Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Why it's hard (for me and maybe you) to obey God

Doing the prep work for our next discipleship small group gathering, the workbook poses this question: "What are some similarities between the way children obey their parents and the ways Christians obey God?"

As someone who finds obedience to God a challenge, I thought that this was a good question and came up with at least four answers. (If you don't find obeying God difficult, you're either already in eternity with God, in denial, or the most exceptional human being I know.)
1. Both (sometimes) trust that that God or our parents have our best interests in mind.

2. We sometimes obey in spite of what it is we really want to do.

3. We sometimes obey begrudgingly.

4. When we trust God or parents, we trust that obedience is the best thing.
Famed psychologist and psychotherapist Erik Erikson said that human development happens as we successfully negotiate a series of certain internal conflicts over the course of our lives. The first one to be negotiated, he said, is trust v. mistrust. This conflict is played out initially in our homes, with our parents.

Despite the sentimentalization of childhood that sometimes beclouds our judgments, trust doesn't come naturally to us at birth, the result of the inborn condition of sin, the human inclination to trust only oneself. (To put it as the serpent expresses it in Genesis, we want to "be like God.")

Throughout our lives, we must deal with the question of whether we trust ourselves most of all. The gospel about Jesus Christ, God in the flesh Who bears our sins on the cross, accepting our punishment for our failure to trust God and all the selfish, loveless acts and ways of thinking that result, then rises to open up an eternity built on a trusting relationship with God and His grace, is the only thing that can overcome our original sin, our failure to trust.

As Erikson suggests, the remnants of our trust v. mistrust conflict remains with us our whole lives. But the Christian knows that we are changed, in the words of 'Amazing Grace, "the hour [we] first believed..."

When, by the Holy Spirit's power, we're able to confess our sin, our need of a Savior and Lord, and acknowledge that Christ is that Savior and Lord, God goes to work to help us become to trust Him and be set free to love God and love neighbor (Mark 1:14-15; 1 Corinthians 12:3).

But, this side of the grave, the work is never completed. At present, we see through a glass darkly, to use Saint Paul's image, and we know only in part (1 Corinthians 13:12).

The result is that:
(1) there are times when I disobey God's will for my life, even though, because of my gratitude for His grace, I want to obey Him. When this happens and I wake up to see the truth, I need to turn back to Him for forgiveness and the power to live differently. 
(2) there are (many) times when I do or refrain from doing what God wants me to do, even though I would rather go in another direction.
There are some people who claim that Christians project their experience as children with parents onto an imagined God, that God's Word is a figment of the human imagination.

In fact, they have things backwards: God is Abba, our Father and Creator. And when He created flesh and blood human beings, He gave them parents, whose functions in their children's lives is to mirror God's approach to the whole human race. God gives life, loves, nurtures, guides, and disciplines. He does this all through the agency of His Church. Parents are to do the same things with their children.

Parents like these, despite their imperfections, will elicit the trust of their children.

God, always perfect, can elicit the same trust from us for Him when we open ourselves to His grace given only in Jesus Christ.

But that doesn't mean that obeying the God Who loves us with infinite passion is easy. It isn't. And apart from His grace and love given in Christ, we wouldn't even think to try.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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