I know it is provocative to say God does not bless obedience, but before I am burned at the stake, let me explain. The saying that floats around in the context of well-intentioned Christian conversation, “God blesses obedience,” has been a source of confusion for me. One reason is because God’s blessing seems to me to be apparent in a lot of situations where it is entirely undeserved; and conversely, His blessing appears, to my finite eye, to be missing sometimes when I think it would be quite warranted. Frankly, God blesses people whether they deserve it or not; and often, what appears to be something else, is actually the blessing of the Lord. So, can we really say, “God blesses obedience,” and be certain it’s true? No, I don’t think so…not exactly. But I believe God is pleased with and does bless the kind of faith in Him that leads to obedience. God doesn’t bless works, but He is pleased with and blesses faith-driven motives.
Those kinds of motives recognize who He is. For example, when faced with a temptation, a child of God who pleases Him might respond to His holiness and wisdom with reverent fear and humility that turns him from temptation toward God and works out in the act of obedience. The obedience, of course, has its own reward because the person never suffers the consequences of disobeying God’s protective injunction against yielding to temptation. But his motive, and what I believe pleases God, is faith in God’s character. His child knows He knows what is best and trusts “no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly,” (Ps 84:11). Faith that prompts obedience is always focused on its Object, not on the person taking the action nor on the action itself. It is a response to the wonderful revelation of who God is, not the human effort to obey a checklist of laws.
His children miss the mark when they decide to obey God in order to elicit a certain response, as if He is ever beholden to a human’s obedience. We owe Him obedience because He is God. He owes us nothing. We should be the ones responding to Him, not the other way around. When His child prayerfully senses His leading in something and chooses to worship Him in obedience because she knows He is trustworthy, this is a proper response. She is not self-righteous, but she is humble, sees who He is, and acts accordingly.
In the end, there is no way to thoroughly analyze or predict anything about the decisions of our transcendent God. There is no fine science that can cajole His actions or corral His Person. In fact, He constantly blesses people despite wrongdoing and sinful motives. Some of our greatest blessings can come just at a moment we know in our hearts what we really deserve is a trip to the wood shed instead. But I am convinced even these moments of beautiful grace are designed to divert our eyes from ourselves and keep them on the wonder of who He is and what He is like. These things build our faith in His loveliness and encourage us to respond to Him in ways that please Him. Rather than “God blesses obedience,” it is probably more accurate to say, “God blesses because He is wonderful and He is worthy of our obedience.”
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him,” (Hebrews 11:6).