

Even if you have seen God work before, your faith to believe Him for something new, in an unfamiliar territory does not come automatically. The reason is because faith is like a muscle. You are the one that controls it. It does not have a life of its own. It is under your authority. And it is your choice if you want to use it or not.

That is why God punished them for their disobedience. Because their sin was that they chose not to exercise their faith in obedience to His instruction. They chose not to believe! Instead they chose to fear.

You may think that fear is automatic. But actually it is also a choice to fear. Yes, the emotion comes automatically, but it is our choice whether we are going to obey it or not. Israel chose to obey their fear rather than the living God. And because of that He punished them.

In those 40 years in the wilderness they were not waiting for the fearful generation, but for the rebellious generation to die out. Only then could they enter the promised land.

Freedom and rest is our promised land in Christ. And God commands us to enter it. He is the Lord. He calls the shots. And because of His great love, He purchased our freedom on the Cross. And now he commands all men to leave slavery in Egypt and enter the promised land of freedom and rest in His presence.

It is not so much an invitation as it is a command.

through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations. (Romans 1:5)

The true gospel is not an invitation to be saved from your sin (as many preach it today). The gospel of the Kingdom of God is a command to accept Jesus Christ as the Lord (King, Master), and to renounce your sin, and everything of this world, and enter His promised land of freedom and rest.

Sadly however, many of us leave the world (Egypt) in response to God’s loving salvation, but then instead of obeying His instructions and fully entering the promised land (in every aspect of our lives), we roam around in the desert forever.

And the same thing was happening in the first century amongst God’s people. That is why the writer to the Hebrews makes such strong statements regarding it. That we should fear lest any of us fail to enter that rest. That we should take care lest there be in any of us an evil and unbelieving heart, leading us to fall away from the living God. That we should strive to enter that rest so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

My brothers and sisters, this is serious. It is not in the grey realm that we always try to keep it in. The, “these are my issues,” “it is too painful,” “I’m too scared,” its a journey,” type of excuses. It is very black and white. Not entering into any form of freedom in your life is sin. And it is a result of the hardness and deceitfulness of our hearts. It is not actually fear or confusion or pain or whatever we fool ourselves with. Beneath all those layers lies the true source of our lack of rest and freedom in Christ…. rebellion!

The hard and deceitful heart that the Hebrews writer speaks of will form within us all if we do not take care. It is a heart that does not want to be ruled. A heart that does not want to submit to God. A heart that deep down resists His Lordship. Because it wants to stay in control. Like the Israelites our hearts would compel us to rather go back to Egypt than have to obey God. It would prefer things to be cosy and comfortable. Where He gives us the niceties that we need, but does not require much from us. That is the type of God our hearts automatically desire. We do not have to choose for our hearts to respond in this way. Our hearts are naturally deceitful above all things (Jer 17:9).

That is why the Hewbrews writer encourages us to exhort one another daily, because unless we actively and consistently engage our hearts with truth, they will naturally default into hardness. They will naturally turn God into something He is not. A God who caters to our needs and requires little from us. Even a God that pities us and exists to serve us. A God who we can choose to obey or not, based on how we feel.

But that is not who God is. God does not invite us to obey Him and claim the promised land and battle all the giants in it. He commands us to do so. It is His express will for us is to deal with all the giants in our land (whether fear or depression or pain or whatever it may be) and to fully enter into His rest.

If you are a true disciple of Jesus, your choice is not whether you want to be free or not. Whether you want to enjoy the rest of God or not. It is whether you want to obey Jesus or not. That is your only choice. The choice to exercise your faith, enter the promised land and let God help you deal with all the giants, or to exercise your fear, rebel against God and wonder in the wilderness.

If you choose to rebel against God, He will not leave you. Just like with the Israelites, He will be with you in the wilderness. He will be your cloud by day and your fire by night. He will feed you, clothe you, protect, and be there for you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. But this is God’s mercy towards you. And only because of the intercession of Jesus on your behalf (His blood intercedes for you). It is not automatic. This mercy has come at a very high price, and we should not take it for granted.

God would have destroyed Israel for their disobedience if it was not for Moses who interceded on their behalf. His work gained mercy for them, causing God to change His mind and instead walk out a 40-year journey in the wilderness as punishment. And in a similar way He will patiently travel with you through the wilderness until every rebellious part of you has died out. And then, once you are finally ready to obey, He will be with you to enter into the land and take down all the giants so that you can enjoy His freedom and rest.

In that sense, we all need to go on a journey to obedience. It is a journey in the wilderness. And it is a journey that is determined by our rebelliousness. It is not the rest of God. It is not the destination. And it is not a place that we should get comfortable in or even think about in light terms. No, in that place we should fear lest we take God’s mercy for granted and fail to enter God’s rest. We should take care, lest we continue to let our hearts be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. And we should strive to fully enter into God’s rest.

So what does this journey to obedience look like?

Well, as the writer to the Hebrews says, we should allow the word of God to pierce our innermost being. We should allow the word, which is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword to pierce to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow. We should allow it to discern the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. So that we can see what is sinful and rebellious and unbelieving within us. And let all those parts within us die! By letting them be crucified.

Remember, we have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us (Gal 2:20). And if by the discerning of the Lord’s speaking we find in ourselves anything other than Christ which is still alive in us, we need to apply the truth of our crucifixion with Christ to it. We need to inform it that it is dead!!! We need to transform our minds with the truth. Lead our hearts to obey!

Only once all these things within us have died in this way, and the new generation (Christ) has been birthed in their stead, will we be able to enter the promised land and enjoy the rest of God.

If you are serious about entering God’s rest and freedom, then it means becoming serious about the journey to obedience. It means making a very definite commitment towards it. One that will impact your whole life. Your time, your lifestyle, your relationships, etc. It means entering into a “programme” with the Lord where you intentionally position yourself to let His word pierce your being and transform you.

It means giving up legalism, libertinism, and limbo, and beginning to walk under His Lordship.

Just because you are in the wilderness, it does not mean that you cannot begin to surrender to God’s Lordship. The new generation of Israelites were born in the wilderness. They were born there as a result of their parents’ disobedience. But that is where they were trained to love and obey God. I can imagine that they all took it very seriously because they probably knew why they were in the wilderness in the first place and what it would mean to get out. So I’m sure they actively engaged with learning to love and obey God, so that they would be ready to obey Him when the time came to take the land. And as we can see in the scriptures, they did just that. When the time came they obeyed God and took the land by trusting Him that He would do what He said He would. In the same way, you can  begin to train your inward parts to love and obey God even while in the wilderness of disobedience!

So what does this look like practically?

There are many ways to go about actively engaging with God’s word and person. Some of the ways that God has led me to do so in my life have included: fasting food weekly, daily bible study, reading a book on a specific issue I was struggling with (co-depenency) and actively engaging and dealing with what it brought up, seeing a brother who is gifted in counseling once a week and actively opening up my life to him, walking in the light with a group of men in specific struggles, actively waiting on God for a specific purpose, faithfully and humbly working in a specific job that He has given me to do, asking brothers and sisters to help me overcome a certain addiction and being faithful to the interventions that were put in place, consistently reading the specific ministry of a servant of God and letting God speak to me, spending time with someone in whose life I could see fruit in a specific area and humbling myself to learn from them, waking up early each day to pray and be in God’s presence, consistently fellowshipping with a specific group of people, journalling about a specific issue daily and prayerfully working through what surfaced, taking long walks in the forest each week to bare my heart to the Lord and let him speak to me, giving up worldly entertainment to get into the Lord’s presence daily, and so forth.

All these things enabled God’s word to pierce my being in very real and consistent ways. And I engaged in them until everything within me that needed to die was dead and buried! This dedicated, consistent, and face-as-flint approach, enabled Christ to be formed in those areas in a comprehensive and thorough way. In a way that has changed my life forever and enabled me to consistently enjoy the rest and freedom of God.

How you choose to take this journey is up to you. It may mean different things at different times depending on the issue. But whatever you do make sure that you commit to it and that you engage in it consistently until the work is done. Make sure that you consistently open up your being to the Lord in a real and vulnerable way. Otherwise you will just be going through the motions and there will be no fruit.

And remember, although you choose to commit to it, it will ultimately be the Lord that gives you the grace and the strength to see it through. Sometimes you will have the strength and grace to work through a sentence of a book or pray for 10 minutes for example. Whereas at other times you will have the strength to actively work through a page or a chapter or pray for 2 or 10 hours. The key is to not focus on how much you do, but rather the consistency with which you do it.

Also, it is vital to remember that you will not be alone in your pursuit. The Holy Spirit will be your very active and involved companion. He will literally help you every step of the way. By giving you strength, wisdom, and insight, enabling you with God’s power, leading you to the next step, and revealing God’s word and person to you. He is the one that will comes alongside you, and keep you cool by day and warm by night as you take the journey to obedience.

If you take God’s mercy seriously, are faithful to actively and intentionally engage with God in the wilderness, and faithfully walk out the journey to obedience, the Lord will deal with all the rebellious parts within you and enable you to love and obey Him in a way that gives you the rest and freedom that your heart so desires.

No matter what you choose to do, remember the parting words of the writer of Hebrews.

And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Remember, that although you may think you can rebel, you are not your own. You have been created. You have a master. And if you consider yourself a disciple of Jesus, then you have been bought with a price. And although He is a loving Master that is patient and kind and long-suffering, you cannot hide from His sight. All that you are is visible to Him. And all that you are will need to stand before Him and be dealt with by Him. You cannot rebel forever. You can either choose to take the road to obedience now, and let Him deal with what is within you in a way that forms Christ in you and gives you rest. Or you can wait for the day of judgement when every person will have to give an account and then God will deal with you as He sees fit.

Personally, I would like to exhort you as long as it is called “today,” and say:

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart. For there remains a Sabbath rest for you. Do whatever it takes to enter it!

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