Kids have a whole series of tricks they pull on their parents. They know how to manipulate a situation. My older daughter, Abbie, is no exception. She knows that she can start doing something she shouldn’t be doing, listen to me say no, smile at me and then go right on doing it. She did it to me on Friday morning. I was getting ready to head to the office, and she pulled the lampshades off the lamps, and had one lamp on the floor. I looked at her, and said, “leave the lamps alone.” I put the lamp back on the coffee table, and went into the kitchen to pour my coffee. And then I realized, I know exactly what she’s about to do. I turn back to the living room just in time to see the lamp tumbling off the coffee table onto the floor, shattering the bulb, glass pieces surrounding her feet.
There were some choice words I wanted to say with a loud tone of voice… but I bit my tongue. I knew that if I said them, she’d just repeat them… probably on Sunday morning to one of the deacons (“where did you learn those words?” “Daddy”). I pick her up and move her to the other side of the living room, away from the glass, grab the broom. Then she looks at me and smiles. My heart melts and she goes back to destroying the house.
Kids have this way of getting to you; manipulating people. Abbie, when she’s in trouble smiles and says “I love you daddy”… then continues to disobey. Sometimes I wonder about that kid… she’s… crafty. She uses love as leverage to get away with disobeying. She gets that from her mother, I’m sure.
So this sermon, is the continuation of our series entitled “who are you and what are you here?” The whole purpose of this is to refocus our attention. To go back to the question what is the church supposed to be and do. This series is drawing themes out of our church covenant, a document which was drafted when this church was founded and set the course for us. Last week we talked about what is means to covenant as a community in Christ.
In this sermon, we’re talking about obedience. The second paragraph of the Church covenant begins, “We engage, therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to walk together in Christian love, to strive for the advancement of this Church in knowledge, piety, and godly living” So we’re going to talk about what it means to be led into godly living by the Holy Spirit, which is precisely what Jesus is talking about in John 14:15-24.
So, let’s drawn some points from there.
First, obedience matters
James writes “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). Calling yourself a Christian without the fruit to back it up is dangerous. Yes, you are saved by grace, but grace must do something to you and in you. If there is not change then grace has not been received. Being a Christian means living like Jesus for Jesus. It means being dead to self, and alive in Christ. Loving Jesus means doing what he says. He is Lord. Yes, he may be your friend and brother, but he’s still Lord. To suggest that you love and follow Jesus without showing obedience is blatant hypocrisy. “I you love me, you will obey what I command” (Jn. 14:15).
Second, obedience is not a moral checklist
Legalism is contrary to the gospel. It’s hard to read Jesus teaching and not see that. Obedience is not checklist of foods you can’t eat, words you can’t say or movies you can’t watch. It’s about a life of freedom in Christ. Romans 14:17 says “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” Living for Jesus is not a list of do’s and don’ts. It’s a call to be responsive to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says “He dwells with you and will be in you” (v 17) and “we will come to him and make our home with him.” (v 23). Obedience is about submitting to Jesus and allowing him to move in you, to transform and mold you; it’s about being responsive to the Holy Spirit’s indwelling.
Third, proper obedience flows from love, not fear or duty
Bonhoeffer, in The Cost of Discipleship contrasts Cheap grace vs. Costly grace. Jesus tells his disciples that the ones who obey him are the ones who truly love him. He calls us all take up our crosses and follow him; but not because we have to, because we choose to. It takes commitment, discipline. You can’t be under grace without discipline. It’s a paradox- grace is free but will cost you everything. You can’t earn it- it’s a free gift. But when you receive it, you submit to it. It transforms everything you are and do.
Judas has a valid question. Why do we get to see this and everyone else misses out? “Why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the whole world?” he asks. Why not show up God? Why not make yourself visible to whole world so no one can deny you. End the debates, make everyone see that you are the Sovereign Lord? Why work in these mysterious ways? Why not let everyone see? Well Jesus repeats everything he just said. He says, it’s because I want obedience to flow from love. Those who love me will obey. Those who obey without love, well, what value is that? Obedience motivated by fear is contrary to love. 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
What Judas is asking for would bring lip service obedience, and duty bound obedience. Love is not love if it is not free. Kallistos Ware writes, “Where there is no freedom there can be no love. Compulsion excludes love.” God does not create machines. He creates mankind with will and freedom. Because he is interested in creating a loving fellowship with mankind. Augustine: “Love God and do as you please”. What we desire and choose to live out should be informed by our love for God. If you love God it will be your desire to please him. Don’t obey because you see the words on a page. Don’t follow commandments because you memorized them. Do things based on your love for God.
Want to be more obedient? Fall more in love with Jesus. Draw closer to him.
Fourth, God does not call you to obey then “leave you to it”
Jesus promises, “I will not leave you as orphans” (v 18). “I am in you” (v 20) he says. We (the Father and the Son and the Spirit) will make our home with you (v 23).
The Spirit guides us in all truth. The obedience and righteousness you have is not your own, but it is God in you. Is he at home there? Are you making room for him to come in and guide? Galatians 2:20 states, “I have been crucified with Christ, therefore I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” We live out his obedience and his righteousness. When we live by the Spirit’s direction, Paul says, he will produce this kind of fruit: love, joy, peace, patience… etc.
You won’t be able to do it on your own. So stop trying. Do it in him. Let him show you show. He’s better at it than you. Be transformed, reborn in the image of Christ Jesus. In order to obey properly you have to be born again, born from above. You must receive the new life in Christ.
Finally, we have a model of obedience in Jesus
His words are the Father’s words (v 24). In Gethsemane, he prays “not my will but yours.” In Philippians 2 we are told he took the form of a doulos; a slave or bondservant; one who does not have authority, even over his own life. Jesus does only what his Father tells him. The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve- to be obedient to the will of the Father. We don’t get the parental “do as I say not as I do” from God. We are to do as he does. Each of us is to be a doulos Jesou Chritou (Rom 1:1, Phil. 1:1, Tit. 1:1).
Now, the big question… what’s that got to do with community?
This all sounds like stuff I can do on my own… Or does it?
Last week we talked about how we are called to devote ourselves to fellowship- in Greek koinonia which means partnership, sharing. When it comes to obedience, we share it. We partner in it. We gather together and when two or three are gathered… We gather to ask “God what are we called to do.” The Church is where God’s will is revealed. Obedience is something which happens both on the individual level, but the community level as well. We obey as a community. We submit the church to him. We do not run the church or build the church or work within the church outside of Jesus Christ. The church is doomed when we do it ourselves.
It doesn’t matter how good your programs are or how effective your constitution is or eloquent your pastor is or how beautiful the building is if we don’t have the love of Jesus at the core of everything we do. Christ is the head of the body. He is Lord of Lords and King of kings.
And the church needs to start operating like he is.
Instead of bowing to committees and constitutions, we have to take our lead from Christ. We don’t abandon those things. They have a place. Their place is to serve us as we serve Christ.
How will Centre Street (and every other congregation) succeed in the future endeavours to build the Kingdom? By obeying the King of that Kingdom.
If we really love Jesus, we will seek his call and let him live in us and through us. That will make an impact for the Kingdom. If we are doing things excellently without love of God and neighbour at the core, we are cymbals and gongs says Paul.
So, back to Augustine, “Love God, and do as you please”… If we love God, we will be pleased to obey. It will be our greatest pleasure to obey him. We will follow him even unto death, because we know it is better to die with him than live without him.
Obedience is not about a stern father laying down the law. It’s not about doing what your told to avoid the consequences. It’s about joyfully trusting and being lead by the hand of a loving Father.
“Obedience is the road to freedom” -C.S. Lewis