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Jul 03, 2009

Obedience Theology

One of the last Churches my wife and I visited was about four years ago. At this point we were looking for just about anything that would give us a reason to give the system another chance. We wanted to make sure that our decision to live in the wild wasn't made in haste or without warrant. Like the scientists who scanned the surface of Mars; we were eagerly looking for even the most minute signs of life. Anything that would tell us that it was worth it to stick around and raise a family.

The worship was the same as most other churches. It was the normal contemporary "I'm a hippie and lose myself in the moment" flare that I'd seen in the other churches around town. The sermon was actually pretty good. It was packed full of stuff we'd all learned in the second grade, but at least they weren't making God out to look like a jerk. Anything was better than that. Even the offering was done in a clever and less embarrassing way then what we were used too. At the very least, it was appearing tolerable. Nothing stuck out as either good or bad, it just was what it was.

As we were exiting the sanctuary like a herd of hungry cattle, our children came joyfully skipping towards us with Tootsie Pops in their mouths and sticky hands holding gobs of Sunday school memorabilia. This was the the final test. In reality it was the only test. How did the kids like it? The looks on their faces told us that they loved it. They were buzzing about everything they did in their classes. The little one informed us that, "They gave us lollies" about seventy times in a row until we steadied her trembling sugar-filled body, established eye contact and said, "I can see that." She handed me her coloring page she had scribbled on and I noticed it had a picture of a few men standing around Jesus. On the top of the page were the words, "Built To Obey God."

Without a single word from my mouth, my wife looked at me shaking her head and said, "I know, I know."

Out of the many troubling things I hear from hurting people who have been steeped in religious thinking, I do not believe there is anything quite as troubling as the modern day teachings and beliefs on the subject of "obedience." I think the average person honestly believes that obedience is at the top of God's list of things He desires from His people. The very subject, when mentioned, almost immediately causes me to imagine a dog in "obedience school." There is something almost inhumane or degrading in the air when that word is spoken in Christian circles. I halfway expect God to be standing over me with a choke-chain and a rolled up newspaper ready to pop me if I don't respond to His commands. I get a picture of a military sergeant barking orders at a line of terrified cadets.

Oddly enough, a surprising number of Christians claim to be comfortable with these twisted descriptions of obedience. It's not uncommon to hear people use animal training metaphors when describing the kind of relationship they believe God is pushing them towards. The "breaking of one's spirit" as if they were a horse or a dog seems to elicit an eerie string of tranquilized moans and amens from just about any Christian audience. It's as though people have found some freaky comfort in having acknowledged their rightful "place" in God's twisted universe. Whoever delights in it the most, is considered "spiritual."

If obedience is truly as important to God as we've all been taught, I for one am not interested in Him. It's not that I have a problem with obedience as much as I am generally turned off by people who need to BE obeyed. There is a, "do it or else...." feeling in the air with people like this.

Obedience is for people who live apart from God. It's a huge focus in the Old Testament because no one had the Spirit of God living inside them. They were soldiers awaiting orders. Today however, the focus is not on obedience, but on a heart connection with the One who indwells us. Once that is established; obedience is never an issue. It is my belief the "obedience theology" separates us from that wonderful truth. It puts the spotlight on the symptoms of love, rather than the heart of love.

A focus on obedience is only necessary if someone's connection has malfunctioned or has planenever been established in the first place. If a Christian is "in the dark," they have to resort to obedience. Kind of like a flight attendant having to land a plane by following step by step orders from the tower. There is no "feel" for the cockpit. It's just dials, buttons and knobs. When the Pilot lives in your heart; flying is in your very soul. You go wherever you want. You take off and land from wherever you decide. The sky belongs to you.

Obedience theology causes people to focus on the knobs, buttons and dials rather than the horizon of life. They spend more time listening and worrying than they do flying and living.

You don't have to tell a squirrel to collect nuts for the winter. He does it because he has a squirrel's heart. The same is true for children of Yahweh. We have his Spirit living inside of us. Obedience theology hinges upon people NOT living IN Christ. It's custom made for the wearer of WWJD bracelets and the scripture quoters who have never witnessed what they quote.

New creations do not think in terms of obedience. They don't need too. They naturally do the things that are on God's heart. This is so because they are one with Him. It is not obedience that God desires from you; it's a heart connection.


Darin Hufford

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  1. Gravatar

    Loved the picture of the dog, Darin. That's just the way we look when we go to church, isn't it?

  2. Gravatar
    David Backus

    I think the word "obedience" has lost its real meaning, and even I shudder when I hear it or read it. Even reading your blog I tensed up. Yet I know that obedience IS important to God. But people like you and me, Darin tell us what God wants us to do. What is obedience to God? To live a life of love and freedom. I think it is only through those lenses, I can bear the verses about obedience in the Bible. I keep reminding myself (almost like a mantra) that God wants us to live a life of love and freedom and to do so is to obey God. Jesus' commandment was that we simply love one another. If we love Him, we WILL obey His commands. But you wouldn't have to tell ME twice! you don't have to force me into submission. On the contrary,You have to STOP me from obeying!(if you dare!)

  3. Gravatar

    Great blog, Darin! I love how David in his comment described obedience to God as “to live a life of love and freedom.” I think the key is to know God’s heart and to understand that all of his desires come out of his love for us. When we’re faced with a question of obedience, we need to look for God’s heart in the situation. When we understand his heart, obedience is not a burdensome thing because we know his motivation is always for our good and not because he wants it his way or else.

  4. Gravatar

    Absolutely necessary for every believer to hear this and be set free. The 'other' obedience just puts shackles around your neck and condemnation in your heart.
    If we love Him we will automatically obey him - He said that.

  5. Gravatar

    Excellent post! Yes, the obedience freaks overplay it a bit by not waiting for the Spirit to set people into the family. Instead, they create fear that folks need to do it themselves.

  6. Gravatar

    Yes, well spoken indeed. I also liked what David B had to say. I thought of a Father introducing his children into a beautiful playground prepared just for them. "No play and enjoy it!" Well, that child had better obey, right?

    Also I thought of a wild young horse that I worked with many years ago, that had been beaten by an angry man. I had to work to regain it's trust. But it never did trust men, only women. I hate that these twisted teachings pervert that true heart of God.

  7. Gravatar

    The false ideas that church teaches is really hard to swallow any more. Simple words are distorted and used for others own selfish gain. Obedience at the heart level is so abused that the true meaning of it needs to be learned once again and accepted.

  8. Gravatar

    Jesus said that "those who love me keep my commands". Too many times that phrase is used as a "see, I told you Jesus is first and foremost interested in obedience". That's so sad. I used to buy into that line of reasoning myself. But seen through new glasses, this saying takes on a whole new meaning. I believe what Jesus was saying here is that "by loving me you ARE keeping my commands". Freeing, isn't it? Great post, Darin.

  9. Gravatar
    alice scott-ferguson

    Superb, soaring,loud, explosive, firework kind of amens to this post. Brings to mind the OT "heart is desperately wicked" that is thrown out to make one question one's leading etc. What appalling ignorance is out there in Christendom. That we have been given a new heart and a new spirit seems to have escaped them. We do not need our heart renewed, we need our mind renewed to the glory of our redemption.

  10. Gravatar

    Obedience is a form of control. Freedom, well, how can you control that? And everyone is afraid of that, from leaders to individuals. It takes great courage to be free.

  11. Gravatar

    I think that God has offered freedom since the very beginning. When he set those in the Garden free. It was always his plan for us to Love him because he first loved us. I don't think that has ever changed. I believe there are those in the O.T. who got this message..we just hear about the ones who saw obedience as a means to an in road to God. It is by those books that the ultimate lie became the truth for us all. We found out real quick how burdensome that obedience can be based on Moses Law. Enter show us what God is NOT. His yoke is easy and burden light..who would not come running to him after making this discovery? Jesus was the Spirit of God..the Face of God. Obedience to law inflates our ego..or deflates our ego sometimes simultaneously.

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    Like the parable of the talents..we project our human emotions on God. I will work harder than anyone else or I was scared of you and hid them...The Spirit of God restores our ego to it's "right size"..and accepting this as a norm in our life produces a "walk with God in the Garden of our freedom" it is what I live for and what I want others to find.

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    Shannon Brown

    This truth makes my heart sing! Obedience was pounded into my head for so many years as what God required and expected of questions asked. It wasn't until I read He Loves Me where Wayne Jacobsen spoke of what Todd wrote about - "by loving Me you are keeping my commandments" my eyes could finally see a God who truly loves me. Wayne writes of how we interpret "If anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching" John 14:23 as "if I really loved Him I would keep His commands. But He's really saying that if we get the loving right, the keeping will take care of itself. Those who love Him as they are loved will find themselves following wherever He leads." All my life I had only read that verse one way. When I read this passage in He Loves Me, I cried tears of joy and freedom!

  14. Gravatar

    Nice Article Darin, these statements will get you killed yet they are entirely true.Obedience theology can only have one of 3 results.

    1. Condemnation-because we never feel like we obey enough.

    2)Self Righteousness - because we think we do obey enough... usually with thsi we define the standards for ourselves.

    3) Yo Yo Christianity where we feel good when we "obey" and feel like garbage when we don't

    The beauty of the New Covenant is that my righteousness is of Him so...if he does not change...neither does my righteousness since it is not mine in the first place !

  15. Gravatar

    My church's thunderings on instant obedience to God, combined with teachings on how hear God's voice through contemplative prayer, were a poison cocktail that nearly killed me spiritually. After four years and many deceptions, I finally had to admit that the voices I was hearing weren't from God! I was so hurt - I honestly felt like God didn't want me there, so he sent demons to torment me instead. It took several months of counseling to heal my relationship with Him. I found other survivors in wonderful online communities - like this one! - and they, too, helped me find my way back If these "leaders" had taught love combined with discernment/wisdom, in a truly Biblical manner, I and many others would still be at church. Thanks, Darin, for your help.

  16. Gravatar
    Darin Hufford

    Thanks TLC. I think we all can relate to this. I know it destroyed about 10 years of my life.

  17. Gravatar
    Bob Coker

    Walking Alone
    By Bob Coker

    Allow me to share with you where I have been. Maybe this will help. Like you, I have been on the salvation journey for some time. We are always learning and putting the pieces together. I think the Bible calls it “Growing in Grace”. It was about 1994 when I ask my pastor what the “Gospel” was. I had read somewhere that if you want your preaching to really hit the spot, preach, the “Gospel”. I knew in my heart that the Gospel was more than “Good News”. I just couldn't find out more. I ask everyone. They all said the same thing. "What was the good news?", I thought. I am reminded of a verse in the book of Proverbs, it says, “…it is the glory of God to conceal a matter, it is the glory of man to find it.” (Pr 25:2)

  18. Gravatar
    Ed Johnson

    I just preached a sermon on "The Goal of the Gospel" which is a relationship with God. But I took most of my time debunking a false goal of Obedience. Forced obedience is slavery! We are not slaves but sons, children of God.

    Great article, I'm glad I didn't read this article first, I would of plagerized it. :)

  19. Gravatar
    Rich Arnold

    I am wondering if I have had a vastly different experience as a participant with/in the institutional church than what seems to be the case with most FBN participants. No one is exactly saying that we don't need to obey, but... . Obedience is never never never the basis or foundation or ground of our relationship with God, but He does want us to obey - to be so close to Him that doing otherwise seems both unnatural and repulsive. There is sure alot of instruction in the NT about how this full-of-grace relationship with God ought (yes, "ought") to be expressed. God seems to have no trouble telling His children how to act, so I kind of appreciate it when He uses one of them to remind me. Growth in grace is all grace, but we are engaged in the process. We get the joy; He gets the credit.

  20. Gravatar

    I get it! "If you love me you WILL keep my commandments". It is just part of loving Him. It does not say "Prove you love me by keeping my commandments" or "Loving me = keeping my commandments" meaning some big obedience thing. I've always had a problem with being "used by God". Told someone once and they looked at me as if I had sprouted horns. People think it is great to be "used" by God as we obey Him more and more but my experiences of being "used" by people are far from pleasant and I didn't want God doing it too!

  21. Gravatar

    Why then, did Jesus have to "learn obedience" as it says in Hebrews 5:8, "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered."

    I have been meditating on why Jesus would have to "learn" anything at all. Especially obedience!

    I am not looking for an argument. I am learning a lot on this site and cannot reconcile this one issue yet. Any thoughts?

  22. Gravatar
    Darin Hufford

    I raised that same question in my book. I'm not sure He "HAD" to learn obedience. I think He just did. It could be that the verse is saying that Jesus learned what it was like to obey through suffering rather then Him actually "learning obedience." I could be stated several ways. My personal opinion is that what we have always said in regards to "the fall of man" and how it brought about suffering in the world, may not be true. Suffering may have been in store for Adam and Even even if they didn't "fall." I still have to believe that suffering is a gift in many respects and it's not always the result of sin.

  23. Gravatar

    What about the struggle in obeying God? For instance you really want to do something but can't help but feel this... is it right? thing. I have been hoping and hoping for someone to tell me for ages that our desires and dreams are his desires & dreams because that's who he created us to be.. which is the whole "living" theory I love here... so why the 'hesitancy' and 'does God really want me to do this' feeling. Not in a im holding a whip in my hand God.. but maybe this isn't good, you just can't see it kinda way. how do we know? do we just create issues in our heads?

  24. Gravatar

    Darin, regarding Heb. 5:8, I think it is interesting that another definition of the Greek for obedience is "submission". I like the implications of that much more than the harshness of rote "obedience".

  25. Gravatar
    Doug in Denver

    You mean to tell me I CAN be a generous giver WITHOUT being and obedient tither? That was the mantra my ex church used to use at offering time.

    "You can't be a generous giver until you have been an obedient tither." They would even have the sheep all say it togehter for the full programmng effect. How sad is that? What a lie from hell. LOLD HELP US. Save us from your self appointed leaders.

    My thought on it is, it is all from the heart. Paul said he was a bondservant of Christ. he chose to follow Him. Obedience in the church world has people in bondage and fear and all of it. Following Jesus is a love choice. My wife doesn't "submit" to me, we love each other and have each others back. Obedience has the same misinterpretation as submission teachings in the bible. But both are thunderd as principles lacking the heart and intent of the matter.

  26. Gravatar

    Could it be we're only reaping what we've sown? Dogs shouldn't be treated like that either! If we are truly our Father's children, we should value & appreciate ALL animals He created with their God-given uniqueness & treat them accordingly. We as stewards should care for them & help a dog be the best dog he can be, a horse to be the best horse, etc. NOT BREAK THE SPIRIT GOD GAVE THEM!! Monte Roberts, the "Horse Whisperer" has it right. Learn how they're made & what they're made to be & help them achieve it. As the higher being, it is our responsibility to meet THEM where they are, not harshly demand that they attain to our ideals. Much like our own children. It's a wonderful, living lesson on the True Nature of God, and how He deals with us!

  27. Gravatar

    I've read very few pieces more dangerous than this article.

  28. Gravatar
    Paul Scott

    I was encouraged by some of the thoughts and considerations that some of you holding strongly to concerning the intent of biblical obediance as it is brought forth today. I wonder however, if anyone has looked at the usages of the word translated in the English word we have as obey. There are three greek words in paticular that are translated obey, obediance. The most used in paticular by the Holy Spirit is "under the hearing of. The other two are to guard or be persuaded. Today it is rendered as a military command. Never ever the thought or in tension of our Lord and Savior. Obey was a Latin term, and when it was translated from greek into latin it had the original meaning to be under the hearing of, guard, and to be persuaded. What has happened to the church today??? CHRIST IS TRULY THE ONLY RIGHTEOUS ONE. THE LAW IS THAT OF WHO HE IS AND WHOM HE IS NOT.

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