Why do Sinners Choose to Obey the Word of the Lord?
Following on from Dean McGowan's post on worship as obedience and Ed's post on worship as Wittgensteinian obedience, Shancia has written up her own thoughts around the matter. Derived from her personal experiences and reflection on Scripture, it is a powerful confessional piece, exploring just how fundamental Christ wants worship and obedience to be in our lives.
Hooray for Saint Hilda’s House. It’s truly a blessing to live and to learn with others, especially to witness the dynamic range of Christian interpretations and the various approaches to life and faith. Yes, I make a relative distinction between life and faith, with life meaning the realities of what we experience and faith being hope. Both these of concepts encompass our relationship with God, but life is a struggle. For our world, the events of life boldly denounce and revolt against our Lord, but that’s okay. We worship a Lord who grants us choices: man is free to obey or disobey. Most importantly, I want to make it clear that asking questions, engaging knowledge, or seeking wisdom in understanding God’s relationship with humanity is not a form of disobedience- it’s simply who we are. God created a mind driven species- the human brain, what a marvelous creation.
We are entitled to our feelings, interpretations, and beliefs. The way that God moves in another man’s life may not be the same as mine. The basic concept of diversity and the variety of encounters we witness bring a vivid and unique narrative to the Christian experience. When I use the word diversity, this terminology is not only limited to race, but also encompasses individualistic concepts of personal encounters. For example, although my sister and I both profess to believe Christ as Our Savior and Lord, our Christ narratives drastically defer.
Nevertheless, I am persuaded by Bonheoffer’s paradoxical interpretation of the Single Minded Obedience in which humanity accepts their limitations and imperfections by allowing faith to exist as an adhesive device within their relationship with God. The imperfections and the limitations of humanity result in impossibilities- human beings are prone to sin. Bonheoffer’s example of the rich man’s tie to his wealth and his hesitation to sell his wealth and give it unto the poor symbolizes our obstacles and reluctance in obeying the decrees of the Lord. Jesus asks the rich man to do a very hard thing- give all you have, the very life you know, to follow Him. The Lord placed an arduous condition upon the rich man’s life. Yet with obedience learned through faith one comprehends the intent of Christ. We cannot come to God in state of perfection, for if we do, we only deceive ourselves. By assuming or ascribing a state of perfection, we preemptively proclaim and envision that obedience through which the commandments alone grant salvation. Bonheoffer solidifies this concept by indicating that “salvation through following Jesus is not something man can achieve for ourselves- but with God all things are possible.” Thus, as we come to God in a state of obedience, we understand that through faith and the conviction of the Holy Spirit God’s grace is upon us regardless of our transgression. We simply have to ask of Him in a humbling manner, one of homage to complete His fullness and joy. For we are empty vessels seeking a miraculous relationship with our Lord and Savior.
Why do Sinners Choose to Obey the Word of the Lord?
I do worship you Lord, the Rock of Abraham and the giver life unto man not for who you are but for the way in which you love me, a sinner. You sent your Son, Jesus Christ as my redeemer to show me the way to righteous. Oh what is man but a little lower than the angels that you shall be mindful of me. Consider me, oh Lord and forgive my many sins as I repent and surrender my life unto you daily. For in You and You alone is there fullness of joy and wisdom.
Believers, let no man or woman deceive you by telling you that God is not real or that humanity is not called into obedience with God. I boldly emphasize that what we normally classify as the means to obedience fails to align with Christ’s depiction of obedience. In a reality where disparities of oppression and mistreatment insidiously fall under the umbrella of politics and civil compliance or obedience, it is especially necessary to acknowledge these distinctions and comprehend that humanity cannot solely look to other humans or carnal structures to define our relationship with God. In scripture, 1 Timothy 2:5, it is written, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Hence, in dilemmas of Christian semantics and application, Christians must reference the Gospels- the Good News, the teachings of the life Jesus Christ- as their primary source for interventional communication or understanding with God. By doing so, we discover that obedience is a continuous theme throughout the Gospels.
Here is one form of this obedience: even when our children die and even when believers face persecution for that Holy Name of Jesus Christ, we must seek counsel with the Lord, for 'vengeance is mine', says the Lord- not ours (Romans 12:19). The tools in which humanity strives to obtain obedience are not necessarily parallel to God’s methods of obedience. Through vessels of hatred, evident in humanity’s strife to obtain authority and dominion- the Sovereign powers of God- we create genocides, war, and various atrocities as a means of obtaining a god-like position within society. It resembles a falsified and satanic aspiration of humanity’s desire to obtain equality with God or to establish oneself as a sole entity of the authority which is empirically contrary to the Word of God. Whether or not we voluntary or involuntary participate in this betrayal of the Creator, it occurs.
I must admit my own participation in this betrayal. Often, while enduring personal hardships, I sometimes curse those who I have vowed to love as my means of dealing or coping with the situation. In frustration and anger, I use profanity and vulgar language as an offensive and defensive mechanism to express my disgruntlement towards others. Shame on me, for the words in which cometh out a man’s mouth defiles him (Matthew 15:11). What good am I to a sister if the words in which I speak to her are derived from hatred? Am I not speaking death upon them? I profess that I worship the living God, the God of Abraham and Jacob. Yet, my words, the actions and the intent of spoken words are that of death- not life. For it is written, that the tongue has the power of life and death, and those who use it eat its fruit, yet I use my tongue for death- Forgive me, sister. Forgive me, Lord (Proverbs 18:21).
Within this predicament, scripture and worship convict me and call me into obedience with the Word of God. Jesus Christ warned us to refrain from the vile usage of language not simply because vulgar language is not pleasing to God or because it's not proper etiquette- but can you imagine how someone feels after they have been verbally abused or badgered? How do I pacify or heal the scars of emotional or verbal abuse? I’m not sure, but I’m certain that those who endure chronic stages of depression and suicidal thoughts are no strangers to the emotional and verbal abuse. How can I call myself a Christian, if I succumb to sin by offending my brethren- or better yet, anyone- as a means of obtaining their obedience in such a state? By doing so, I am working against the will of God and conditioning myself into a state of disobedience by continuously using a language of hatred and detest to bring forth correction or my desire for an individual to gain self-control.
Thankfully, Jesus Christ’s conveyance of obedience to God the Father differs from humanity’s understanding of obedience. The concept of obedience is, to the Christian, beyond direct grammatical interpretations. But a holistic comprehension of language and God’s revelation to humanity found within the Holy Bible, as well as the testimonies of creation, challenges Christians to rationalize their actions with reference to scripture. It appears that even though Jesus Christ grants the forgiveness of sin, accountability is still a part of the Christian experience. These things are not revealed simply because I picked a book and read, but as the result of conviction led by the Holy Spirit to confession- to hear, and obey the Word of the Lord. And if I fall short, the homage which I give to my God convicts me to repent and seek forgiveness. I am accountable for verbally offending my sister, and must seek repentance.
The Creation's Obedience to Creator: A marriage between a bride and her groom
For the purpose of this brief response, the word obedience will be used in reference to humanity’s homage to God. Within these parameters, I further define worship, including the liturgical homage in which a majority of Christendom celebrates during Sunday mass or service, as the embodiment of a loving marital covenant between a bride and her groom.
For instance, some of the practices in which we witness during the Anglican mass, such as the priest raising of the Eucharistic sacraments, can be symbolically defined as the gestural representation of the church’s obedience to God. For instance, before feeding the five thousand patrons (Yes, there were more than five thousand but just work with me here), Christ’s actions of raising the five loaves of bread and the two fish to the heavens demonstrates a symbolical homage to God, an act of worship, and further implied as a gesture of obedience. In other words, Christ beckoned unto His Father for a blessing as He gave thanks and broke the bread. This illustration implies that with God all things are possible- that with five loaves of bread and two pieces of fish we can feed thousands, and that through believing in the possibilities of God we can obtain a conviction to faith which enables us to seek obedience with God and reverence to our Creator.
Additionally, the source of our conviction is the Holy Spirit. And if we say that obedience to God is not part of the Christian experience, we are not followers of Christ. Because the act of following entails obedience, if we're not willing to seek obedience in God, we covertly denounce the praise of thanks which belongs unto the Father. Most importantly, we further covertly acknowledge ourselves as our own masters or shepherds of salvation. (If anyone tells you that Shancia Jarrett is a wise woman, believe them not- for I am a fool, a bold fool who humbly and ignorantly obeys the will of God. I alone, just the body of Shancia Jarrett, am incapable, but with Christ in life….)- Back to task of obedience
Obedience is not simply confirming to a set of governed rules for Christians. A Christian’s obedience is further exemplified by his or her discernment and actions, by how we encounter challenges and decisions and how we utilize the yoke of Christ as a guide to lighten our burden in developing an intimate relationship with God, the Father. Therefore as a Christian, I must actively seek the Word of God- in addition to human intervention- as my source of understanding and discernment.
This writing’s concentration on scripture and personal experiences is to illustrate how obedience plays a pivotal role in the Christian worship. My interpretation of obedience to God is not contingent on what society or history typically associates with obedience. Instead, I reminisce on the Gospels, the epistles of Paul, and the stories of the Old Testaments- one might simply say the entirety of the Bible. This statement may sound very shameful or narrow to many Christian theologians- and their aspiring protégés- but I ask, “Can we deny the very book that laid the foundations of the Church and the very faith in which we associate with as Christianity? Can the Church stand without the Bible? Can the student be greater than the Master?" I say NO. Forgive us, Lord.
Furthermore, within the Gospels, Christ depicts his obedience to the Father through his relational encounters with the others and his ability to rationalize man’s inquiries concerning His Father. As illustrated in the Gospels, the disciples witnessed the imperative voice of God in: (1) acknowledging Jesus Christ as the son of God, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased and (2) calling man into obedience through listening to declarations of Jesus Christ; “This is my beloved Son: hear him.” Yet, even though Christ was granted authority by God over humanity, He succumbed to death rather than seeking equality with God. In other words, though he was exalted by God He yielded his authority to be obedient to death for the will of God (Philippians 2). Not only for His loving compassion towards humanity, but also for obedience to the will of God. In that infamous and complying soliloquy in the Garden of Gethsemane where Christ prays, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” Christ vows His obedience to His Father and forsakes His own ambitions or desire for His life to be spared but to honor the Sovereign authority of His Father. What are we fearing, Christians?
This is a good place to end: Christ was sentenced to death for his faithfulness and loving commitment to the Father. Alone, He laid upon the cross for the sins of humanity. And in doing so, Christ provided access to believers into the free gift of salvation and communion with God; He took the oppressive wages of sin upon Himself. Therefore any doctrine of Christianity which calls humanity into obedience based on forms of oppressive evangelism, and which tells humanity to sin covertly against God, and imposes forms of peer pressure such as temptation- those doctrines are not of God. I denounce them in the Mighty Name of Jesus Christ!
Wholeheartedly, we obey human laws even when they result in the demise of others and tell us to hate. Yet faced with obeying God- Our Creator-the giver of Life- we hesitate. If you don’t believe God can lead you, why follow Him?
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