This year our focus is simply on following Jesus. We have been reflecting on Jesus’ call to come to him (Matt.11:28-30), to follow him (Luke 5:27-32), to believe him (John 20:19-31) and to abide in him (John 15). As we respond to his call, we begin to know Jesus better and we begin to love him. After all, he laid down his life for us. Over time, we also begin to hear Jesus’ call to obey.
The Call to Obedience
As people began to follow Jesus, he taught them about what life in his kingdom should look like. Jesus is the King and as his subjects and citizens in his kingdom, we are to take on his character and nature, which is that of love. Jesus taught and gave instructions that clearly showed what that life looks like in practical terms. A classic example of his teaching is the “sermon on the mount” as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (Matt.5-7). At the end of that teaching, Jesus made it clear that he wanted his followers to not only hear his teaching but also to put it into practice - to obey. Only then would they building their lives upon the rock (Matt.7:21-27).
In the Great Commission Jesus instructed his followers to make disciples but this included “teaching them to OBEY everything I have commanded you (Matt.28:18-20).” Jesus considers those who hear his instructions and put them into practice as his true family (Luke 8:19-21).
The apostle John, often called the “apostle of love” and the disciple who was closest to Jesus, emphasized Jesus’ call to obedience more than any other New Testament writer. He quotes Jesus as saying, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15) and again, “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching” (John 14:24). Jesus lived a life of hearing and doing the will of his Father. He told his disciples to do the same (see also John 13:15-17; 14:21-23; 15:9-11). John further emphasizes the importance of obedience to God’s commands in his letter to Christians (1 John 2:3-6; 3:21-24; 5:1-4).
This connection of love and obedience is a common theme throughout the Bible (Ex.20:6). In fact, the greatest evidence of our love for God is doing what pleases him. These two important things, love and obedience, cannot be separated. Jesus is someone to be loved and obeyed.
Jesus is both Saviour and Lord
As we take the journey of following Jesus, along the way we start to see who Jesus really is. When Jesus was on earth, there were many opinions as to his identity. Some thought he was Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets back from the dead (Matt.16:13-15). Peter received a revelation that Jesus was “the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of the living God (Matt.16:16-19).”
The disciple’s belief in the divinity of Christ (the understanding that he was not only fully human but also fully God) emerged over a period of time, culminating in the time of the resurrection (note Thomas’ proclamation, “My Lord and my God!”) and then Jesus’ ascension back to heaven to the right hand of the Father. Through all of these experiences, Jesus’ followers came to see Jesus as the Saviour of the world (the one who gave his life a ransom for all, providing forgiveness for sins) and also the Lord of the world.
Notice the culmination of Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).” This understanding in the identity of Jesus, calls forth our faith (placing our trust in Jesus as forgiver and Saviour) AND our obedience (submitting our lives to him as our Leader and Lord).
When it comes to this area of obedience, there are two potential problems. The first is that of “non-following believers” - people who name the name of Christ but whose lives do not reflect him. Some people see Jesus as a person who forgives them of their sin and guarantees them access to heaven when they die but nothing more. They live their own lives, maybe even trying to do the right thing, but they don’t take their ongoing following of Jesus and obedience to his commands seriously.
The second problem is that of “following non-believers” – people who think that keeping a whole list of rules and regulations equates to a relationship with God. This ends up in religion without relationship. In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (better called ‘the parable of the two lost sons’), the older brother never disobeyed the father, but he really did not know the heart of the Father. His obedience was one of joyless duty. This results in the religiosity and legalism that characterized the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.
The Importance of Motivation
In our relationship with Jesus, it is important to realize that he does not begin with the call to obey. He calls us to come, to follow, to believe, to abide and over time he calls us to also obey. The order is important. It is similar in any relationship. God delivered the nation of Israel out of Egypt to be his special people. Only later did he give them the Ten Commandments, as a sort of covenant with his people. In a similar way, when going out with someone, you don’t begin with the marriage vows! You first establish the relationship. Then, as trust and commitment develop, marriage may occur in which there is a sharing of vows with each other.
We do not obey God’s commands “in order to” be loved, accepted and forgiven. That would be works righteousness, and none of our good deeds can ever measure up to God’s standards (Rom.3:23. Eph.2:8-10). However, in Christ, and all because of grace, we “already are” loved, accepted and forgiven – as a free gift! Once this truth touches your heart, you choose to obey “because of” what God has already done for you out of his great love. Obedience should be a natural response to the love God has for us. It is the ultimate act of worship.
WHY do we obey? Because we love Jesus and believe that his ways are best. He is the wisest person who ever lived and following him, though not necessarily easy, represents what is ultimately the best thing for our lives.
Obedience involves an act of our will, the enablement of the Spirit and the renewing of our mind. As we more consistently obey Jesus’ commands, we start to grow and change. We develop the character of Christ. Faith, hope and love emerge. The fruit of the Spirit starts to grow. Our lives start to reflect Christ more and more, offering an attractive alternative to the spirit of the age.
Sample Discussion Questions
1. Why is it easier to accept Jesus as Saviour than it is to accept him as Lord of our lives?
2. What part does surrender and “taking up our cross daily” play in our call to obey?
3. How do we avoid the two extremes of (a) being a Christian who is not a good example of Jesus to others and (b) of becoming Pharisees who focus so much on keeping rules and regulations that they miss a genuine relationship with God and the fact that love is the summary of the entire law?
4. A disciple of Jesus is called to become like Jesus – in character and mission. How does this happen? What is God’s part and what is our part?
5. In order to obey the commands of Jesus, we need to know what he actually asked us to do. Discuss the role that Bible reading, especially that of the Gospels which contain the teaching of Jesus, plays in the development of our lives as disciples.
6. How can we better bridge the “knowing-doing gap?” Discuss James 1:22-25.