More than Obedience

Colossians 1

9 For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;
10 That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;
11 Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;
12 Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:

A good portion of the New Testament epistles is moral instruction. And it would be easy to legalistically reduce Christianity to a simple set of rules, simple morality. Moral instruction, or calls to be moral, are found on pretty much every page of the New Testament.

Passages like the above one from Colossians 1 are not nearly as plentiful, but they show that Christianity is far _more_ than obedience. It is not less. Christianity without obedient righteousness is no Christianity at all. But it is not simply morality. Colossians 1 teaches us that in obeying God’s revealed will, we are also pleasing to Him. We Calvinistic Protestants are eager to point out that our righteousness is external and imputed, and so it is, but it is also true that the Bible says _we can please God_ as the Spirit instructs and empowers us, and above all within the context of our redemption through Christ.

But I do not think our obedience is pleasing to God as though He is somehow impressed by our righteousness. Instead, it’s more of a means to an end. 1 Timothy 1:5 says “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned”. Colossians 1:10 says we increase in the knowledge of God as we walk in obedience.

And here is the distinction between a Christian’s obedience and a legalist’s rule-following. We obey God’s commandments not because they are commandments and we want to justify ourselves. We obey them because they are given by our Lord and we love Him. We know that our obedience is imperfect, and it is not the _quality_ of our work that He cares about, but the sincerity of our hearts. When my sons obey me, I do not care that they are unable to do as good a job as my wife or I. I am happy that they _obey_. They want to please me. They love me. They are learning obedience. An imperfect job done in sincere obedience is far superior to a quality job done grudgingly or from impure motives. It would take me about 15 seconds to clean up their toys. It takes me much more time and effort to supervise them. But there is no substitute for the agonizingly slow and imperfect cleanup job happily done by two toddlers singing “Clean Up, Clean Up!” at their father’s instruction.

The legalists Christ dealt so harsly with, on the other hand, “trusted in themselves that they were righteous” (Luke 18:9). These are the rules, and as long as I keep them (and maybe some more that I’ll add just in case), I’m doing just fine. I am righteous. I have kept the Law. Paul even wrote that he was blameless regading the righteousness of the Law (Philippians 3:6). But outward obedience to the Law is not the point. Keeping the law is not the point. Even if we kept the revealed law, our righteousness is filthy before God. The unfallen angels are not pure to Him. He does not want mere obedience. He wants _more_ than obedience. He wants a pure heart, unfeigned faith, sincere obedience.

It’s not wrong to teach the moral law of God to His church. There are so many laws we willingly violate. To the extent that the law defines sin for us, it is good to teach it and to rebuke and encourage Christians to obey it. We must _start_ with obedience (John 14:21). But it cannot stop there. We obey, but our focus is not obedience; it is the knowledge of God, a pure heart, and sincere faith.

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