Why Should I Obey?

In the comments of my last post, Danny Kaye raised a very good point. In regard to my point about forgiving as an act of obedience, he suggested that “humility through gratitude” should motivate us to forgive. I agree with this wholeheartedly as a motivation.

The bottom line is, God commands us to forgive. For whatever reason we do so, obedience is required. The question is, “Why should I obey?”

I want to explore that thought a little further. As I see it, there are two sides to the obedience/disobedience equation: the motivation that causes us to obey/disobey and the consequences of obedience/disobedience. For the sake of this conversation, I will focus upon obedience.

Motivation can be either positive or negative. Let me explain. I have two sons that I love very much. To the best of my ability, I instruct them on how to live a life that is good for them. I expect them to obey me. Why do they obey me? It is because of one of two reasons: 1) They love me, (or as Danny said, “Humility through gratitude”) 2) They fear the consequences of not obeying. I would much rather they obey me out of love than out of fear.

The Bible tells us that we are to, “Fear God and keep his commandments,” Ecclesiastes 12:13. It also quotes Jesus as saying, “If you love me, keep my commandments,” John 14:15. This would tell me that while God is interested in our motivation, He is much more concerned about the fact of our obedience. Does this mean that our motivation doesn’t matter? Of course not. Let me show you what I see as the big difference between obeying out of love and obeying out of fear.

It is the same difference as that between law and grace. If I am obeying God out of fear (law), I will constantly be asking myself, “Is this good enough? Will God be satisfied with this?” On the other hand, if I am obeying out of love (humble gratitude in response to God’s grace), I will constantly be asking God, “What else can I do for you? What can I do now to please you?” Love is so much better as a motivation.

The conclusion I hold to is this, if I am forgiving others (or obeying any of God’s other commands for that matter) from the motivation of love, I will not be concerned about the consequences of my actions. If I am motivated by fear, my forgiveness may be restrained by concern of the consequences.

The solution is found in the Great Commandment and the second, KC posted about this recently. Loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourself. With this kind of love, all things are possible.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. I John 4:18


16 responses to “Why Should I Obey?

  1. This is a good article. I have to say that you were an obedient son. I wonder though, what was your motivation? Ha. Certainly not fear!

  2. My motivation was supper. Pure and simple.

  3. Well, I’m not as disobedient as I use to be but I’m probably not as obedient as I could be but I’m trusting that the Lord is working it all out just fine.

  4. This discussion reminds me of Galations when Paul talks about a child who lives under the laws of childhood…obeying because of things like conquences…As we grow in Christ our actions flow out of love, out of conviction, out of a heart broken before the Lord…much better options than obedience because of conquences. I’m not actually sure you Can do a thing which is internal in nature out of obedience alone…more mature believers follow Christ and His way because they are free…free to choose Life

  5. Gordon,

    As always, you hit the nail on the head. EVERYTHING that we do should come from our love for the Lord! (But if we do it out of fear, it beats disobedience!)



  6. I think there are three other reasons given in the Bible for obediance to God in conjuction to fear and love: 1) We should obey God because of who he is. He is the kind of being owed obediance. Indeed “oughtness” can only come from God himself dirrectly or through agents. 2) Christians obey God because of who we are. God is transforming us into the kind of created beings who are in accord with himself. 3) God does repeatedly promis good results for obediance and bad results for disobediance. While Kant and others have been upset by consequentialist motivations to keep objective (non-consequentialist) rules, God uses them all the time when giving us reasons to obey.

  7. Thanks all for your insights and comments.

    MP–You just keep letting God work in your life, He has His hand on you.

    JG–Great thoughts. Did you get over the wedding yet?

    Dennis–Thanks, my friend. Always good to have you around.

    Dean McConnell–Thanks for the visit. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. That is a wonderful expansion on the concepts of fear and love. Come back any time.

  8. That is our lot in life…to obey God!

  9. Gordon,
    I have appreciated this study in forgiveness very much.
    There are times I need to give forgiveness toward others, even though they don’t know they have offended me. With Christ as my Savior I do not see any other option other than forgiving. Why? Because I have been forgiven very much.
    Thanks bunches.

  10. This is a good distinction between reason and motivation and I think it can be applied to most areas of our life. It would seem the scripture indicates that both need to be in place to be pleasing to Him. I’m reminded of the cheerful giver. 😉

    Another great post Gordon and thanks for the link.

  11. Someone recently told me forgiveness is an act of obedience it isn’t something you should always feel compelled to do. It is not about feeling it’s about doing

  12. just poped in to say hi

  13. Daddykencloud why do I sense the possibility that there was a little bit of what I call HARD LOVE demostrated in the early years . Proud to know ya;ll !I believe in teaching obeidience in the early years of a childs life and as they grow older and come to know CHRIST THEN IT HELPS THEM TO UNDERSTAND WHAT GOD REQUIRES OF THEM in their life ! BUT that is not allways the way it is but the seed has been planted and we grow as our love for GOD grows ! HAVE A BLESSED DAY ! RON.

  14. I know I said this before, but this really is a great topic! I often think about forgiveness. Usually, it’s in regard to Christ and others having forgiven me of much sin. And there are times when I think about others I have forgiven. To be honest, I don’t think too much about that. I would like to believe that it’s because I am SOOO pure hearted that I really don’t remember sins against me. But I think it more accurate to say that it’s because I am forgetful and “not in touch”. 😉

    But one thing is for sure: until yesterday, I had never even given a thought to why we forgive. It’s kept my mind occupied overnight. I keep over-complicating it and then making it over-simplified and then over-compli…well, you get the idea.

    I seem to boil it down to a couple of thoughts. The finish line for both is obedience. But the starting line is way different.

    The first starting line: When we don’t want to forgive

    We can forgive even when we don’t “feel like it” simply because it is a command of God. These are the times when we must “deny ourselves, pick up our cross daily, and follow (Jesus)”
    I know Jesus never sinned. But scripture teaches that Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are (Heb 4:15). Well if my spiritual math is correct, then that means Jesus was tempted to NOT forgive someone. Yet, “although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him”.(Hebrews 5:8-9)

    So yeah…obedience is surely a valid reason to forgive someone.

    I will even go so far as to say that it is part of the “fear and trembling” that we need to employ in order to work out our salvation because “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. (Psalm 111:10)

    The second starting line: When we understand our own sinfulness.

    Although both starting lines are valid places to start, I believe this one to be the more godly of the two.

    Jesus says he laid down his life “of his own accord”; he did it willingly and without resisting.
    Jesus wrestled in the Garden so that he could say, “Father forgive them” while he hung in pain and shame on blocks of wood.
    Jesus gave us the example of compassionate forgiveness that sprang from a heart of pure love.

    And we are to follow that example and “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
    (Ephes. 4:32)

    We are taught that our love should envelope such qualities as “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
    And that we are to “bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Col. 3:12-14)

    Check out the ending of that last sentence. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Doesn’t that just spur a fella on to drop forgiveness bombs every time the opportunity arises?

    See, the finish line for both thoughts is that we end up obeying God. And Jesus is equally pleased with either one because “if we love (Him) we will obey his commands.”

    Thanks for the thought-prompts, Gordon. I’ think I’ll make this comment a full post on my site!

  15. Danny–those are some excellent thoughts you shared. Thanks so much for your input in this series.

  16. When I was a child, I was raised in a rule-based atmosphere, and so I spent alot of my childhood trying to figure out both the spoken and unspoken rules from the sole purpose of “not wanting to get in trouble.” It was self-protection. Where was the love in that? Non-existent. Then when I came to know Christ, the same sort of thing developed or should I say continued. I want to respond to Him out of love and not fear. I trust He is working in me to do that, and I know He is as He is recently bringing my self-protectiveness to the forefront in my life, but I must say that if you’ve been brought up in a right/wrong home, it is very hard to be able to then start to do things out of loving someone. Our only hope of being brought from following the rules to choosing to do rightly out of love is the transforming work of the Holy Spirit on the inside of us.

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