Choosing to obey God
Imagine arriving at a traffic intersection where nobody obeys the traffic laws. Everyone does whatever he or she wants in the belief that they have the right to self-rule. Inevitably, someone gets hurt. Similarly, God created codes of conduct so that mankind can collectively prosper together. God’s Law provides crucial guidelines that help all people thrive. Yet mankind has resisted obeying God since creation. What are the lies that keep us from faithfully following our good and perfect Father in heaven?
Obedience brings incredible promises
Obeying God’s laws does not merely prevent mayhem; it brings blessings to our families. Let’s look at how simple obedience to our Heavenly Father generates great “return on investment” for us.
- Promise of blessing | Deuteronomy 28:1,11-12 ESV “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth… And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give you. The Lord will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow.
- Promise of protection | Exodus 23:22 ESV “But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.
- Promise of joy | John 15:10-11 ESV When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!
- Promise of success | Joshua 1:8 ESV This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
- Promise of long life and peace | Proverbs 3:1-2 ESV My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you.
- Promise of favour | Exodus 19:5 ESV Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine;
- Promise of eternal life | John 5:24 ESV Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
Misunderstandings about obedience
There are some common misunderstandings about our obedience to God. Within some circles, the idea of obedience brings up ideas of subjugation and servanthood. This is not what God wants from us. He doesn’t need mindless slaves and robots. He desires joyful, abundant relationships with His sons and daughters.
1. Obedience is not just about what we do
Firstly, the opposite of obedience towards God is not simply our disobedience, but a stubborn self-will. It is impossible to obey God while we remain self-seeking.
Romans 2:8 ESV but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
Obeying God is not just a matter of grudgingly following our Father’s commandments like a rigid set of rules, but following God’s heart for His people. That means deferring to His will, plans and definition of what is best for us all. It requires us to die to our self-will and allow God to soften our hardened hearts to see this world as He does. Obedience is about the inward attitude of our hearts, not merely about our outward behaviour.
Hebrews 3:15 ESV As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
2. Disobedience grieves God
God is grieved by our refusal to obey Him. Any loving father would be pained to watch his children make wrong choices that won’t lead them home to him.
The path to God’s Kingdom is narrow and God wants to show us how to find it and stay on it. That is why He has given us “traffic rules” so we don’t swerve off the narrow road that leads to His Kingdom by following misleading signposts and decoys. Ironically, some of us trust Google Maps more than we dare trust God for direction in life.
Matthew 7:13-14 ESV “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
3. Disobedience against God is insubordination
God is Lord and King of this entire universe. When we choose not to follow God, it is not the same as refusing to listen to our parents or friends. Disobedience against God is willful and defiant insubordination towards the King above all kings. Any form of insubordination and rebellion warrants punishment.
Isaiah 1:20 ESV but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword…
4. Disobedience against God is idolatry
To refuse to obey God is to place oneself above God’s Word and will. We make ourselves into our own gods and indulge in a form of self-idolatry. The Bible says that stubborn disobedience is as bad as performing witchcraft.
1 Samuel 15:23 NLT Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols…
5. Disobedience leads us to death alongside Satan
Ultimately, when we don’t follow God’s commandments, we will eventually follow a road that leads us to death and destruction, with Satan as our companion. The more we choose to disobey God, the deeper we fall into sin and Satan’s traps.
Romans 6:16 ESV Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
Clearly, the rewards from obeying God far outweigh the temporary satisfaction we may derive from disobeying His commandments in order to gratify some seemingly urgent but fleeting need.
Also, see When to agree or disagree with Satan.
Common struggles in obeying God
Trusting God to know what’s best for us is difficult when we don’t trust His heart for us. Here are some common objections to obeying God 100%.
What Satan tempts
What God says
“I determine my own destiny.”
James 4:13-14 ESV Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
“I have to give up too many things.”
Matthew 16:25-26 ESV For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
“Only I know what’s best for me.”
1 Corinthians 1:25 ESV For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
“If I try hard enough, I will get what I want.”
Psalm 127:2 NLT It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones.
“I don’t have the ability to follow God’s path.”
Isaiah 41:10 ESV fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
“I should live life to the fullest first, and come back to God later.”
Matthew 16:26 NIV What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
“I can’t fall behind my peers.”
Psalm 49:16-17 ESV Be not afraid when a man becomes rich, when the glory of his house increases. For when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not go down after him.
“I’m not sure God will bless me.”
Psalm 37:4-6 ESV Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.
“I’m not sure God will protect me.”
Psalm 121:7-8 ESV The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.
“I don’t want what God wants for me.”
Jeremiah 29:11 ESV For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Practical steps in choosing to obey
Choosing to obey God takes strength and determination, as this glittering world will try to distract us and lure us off the path that leads to God’s Kingdom. It requires much discipline and conviction to do the right things before God.
1. Conduct a spring-cleaning of our lives
Few of us would invite people to our homes without first tidying up a little. It is the same when we are sincere about inviting God into our lives. We must take steps to clear out the things or relationships that are offensive to God or that might lead us to fall away from Him. It doesn’t seem right to invite our Holy Father into our lives – and then expect Him to live with a repulsive mess. Some spring cleaning would include:
- Music that promotes sex, hatred, self-glory, destruction and hell etc.
- Videos, books, magazines that glorify sin, materialism, debauchery, romance stories that idolise human heroes etc.
- Clothes that are too revealing or that showcase images of skulls, satanic signs, dragons, Buddhist monks etc.
- Idolatrous statues, paintings, media, altars, jewelry, souvenirs representing spiritualism etc.
- Religious writing, mantras, scrolls etc.
- Good luck charms, fengshui decorations and items representing superstitions etc.
- New age practices and spiritualism e.g. chanting, horoscopes etc.
- Friendships and social networks that are a bad influence on our spiritual walk and lead us astray etc.
Romans 6:12 ESV Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.
The list above is not exhaustive. We should be honest with ourselves and ask, “Will God be happy if I bring this with me to His Holy throne room?” With this simple question, we will probably be able to identify many other things we should remove from our lives.
2. Watch out for hindrances
As we choose to obey God, Satan will set himself up against us by countering our efforts with many distractions and deceptions. Our enemy will slip in many subliminal thoughts and suggestions into our minds. Some common ones include:
- “I’m missing out on late night drinks with my old drinking buddies on Saturday night… I guess there is no harm in joining them and see how the night turns out.”
- “I’m just too tired every Sunday… Maybe I should just skip going to church.”
- “Those believers didn’t seem very welcoming… I don’t want to go back to any fellowship meeting.”
- “That pastor hurt my feelings… I’m not sure I want to go back to any church at all.”
- “Reading the Bible is too difficult… I should just stop trying, it is useless.”
- “I wonder what is on social media… I’ll put off Bible study for now.”
- “My children need my full attention… God can wait.”
- “My spouse / fiancé / parents / friends seem to be unhappy when I go to church… Maybe I’ll just skip church this week.”
None of these statements is bad in themselves, but repeatedly following the direction of these thoughts will gradually lead us to minimise God’s importance in our lives. We should be honest with ourselves and ask, “Is this something the Holy Spirit would say to me?” to identify the hindrances that Satan is throwing at us. We can always change the second parts of such statements to follow God.
Galatians 5:7 ESV You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?
For example, we may choose to say;
- “I’m missing out on late night drinks with my old drinking buddies on Saturday night… I pray that they will find true fulfilment in God and join me in following Jesus one day.”
- “I’m just too tired every Sunday… Thank God that He will revive me as I worship Him in church each Sunday.”
- “Those believers didn’t seem very welcoming… Perhaps I should engage them in conversation more often and give them a few more opportunities to get to know me.”
- “That pastor hurt my feelings… I will forgive him and release him from any judgment. Pastors already have so much to watch over.”
- “Reading the Bible is too difficult… I need to find a group study so I can learn from others as I go along.”
- “I wonder what is on social media… but that can wait, God is waiting for me to spend time with Him.”
- “My children need my full attention… but I know I can’t handle all their needs. I need to spend more time praying for them, rather than rely on my own strength.”
- “My spouse / fiancé / parents / friends seem to be unhappy when I go to church… God, please teach me how to remain faithful to You. You are the only One with whom I have a guaranteed eternal relationship.”
3. Watch out for temptations
Another way Satan leads us down the road to destruction is to entice us to fall for our former sinful passions. Satan will relentlessly tempt us when we are feeling vulnerable. He will present “valid reasons” that sound good or attack our weakest areas. Once we trip and fall for any temptation, he will return with accusations and condemnation to push us into removing ourselves from God more and more. At the end, we will feel as if we might as well give up on our walk with God altogether.
1 Peter 1:14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,
Here are some common lies from Satan:
- “I need this to relieve my stress and pain. It’s good for me.”
- “No one understands me. I can’t help it.”
- “I don’t see what’s wrong with this. I refuse to listen to what other godly Christians are telling me.”
- “There are many grey areas in Christianity. As long as this doesn’t hurt anyone, I don’t see why I can’t continue.”
- “This depends on how one interprets the Bible. I think it is fine based on what (little) I have studied.”
- “This is not really sinning.”
- “I am strong enough to escape from temptation.”
- “This is only a small sin compared to the people around me. It’s not a big deal.”
- “My old sins are too strong for me to overcome.”
- “God will never forgive me for that.”
- “No one cares for me. I should just go ahead and sin.”
- “There is no hope for me. I keep doing what I promised to never do again. I’m not a true Christian. I’m such a fake. I might as well give up.”
- “I feel so ashamed of what I did. I can’t talk to anyone about this. People will judge me.”
All these are lies and misleading statements, and we must know how to identify and stand against them. Additionally, we should pray for God’s protective covering over the thoughts, people and activities we encounter and put on the armour of God every day.
Ephesians 6:11-12 ESV Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
4. Watch out for our thoughts
It is easy to disobey God when there is no filter for our thoughts. Fresh ideas and old memories can lead us down dangerous slippery slopes to sin. On the other hand, when we take every single thought and filter it through God’s truth, we will find our instincts telling us to turn away from sin and obey God. When we are filled with so much of the truth, attempting to do anything that goes against God’s Word will become repulsive to us at a very real emotional and sometimes, even a physical level.
2 Corinthians 10:5 ESV We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,
We should be honest with ourselves about every thought and ask, “Is this idea from God?” This will help us filter our thoughts.
5. Don’t obey man above God
Building our Christian faith is not easy when it pits us against family and friends who were close to us before we turned to Jesus Christ. However, it is when we faithfully obey God that we are able to show them the reality of Jesus Christ by the godly transformation of our lives. When we pull back and choose to obey man rather than God, our faith becomes powerless, meaningless and empty. By such actions, we testify that the death that Jesus died for us doesn’t matter to us after all and come under a curse for choosing people over God.
Jeremiah 17:5 ESV Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD.
God calls us to win over people to Christ and honour our parents. It takes great wisdom to know how to love and honour people without becoming slaves to them. The first step in checking how we are doing in terms of obeying God is to ask ourselves, “Am I valuing man’s opinion over God’s?” Following that, we can ask God, “How can I obey You first and honour this person second, Heavenly Father? Can You please show me?”
Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Also, see 4 ways we unknowingly idolise our parents.
6. Don’t just follow rules, obey God joyfully
Religiousity promotes a set of rules, without a personal relationship with God. Obedience without love is hypocritical religion. We must avoid this at all cost. Seek to know God intimately as our constant and closest loving Companion and King. We do this by developing a relationship with His Holy Spirit.
Matthew 23:28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
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