Friday, May 20, 2011

Obedience and the Gospel

This is from another email I wrote to a person who is confused about how obedience fits in with the Gospel.

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Works based salvation = I obey; therefore I am accepted.


The Gospel = I am accepted; therefore I obey.

They are diametrically opposed. The issue isn't with obeying God. It isn't even with the Law. It is our approach to God. Is he a boss, a dispenser of good or bad outcomes which I can manipulate by my actions? Or is He a God who wants us back, to be our Father, to build a kingdom with us, and to be intimately close to us, to invite us into the intimate dance that the members of the Trinity have enjoyed with each other from eternity past? Those things could not be more opposite. If am constantly trying to please my wife and banking everything on my performance, it might look great from the outside, but inside it might just be, "let me give you what you want so you will shut up and leave me alone," or "let me give you what you want so that I can feel safe and not have to be alone." When a relationship is built upon performance, it automatically has nothing to do with closeness. In fact, performance can be a way to *avoid* closeness.

Look at the parable of the prodigal son. The younger son says, "Dad, I don't care about you -I want my share of your inheritance now so I can go blow it on frivolous living." He essentially told his dad, "I wish you were dead so I can have your stuff -can you just give it to me now?" He went off and blew it all. He comes back, and the father runs, embraces him, reinstates him, and throws a feast for him. You know how the story goes.

But there is another person in the story. In fact, you can easily argue that this person, the elder brother, is THE point of the story. It says that Jesus told this story to the Pharisees, after all. This brother did everything the father wanted. When the younger brother came back and the father reinstated him, how did the elder brother react? He was furious. He was saying, "Dad, I always did everything right. I NEVER disobeyed you. I earned my right to be treated a certain way and I am entitled to the rest of the inheritance. How *dare* you use it to reinstate that disobedient loser!"

The elder brother actually had the same problem as the younger: "I don't want closeness with you, Dad. I just want control of your stuff. I'm in it for the results and goods that I want." The younger brother asked for it and then blew it by being very, very bad. The older brother sought to obtain it and indebt it by being very, very good. His true motives were revealed when the "stuff" or "ends" or "results" he thought his obedience earned him was in jeopardy. At the end, this brother is the one who is on the outside of the feast. He wasn't kicked out. He refused, and it wasn't in spite of his apparent "goodness" but *because* of it.

Obeying wasn't the problem. There is nothing wrong with a son obeying his father. If a son really loves his father and has a close relationship with him, it will show. Jesus said, "if you love me, you will obey my commands." That is a descriptive statement. It has nothing to do with us working hard to "prove" ourselves. He is stating a fact.

Deitrich Bonnhoeffer (i know I spelled that wrong) wrote a book called "the Cost of Christian discipleship." In it, he addresses the idea that since grace is free obedience doesn't matter -God will just forgive. He basically said that what is free for us was costly for Christ. If we really grasp what was done for us, we won't live the same way. When we see what He went through to give us salvation, it will change us.

I remember seeing a documentary about southern California gangs a while back. There was a story of one family that really touched me. A single mother had alreayd lost one son to gang violence. She had another boy who was still in high-school. She broke her back, worked multiple jobs, and always made sure she was there for him. She poured herself into him and his future; she poured herself into his freedom from that gang-infested area and that gang-corrupted way of life. The son was extremely driven. He was an A student and he was determined to graduate and go on to college. Why? Did he do those things to earn his mother's good graces? Did he do those things so that she would care? No. He was driven and motivated because he saw that she already did care. He saw her sacrifice for him. She didn't have to demand anything from him. He was so moved by his mother's love and sacrifice that he would not let a single drop of her sweat be wasted.

That is how, by the Spirit, we can be freely justified and forgiven and accepted by grace alone, apart from our works, and yet be utterly driven to the ends of the earth to serve the One who bought us.

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