Many in Christ today are working hard to improve their obedience to God without much success. In fact, obedience is often considered the crown jewel of the Christian life. As a result, it is number one on the list of how to experience the abundant life Jesus promised. Obedience is certainly very important and even essential but often misunderstood. It was for me for over a decade and it literally made me sick! That is why I posed the question, “Which is more important to God, obedience or dependence?” Our answer reveals whether we understand the Christian life as God intended.
When I was young, my parents bought me a plastic model car that had to be put together and glued in place. Even at that young age, I was so excited about this, I jumped in and started working on it. I envisioned the car looking just like the one on the front of the box. I saw that it included instructions but I thought, “Who needs those? I can do this without them!” After a few hours, the car didn’t look quite right and I began to realize I had no idea where certain parts went. I eventually looked at the instructions and realized that there was an order that needed to be followed. In fact, I discovered that if you don’t know where to start, you can’t actually put it together correctly. My frustration grew because I saw that I could not undo what I had glued. So, I finally gave up.
There are a few similarities between building the model car and building a life of obedience. First, you must know the correct starting place. Second, if you don’t do this, you will end up frustrated and may give up for a while or for good. This is what I heard from a man in one of Advanced Discipleship Training classes a few years ago. He was saved later in life and was immediately on fire to obey the Lord. Yet, after only a few months, he gave up on trying to obey God because he was failing and faltering. Eventually, the Holy Spirit showed him from Scripture that he was missing the key truth for obeying God more consistently. When he shared this with the class, you could see that he was experiencing Jesus as his peace. That is where the similarities end. You can learn where to start in order to obey. All is not lost if you haven’t in the past.
Dependence and obedience are equally important but dependence must always precede obedience. I would go so far as to say that dependence is the first obedience. Otherwise, we attempt to obey God through our determination, self-effort, trying harder, being more committed, etc. This approach is depending on the flesh in hopes of obeying God which is impossible. Romans 8:7 says, “…the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God…”
Galatians 2:20 frames it like this, ” but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” This couldn’t be clearer, could it? We live by faith, dependent on Christ in us. In addition, our desire to obey from a place of depending on Christ in us arises from knowing our Father loves us! In return, we want to show our love for Him through our obedience. Why? Obedience is an expression of our identity in Christ as sons and daughters of God. This is not so He will love us more because He already loves us as much as He loves Jesus according to John 17:23.
Before we understand that obedience is to start with dependence on the One who loves us and lives in us, obedience can be a big burden. Afterward, though choosing to obey, at times can be a struggle; it’s still different from our prior operating mode. By the way, how do we know what to obey since we are not under the law? The answers are found in many places in the New Testament and are most often tied to Who God is, what He has done for and to us, and who we are in Christ. Let’s all grow in grace by choosing to depend on Christ in us so we can obey Him.