Words are a funny thing. We tend to distort them, to create them and change them and abuse them, but rarely do we take the time to investigate them to their very core. I love words and have devoted countless hours to understanding them and using them properly, and one of the most disfigured words I have come across is “obey”. Do you cringe when you hear it? Does your brain shoot to bondage and weakness? Mine used to.
But obedience is poetry.
You see, when Satan gets ahold of something—even something as pure and inherently lovely as obedience—it becomes ugly and vile. And so we flee from it. But, as with any other creation of God, we cannot adopt Satan’s plagiarized version as the authentic original. Society may tell us that obedience is failure, but my God says it is the very essence of freedom.
Toward the end of Deuteronomy, we begin to witness the graceful exit of Moses from his role leading the Israelites to the Promised Land. He is addressing them with everything they need to know, and wedged in this scene is a bone-chilling and soul-awakening declaration: “…the word [of God] is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.” (Deuteronomy 30:14-15) Life and prosperity or death and destruction. Notice, Moses does not say life and prosperity, death and destruction, or a comfortable, low-key existence in the middle ground. There are only two destinations because there are only two paths: obedience and disobedience.
But society tends to cringe at the very mention of obedience because Satan knows scripture as well as any scholar and he is as familiar with this verse as Moses himself was. John 10:10 tells us that Satan is a thief that comes only to steal, kill, and destroy, so we can assume that the idea of bringing death and destruction through disobedience sounded pretty good to him. Because of this distortion of the truth, our aversion to obedience is understandable if we do not truly understand God’s character. Evil people have demanded detrimental obedience, wiping out races, genders, hope, and joy countless times. But this is not Kingdom obedience. Consider this: the Pharisees demanded such religious obedience that God Himself was crucified as a result. Nothing could prove more plainly that heavenly obedience is not the same as that which people have created on their own.
But true obedience, the kind God is talking about in Deuteronomy, is not slavery to the law. Galatians 4:7 says that when we love God we “are no longer a slave, but a son,” and this release from bondage applies to the chains of religious legalism. No, obedience is not defined by saying the right words at the right times during a service. It isn’t what you wear or how you wear it. Obedience isn’t church buildings on Sundays or foods you don’t eat or everything the world requires of a “Christian”. It isn’t summarized in these things but it might be any one of those things for you. See, obedience isn’t responding to the demands of the world but responding to the call of Christ in your life. To obey is simply to step into the identity given to you by God. God made your heart. He made your mind and your creativity and your spirit and imparted into you the unique and divine gifts you contain. Obedience is connecting your identity to Christ and saying yes.
It is no accident that God appeared to Moses as a burning bush. God generally reveals our purpose and our passions in hot flames, burning relentlessly, leading us to a call to action. As in Exodus 3, the fire of our passion is a revelatory gift from God the Father, showing us what it is we long for. The fire does not consume us, rather, it calls us out of mediocrity and into the heat of purpose. In these moments of realization, the moments where we are tending to our regular business and we stumble upon Holy Ground, it is at our very worldly core to ask, like Moses, “Who am I?” Who am I to have such a bold purpose? Who am I to harbor this great gift? Moses asked the same question that we ask. And in this same fashion, the answer God gave Moses is the same answer He has for us: “I will be with you.” God reassures us that our heart’s desires—our burning bush, if you will—is in fact the fire that He shows up in. He will champion us and our dreams. He dreamed them first! Rather than respond to the question of who we are, God gives us fire and fellowship and allows us to answer that question for ourselves.
This is obedience.
Obedience is life and prosperity. In John 10:10, just after we are warned of the pillaging thief, we are reassured that the entire purpose of Jesus coming to earth was that we “may have life, and have it to the full”! Slaves to sin and the law do not have full lives! People who are in tireless pursuit of the dream wedged deep down in their identities have full lives! To obey is not to meekly submit to the world but to boldly chase after the heart of God and what it beats for. Obeying God is as simple as a courageous obedience to the fire burning inside of you.
Disobedience is death and destruction. I feel as though it is quite obvious that Pharisees and other churches of the like throughout time have had quite the hay day with this verse. They have used it as their weapon with which to force their audiences into submission to their laws. But, just as there is an unbridgeable chasm between worldly and kingdom obedience, so is there the same for disobedience. As a matter of fact, sometimes obedience to God means disobedience to the world. Were not Jesus and His disciples taken prisoner and martyred for their commitment to the Father? The death and destruction Moses writes about in Deuteronomy is the eternal kind. Even believers die on earth, this is true, but then begins our perfect eternal life. The same cannot be said of those who choose to disobey the word of God and walk in their own direction, away from Christ and, in turn, away from heaven. But what if this is also a warning for believers who do have heaven to look forward to? It is a heartbreaking thing to watch committed followers of God sacrifice their gifts and purpose in order to maintain obedience to the world. Even while alive, living as a slave to the world without ever fearlessly pursuing the fire God lights within you equates a pretty lifeless existence.
It is time for us to recognize that the burning bush in front of us is God. It is God, showing up and asking us to hear His voice and chase after the true identity that He crafted for us. Obedience is not the mundane and fearful response to a dated god. Obedience is the exhilarating and captivating pursuit of a multi-faceted Creator who intentionally made His children in such a way that all their yes’s would look vastly different. Let us settle into lives of radical obedience, following God wherever He goes and abandoning the world’s distorted views of what it means to obey.