Years ago, an intern at our reformed, grace-focused, gospel-centered church preached a sermon on the Ten Commandments. He opened with an illustration about how many of us in grace-focused churches secretly, subtly resist the words righteous, law, or obey. He said something then that has stayed in my head ever since. “If the idea of a sermon on righteousness fills you with dread, you’ve been listening to the wrong people.” I have at points in my life had exactly that reaction to a message or article on obedience. I believe looking back that this reaction was because those teaching on righteousness and obedience talked about it in a vacuum. They did not do it in the atmosphere of gospel grace. And righteousness and obedience removed from gospel-grace become unattainable obligations. They become oppressive weights. God hates law apart from grace, and Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of this day in very clear terms over exactly this issue.
But when taught in the atmosphere of the gospel, obedience stops feeling like an obligation and starts feeling like wisdom. Righteousness is no longer a weight about our necks but a benefit that is strongly helpful in life. Instructions to obey become truly the light at our feet illuminating an extremely treacherous path.
Psalms 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
I just got back from a long trip to visit family on the east coast. I got to talk with two friends who are finally emerging from struggles, particularly in marriage, that lasted at least a decade. Both of them, in different states and who do not know each other, told me how incredibly important and powerful obedience was in the midst of the worst parts of their crises. Just obey. That was key. And neither felt like that obedience in the middle of their crisis was an obligation that weighed them down. It was a blessing. God’s instructions in His Word on how to respond in crisis were HELPFUL. Those instructions and commands helped my friends avoid pitfalls that would have seriously complicated their already stressful situations.
One of my friends was in a long struggle in her marriage, and I won’t share the details of what they endured. But the oppressive weight of obedience that actually became a tender blessing was the instruction in Ephesians to wives to respect their husbands. Unconditional respect to a husband removed from the atmosphere of gospel grace immediately feels like an unfair obligation. But much like unconditional love to a wife, her obedience in giving unconditional respect to her husband (as God gave His unconditional grace and love to her) ministered great grace to her husband. That command became a sweet, HELPFUL instruction that aided them in their recovery. I plan to write more on unconditional respect in the coming weeks–it’s such a beautiful, helpful instruction.
After both of those conversations during my trip, the last remnant of suspicion over the words obedience or righteousness has been fully washed away in my own heart. After years in a fundamentalism that made me cringe when the words were uttered, I now fall on my knees in thankfulness to God for giving us instructions in His Word that are so very helpful. If you need wisdom and helpful advice in the midst of crisis, my first loving encouragement to you is to simply OBEY GOD. Whatever His instructions in His Word, trust the Spirit as He speaks to you through reading the Word on your own and the preaching of the Word. And just obey.
8 Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly. 9 Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land.
10 Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. 11 Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky. 12 Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. 13 Righteousness will go before him and make his footsteps a way.