Obedience: The Christian’s Clear Assignment

christian woman thinking about obedience

| A Guest Post by Michele Morin |

My young friend’s question was as deeply earnest as it was misguided:

“I know I need to read and pray every day, but isn’t it just hypocritical to go through the motions on days when I’m not feelin’ it?”

It’s not hard to trace this line of reasoning to its source. In Western thought, a command to love is nearly an oxymoron—or an outrage.

Love is a word that conjures visions of irresistible urges and involuntary heart palpitations. And a command to love suggests hypocrisy, coercion, or legalism.

I know I need to read and pray every day, but isn’t it just hypocritical to go through the motions on days when I’m not feelin’ it?Click to Tweet

A Clear Biblical Assignment

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Deuteronomy 6:4-5

In Deuteronomy 6, God’s Words through His servant Moses set the agenda for an entire nation.

Shema, the Hebrew verb translated “to hear,” carries with it an implied obedience.

This is the type of hearing that results in action.

And just in case we’re tempted to dismiss the biblical connection between hearing, loving, and doing as applicable only to Old Testament souls, Jesus picked up on the theme in Mark 12.

A Pharisee’s probing question about the foremost commandment afforded the perfect opportunity for Jesus to reinforce the relationship between obedience and love.

He assured His listeners (and present-day readers) that the command to hear and to love is still the foundation of our faith.

In fact, He declared it to be “the first of all the commandments.” (Mk 12:29)

While God is clear in His requirement for obedience, what He really desires from His children—what all parents desire from their children—is obedience springing forth from a heart of love.

Christian woman thinking about obedience

What To Do When I’m Not Feelin’ It?

Worshiping in a small church where everyone wears many hats, it’s easy to lose sight of the connection between loving and doing.  

Serving a family with small children or elderly parents (or both), the heart tends to shift into auto-pilot, feeding and clothing bodies, applying Band-Aids, providing transportation, and even saying prayers from a place of duty and routine.

Small wonder, then, that some days I open my Bible in the same spirit with which I brush my teeth.

Is this obedience or habit? Am I coming to the Word of Truth with loving anticipation?

As a New Covenant woman, the law “written on my heart” (Jeremiah 31:33 NKJV) fuels a connection between hearing and doing.

But, like most Christians, I am an imperfect practitioner of God’s righteous requirements.

To listen to one word and go out and obey it is better than having the most exalted ‘religious experience,’ for it puts us in touch with God Himself—it is a willed response. - Elisabeth ElliotClick to Tweet

No nonsense wisdom from author and missionary Elisabeth Elliot lays out Christian obedience in this in this manner:

  1. Hear
  2. Do
  3. Know

“To listen to one word and go out and obey it is better than having the most exalted ‘religious experience,’ for it puts us in touch with God Himself—it is a willed response.” (A Lamp for My Feet, p. 40)

Some days, my “willed response” includes taking myself by the scruff of the neck and opening to the next page of my daily reading plan. It requires clearing the deck for focused prayer—even when I’m “not feelin’ it.”

This “willed response” is my pledge of allegiance that says, “I trust you, Lord. This is what you have laid out as the path to knowing you, and I will meet you on this path, even when my feelings don’t support my actions.”

christian woman praying for an obedient heart

Prayer as Preparation for Obedience

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” said Jesus on the last evening of his earthly life. (John 14:15)

He then proceeded to set the example, going immediately from discourse to duty.

“In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” (Luke 22:44 NRSV) 

Jesus poured his heart’s anxiety and terror out into the darkness of Gethsemane, and His prayer accomplished within him what my own heart needs: obedience that will be lived out regardless of the circumstances or conditions.

In their failure to pray, the disciples embodied the opposite: a lack of preparation for a sinewy obedience.

Three times Jesus invited them into His preparatory prayer and three times they fell asleep on the job.

“Could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial…” (Matthew 26:40, 41 NRSV)

The disciples’ mad dash to safety when soldiers arrived with their torches and swords was a knee jerk response, but it was rooted in their failure to hear, to do, and to love Jesus well by entering into His pain.

 It was an outcome of their inability to identify with Jesus in His hours of greatest sorrow.

While God is clear in His requirement for obedience, what He really desires from His children, what all parents desire from their children, is obedience springing forth from a heart of love.

Appropriating Jesus’ Perfect Obedience

The moments when I have failed in hearing, obeying, and knowing Jesus are the moments when the Gospel is the very best news to me, for He did far more than set an example in Gethsemane.

His perfect obedience led Him to the cross, where He not only took my sin but also imputed His righteousness to me.

In grace, Christ transfers His perfect record of hearing, doing, and knowing to my account!

He lives with me by His Spirit so that the stone tablets of law-keeping have been transformed into fleshy, living desire, enabling me to want what God wants, to love what He loves, and, therefore, to begin to know Him.

Jesus is the only one who has ever perfectly heard, obeyed, and known the Father.

I will only ever begin to move toward loving God comprehensively, with heart, soul, and might, as I abide in Christ.

The moments when I have failed in hearing, obeying, and knowing Jesus are the moments when the Gospel is the very best news to me.Click to Tweet
  • He has perfectly attended to the Word of Truth.
  • He has offered up perfect obedience.
  • He has known God because He is one with God.

Christ gladly makes a gift of His own perfect hearing, knowing, and doing, inviting us to walk in obedience as His Spirit transforms our hearts and translates our efforts into love.

What command do you need to hear and obey so that you can move forward into a fuller knowledge of God?

Are you willing to take action today and trust that your feelings will eventually fall in line?

“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”  (John 14:21 ESV)

Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, reader, writer, and gardener who does life with her family on a country hill in Maine. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 30 years, and together they have four sons, two daughters-in-love, and three adorable grandchildren. Michele is active in educational ministries with her local church and delights in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or by following her blog at Living Our Days.

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