Every house has its rules, and ours is no different.
For example, our children must brush their teeth twice a day. In earlier years, this rule prompted lots of tears and plenty of resentment. But as my kids have gotten older, they have (hopefully) started to understand our reasoning.
We don’t make our children brush their teeth just because we can. We enforce this rule because we love our children and want good things for them. We aim to teach them how to care for their bodies and how to love other people.
God the Law-giver
Many people think of God’s law as harsh, inflexible, and designed to eliminate all fun. In this understanding, God the law-giver is a cruel dictator and Jesus kindly delivers us from an outdated model of morality.
Perhaps the errors of this thinking are obvious. God is both holy and loving, he is both just and merciful; the nature and goals of the Father are not opposed to those of the Son.
Even when we correct that error, Christians often stumble in the ways we think about God’s commands. We tend to picture the law as a strait-jacket rather than an invitation to blessing.
Consider how James writes about the law.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22–25)
God’s law is not only perfect, it is “the law of liberty.” The law frees us, and those who obey will be blessed.
Blessing for Obedience
As part of our reorientation to the law, we must revisit the word “blessing.” God’s promises of blessing in the Old Testament are frequently linked to obedience (Deuteronomy 28:1–14). We commonly think of blessing as either simply God’s approval or as a reward God has arbitrarily tied to following certain laws.
Because God is the Creator as well as the Law-giver, he has constructed the world so that the consequences of obeying him are good for us. It’s not just that God approves of our obedient actions. Rather, it is objectively better for us to obey than to disobey.
God calls us to obey him because it is good for us to submit to the true, good ruler of the world. But in addition, what God commands is actually good for our bodies, minds, and souls. His blessing for obedience is found both in his fatherly smile as well as the natural and supernatural consequences of doing what is good for us.
The Passions of the Flesh
Let’s turn to an example. When we commit the sin of gluttony, we eat to excess in the way that a drunkard drinks alcohol to excess. We seek comfort and a blissful haze through food. Our appetite controls us instead of the other way around.
God commands us not to be gluttons (Proverbs 23:19–21). We are blessed when we obey this part of God’s law not because we are following one of his arbitrary commands. He has our good in mind! God’s blessing for us in resisting gluttony comes in greater health, a better relationship with the created order, a measure of dominion over our appetites, and finding ultimate satisfaction in God instead of food.
Consider this from the other direction. Disobedience is not only offensive to God, it is bad for us. Hear the apostle Peter.
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (1 Peter 2:11)
God doesn’t want us to entertain the passions of the flesh because they wage war against our souls! He’s not trying to kill our joy, he wants us to truly live!
Our Good King
Why should we obey God? He is our king, and we should do what our king commands.
But let’s ask the next question: Why does our king command what he commands? Because he is a good king and wants what is good for us!
The way of obedience is the way of blessing, because that’s how God set up and governs the world. This doesn’t make obedience automatic or easy, but it does shine the spotlight on our hearts as the battlefield. Part of the reason we disobey is because we don’t trust that God wants what is best for us. We believe the old, old lie that we know better than God, that he is withholding what is good.
Friends, Jesus came for this reason! He was crushed for our disobedience and our lie-chasing. And in the new life he gives us, we are free and empowered to think and act in accordance with what is true. Because we are beloved children of God, we are being transformed into people whose hearts align with God’s good intentions for our lives.