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All who love me will do what I say. - John 14:23 (NLT)
I recently saw a movie called Us. (It’s in the horror/thriller genre, so I don’t necessarily recommend it.) The movie begins with a young girl who gets lost in a funhouse of mirrors and is suddenly faced with the terrifying image of her own reflection who is no longer mirroring her motions. This disobedient reflection, or shadow self, found a way to detach from her owner and soon led a rebellion of shadows in an attempt to co-opt the world for themselves. You can imagine what kind of horrible events followed. The trouble with the shadows’ plan, however, was that they had no purpose outside of their human owners. What they thought was freedom turned out to be nothing more than a shadow of a life.
The movie Us might as well be about… well… us. The rebellion of “shadow selves” trying to create their own existence detached from their owners is eerily similar to the human problem of sin.
Genesis 1:27 tells us that we are made in the image of God. The whole point of a reflection is that it returns an identical image back to the point of origin. When you wave at a mirror, you want your reflection to wave back. They’re supposed to be obedient like that. The purpose of our existence is to reflect this image of God to the world and, in turn, to reflect the praises of the world back to God. We can try to detach ourselves from this purpose, but it doesn’t end well. Disobedience may feel like freedom, but it always results in emptiness.
Learning obedience is a lifelong endeavor. We reflect imperfectly, not unlike a funhouse mirror; nevertheless, we keep our eyes on Him. We respond to His voice and His movements. Slowly but surely, the reflection becomes clear. Sanctification—a life that looks more and more like His—comes through obedience.
Galatians 5:22-23 gives us a good idea of what it looks like when we are reflecting the image of God. Consider memorizing this passage of Scripture and praying for the Spirit to cultivate this image in you.Share Tweet
It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. - 1 Peter 1:3 (NLT)
Rebellion by definition is “an act of violent or open resistance to an established government or ruler.” We tend to have mixed emotions when we consider the concept of rebellion. The word itself carries a negative connotation; resisting authority is not something we generally teach our children, after all. Look no further than Hollywood for a case study:
Pop culture jokes aside, we know that rebellion always has consequences. Nelson Mandela took on Apartheid in South Africa and paid for it with almost three decades in prison. When structures of power or authority are oppressive or violent, rebels who stand up against the regime are sung as heroes by the history books. But what if the powers in question are not evil, but unfathomably good? What happens when we rebel against authority that exists only to provide life, and life to the fullest extent? Plainly, what if we rebel against God?
The wages of rebellion is death.
The gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus.
Ironically, this gift of eternal life was secured for us by the ultimate rebel Himself. Jesus saw the grip that death had on the world. There was no escaping it. Every one of us was caught in its clutches. The only way out was revolution. Rebellion. So Jesus said, “No more. It is finished.” He faced down death and came out on the other side. He didn’t even need three decades—He only needed three days.
Sin, the oppressive ruler of death, was defeated by the Rebel with a Cause.
The sign we have been given to confirm this victory over death is called baptism. If you want to know more about finding life in Christ, click here.Share Tweet
Make me walk along the path of your commands, for that is where my happiness is found. - Psalms 119:35 (NLT)
Obedience is an acquired taste. Like any newly married couple, my wife and I had to learn how to adjust to the expectations of the other. Erica made it clear that when she cooked a meal, she expected me to clean up after it. Begrudgingly, I settled into a nightly routine of washing dishes. I am confident that I didn’t enjoy washing pots and pans any more than she did; nevertheless, I did it. Love for my bride undergirded my sense of obligation to please her in this way, so I scrubbed and rinsed with regularity.
Nineteen years later, I habitually start cleaning the kitchen as soon as our family stands up from dinner. It is probably a stretch to say that I enjoy washing dishes, but it’s not disingenuine to say that I don’t mind it. What began as reluctant obedience to a request from my beloved has transformed over time to a liturgy of love and self-sacrifice. She provides the meal, I clear a path for the next one. Freedom, delight, and peace are found in this rhythm. It’s not a task I would have chosen for myself, but it has been edifying nonetheless. Unsurprisingly, our marriage is stronger and healthier because of this kind of mutual obedience and submission to one another.
At a distance, God’s commands can seem restrictive or counterintuitive. We obey at first because we know that love for Him means obedience. Over time, however, the fruits of our begrudged obedience begin to take shape, and we see they are good. Following Him becomes less forced and more habitual. Suddenly, we look up and realize that we actually delight in His Word and His commands. We discover that we are more ourselves the closer we follow Him. We become clearer reflections of His love and glory, and before long, we can’t imagine ever being anything else.
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. - John 10:27 (NLT)
I saw a video not long ago of a dog who was reunited with his owner. The man had been in the hospital for five weeks and, as a result, had lost a significant amount of weight. At their reunion, his dog approached cautiously; there was something familiar about the man, but he didn’t look the same. After a few moments of circling, growling, and barking, the dog mustered enough courage to inch closer. Sticking out his snout, the dog gave the ultimate test. Yup! Smells like Dad! Excessive tail wagging ensued. The video comes to an end at this point, but it doesn’t take a veterinarian to imagine this delighted dog followed his owner anywhere and everywhere after that.
I want to be like that dog. I want to be so intimately acquainted with God’s aroma that a simple sniff test is all I need to know I’m in the right hands. That’s not exactly what Jesus tells us, but it’s close enough. “My sheep know my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” If we truly knew who it is we belong to, we’d follow Him anywhere and everywhere. Obedience would be as natural as scratching for fleas. (Sorry, I have clearly taken this canine metaphor far enough.)
We can’t follow Jesus if we don’t know Him. It’s imperative that we do all we can to be able to recognize His voice: read the gospels; spend time with older, mature believers; worship with our church family regularly.
When I read these words from Jesus in John 10, the connection between knowing and following is a direct one. If we listen to the voice of Jesus—if we know Him and are known by Him—we will follow Him. Obedience is the natural result of this relationship. So let’s get to know Jesus, shall we?
The master said, "Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!" - Matthew 25:23 (NLT)
I often think the reason most of us struggle with obeying God is that we don’t trust Him, though we probably wouldn’t put it quite like that. We aren’t generous with our resources because we don’t trust that God is enough for our contentment. We stubbornly refuse to love our enemies because we don’t trust that God’s grace is enough for even them. We don’t confess our sins because we don’t really trust that light can overcome our darkness. You get the point.
As Jon said earlier in this series, “You cannot distance yourself from the teachings of Jesus and call yourself a follower of Jesus.” Following Jesus has never been about knowing the right things. It is about participating in the mission of God to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth. The parable Jesus tells us in Matthew 25 reminds us that we have been entrusted with the business of the Father. Those who are faithful are rewarded, but those who do nothing are left out. (Matthew 25:30)
What has the Father entrusted you with right now? Moving to Iraq as a missionary? Selling your home and moving to the inner city? Maybe… but I would guess not.
But how about increasing your charitable giving by 2% every year? What about saying “no” to one thing this week so that you can spend more time with someone who needs you to be present? How about giving 30 minutes a week to invest in a child by mentoring in a school or in student ministry?
Make no mistake, God will sometimes ask us to take big leaps of faith in our obedience. But those leaps usually come after hundreds of smaller steps along the way.