Our problem here in the church in America is not that we aren’t willing to acknowledge our failure. In some ways, we have even exalted and glorified failure in this culture. But that is another topic altogether for another time. We speak of our sinful imperfections. We speak of our disappointments. We speak of not living up to the expectations that we should. We speak of failure. These ideas we are not afraid of. We admit them readily. We even find some degree of comfort in them. I remember hearing a song by a Christian band a year ago and the chorus of the song simply repeated over and over, “We are free to fail” (There is a lot to learn about mainstream evangelicalism from contemporary Christian music!).
Our problem is we are actually unwilling to call all of this “failure” what it truly is. The Bible presents us with a picture of two kinds of people. Obedient and disobedient. In reality, all of our imperfection is rebellious disobedience. This of course sounds far more offensive. It has no positive ring to it. Why do I have to go and make everything sound so negative? Well, the goal is actually to sound more biblical.
Here’s some of what the Bible says about obedience and disobedience. We’ll begin with the most important verses in the Old Testament, the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4-6. Here Israel is commanded to love the lord their God with all their heart, soul, and strength. And in v. 3, just prior to this critical command, Moses, speaking on behalf of God says, “Here O’ Israel, and be careful to obey.” Again, in Deuteronomy 13:4, in an important passage warning Israel to stay away from idols and false gods, God says to His people, “it is the Lord your God you must follow, and Him you must revere. Keep His commands and obey Him.” In 1 Samuel 15, Samuel tells Saul, in his rebellion against God, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the Word of the Lord, He has rejected you as King.” These are powerful and revealing words for us to reflect on. Psalm 119:33-34 says this, “Teach me O’ Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart.” Every verse in Psalm 119 uses one phrase or another to communicate obedience to God’s commands.
The New Testament doesn’t shy away from such language either. Most noteworthy is the Great Commission of Matthew 28:20 itself. Jesus tells His disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. And the final phrase of this command is, “and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. The call to make disciples entails teaching them to obey, and to obey everything for that matter. Romans 6:16 tells us that we are slaves to the one we obey. We are saved from bondage and obedience to sin and death and are liberated to obey God, the good master. 1 John 5:3 tells us that love for God is to obey His commands. And finally, John 14:23 states, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” John 14:15, 21, 24, 15:10, 14 say the same. These are simply a fraction of the Bible’s words on obedience and disobedience.
The reason we find disobedience so repulsive a thought is because of what it implies. Disobedience implies having been given commands. And we definitely don’t like that in this culture. How dare anyone give commands or orders. We prefer a God who gives us some goals and some encouragement, but no commands.
Disobedience also implies accountability. We are responsible to someone for our actions. We definitely don’t like that either in this culture. How dare anyone tell us what we should or shouldn’t do.
Disobedience implies authority. It assumes that someone has the right and power to command us. At the risk of becoming monotonous, this idea simply won’t do in our culture either. We exalt personal autonomy and freedom. Not submission or surrender. There are few things more revolting in this culture than the notion of authority, at least any external authority.
Finally, disobedience implies consequence. When we disobey, we receive a consequence, or punishment (or discipline for that matter). In a culture of victims, this simply isn’t fair either. There is always someone else to blame for things. I shouldn’t be held responsible, so I shouldn’t have to face a consequence.
I would contend that few of us go through our days with even the slightest inclination that the way in which we are living out our lives is simply a question of whether we are living obediently or disobediently toward God and the commands He has given us to live by. We’re certainly willing to admit to falling short and failing. Yet few of us wish to call it what it truly is: disobedience.
We would do well to maintain a biblical view of human sinfulness, even the sin that occurs after our conversion. And if we claim ignorance, when God’s Word is readily available to us, we really only prove that our rebellion is of the lazy variety. Let us call our “failures” or “shortcomings” what they are. And let it challenge us to pursue obedience more passionately than we might otherwise.