God Does Not Bless Obedience

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).

 

The Highest Victory

During a Bible study many years ago my pastor asked, “What is the highest victory for you as a believer when God allows something you would not have chosen?”  I answered silently, “Submitting to God’s will.”  As if he heard me, his voice echoed, “If you just considered ‘submitting to God’s will’ the victory, then you are experiencing a lower level of victory in your Christian walk than you could be.”  He went on to explain that rather than yielding or acquiescing, we must embrace God’s will to obtain the highest victory. 

I was suddenly aware I needed to grow in this area.  Outwardly I had learned not to put up a fight most of the time.  But, I have come to realize submission to the sovereign acts of God ultimately isn’t something I actively do; it’s something that happens to me as circumstances unfold.  In simple terms, I submit to God because He is in control and I am not.  Any idolator can figure out how to go with the flow through a Zen mindset.  After all, it doesn’t mean I have a great mind when I realize most of what happens is obviously out of my control.  And it doesn’t take much more than an exhausted, disillusioned person to give up the ideological fight.  However, my will which is reflected in my attitudes is something that I do control, and there are levels of acceptance and conformity to God’s plans that I willfully choose.  He will have His way because He is God. But, will He be glorified in my attitude whether or not it shows on the outside?  This, for me, is one of the lessons that must be reviewed time and again to prove effective in moments of great trial.

 When contrasting the willful, rebellious soul to the submissive one, the latter is certainly the easier and more peaceful way from an outsider’s perspective.  But God looks at the heart, and He knows what I believe about Him.  In order to move beyond bowing in a Zen fashion without a fight to God’s will, I must trust Him.  The way to trust Him is to know Him and to understand what He has revealed about His character. 

1 Chron. 29:11 says, “Yours O LORD, is the greatness, The power and the glory, The victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, And You are exalted as head over all.”  This clearly ascribes the attributes of sovereignty and omnipotence to God and gives me reason to bow in reverence.  Beyond this glimpse of Almighty God, I can ponder the cross, the measure of God’s love for me: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends,” (John 15:13).  And the unfathomable knowledge of God is so all-encompassing that He will never learn anything and is the source of all knowledge.  Yet, He reveals Himself as personal and intimate.  He gave us Psalm 139 to comfort us and assure us that it is safe to be known by Him: “O LORD, You have searched me and known me.  You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off.  You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.  For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.  You have hedged me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me,” (vs. 1-5).

 Once I know Him as He is, I can choose to trust God and remind myself that every decision He makes affecting me is sifted through perfect love, wisdom, strength, and sovereignty to bring about the best possible end; so I have all I need to embrace His good, perfect, and acceptable will.