They threaten eternal damnation in hell, if you don’t obey God. They claim that God actually hates you, unless you obey Him. Maybe you’ve seen pictures of them on the Internet or in the news, with their picket signs that say “God hates you,” and other such vulgar declarations. Promoting obedience through condemnation and fear; how effective is that I wonder.
Personally, I never responded very well to threats. If my parents threatened me with punishment when I was a misbehaving child, I might end up obeying them, but it was rather reluctantly. My obedience did not come from my heart – it came from fear. I wonder; is that the kind of obedience God desires? Or does He want our heart, as well as our head?
How did Jesus promote obedience?
“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (John 14:12) Obedience appears to come from faith. Jesus preached faith, knowing that love and obedience will be fruits of that faith. Throughout the gospels, Jesus tells us that it is faith that leads to salvation. Not once did He say, “Your obedience has set you free.” With Jesus, it was all about faith. Why? Perhaps because He knows that it first requires faith to follow His command of love. After all, how can you love if you really don’t believe in the one who is calling you to love?
Now what does Jesus have to say about the relationship between love and obedience?
“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” (John 14:21)
“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” (John 14:23)
“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15)
And what does Jesus command? “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)
Back to my original question: how did Jesus promote obedience? The answer is to first promote faith and love. Our sincere love for God and Jesus will grow from our faith in God and Jesus. And out of our love will blossom obedience. Why did I obey my mother when I was a teenager? It was not out of fear (my mother never used threats); it was out of love. I loved her too much to hurt her by being disobedient. I believe it’s the same in our relationship with God.
Also, please consider Jesus’ response when asked what the greatest commandment is. Did He say the greatest commandment is to obey? No, He said the greatest commandment is to love God. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-38) Jesus knows that out of love, obedience will follow.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” “I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” (1 John: 7-8, 11-12, 15-21) (2 John 5-6)