Obedience is hard. Make no mistake about it. Yet it need not be drudgery. We are no longer slaves but are free to live as we were created to live and when we do, we find ourselves more spiritually fit, more in love with our God, more able to witness, and more prepared for heaven than we could ever possibly imagine.
There’s an old joke about people who do CrossFit, and it goes something like this: “How do you know when someone does CrossFit? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you!” If you’ve ever encountered an enthusiastic CrossFitter, you know why this joke is so humorous. It seems that all they can talk about is CrossFit and how it has changed their lives. And to a certain extent it has. It has allowed them to train their bodies to maximum effectiveness. The interesting part is that CrossFit’s success is less about some revolutionary training regimen and more about the positive vision it casts and the enthusiasm it generates. The enthusiasm is not simply for the payoff but also the process—as difficult and painful as that process is. As Christians, our attitude toward obedience can become like that of someone dragged to the gym by a well-meaning friend or family member—weary disdain. Instead, we need the same sort of positive vision and enthusiasm for Christlikeness as our CrossFitting friends have for a pullup. Let me therefore give you some positive principles for the pursuit of Christian obedience.
However, we need a quick caveat before we begin. Christian history is littered with those who would try to generate energy for Christian obedience only to find themselves exhausted and enslaved to a relentless master. We do not endeavor after obedience to the Lord that we may be justified before Him. Paul makes this incredibly clear in Ephesians 2:8–9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Well-meaning Christians, afraid that the radically free offer of the gospel will demotivate Christian obedience, have instead placed themselves on a hopeless treadmill of works-righteousness. This path robs them not merely of their joy in obedience but ultimately of their assurance in Christ. Rejoice, Christian, your obedience does not factor into your acceptance into the kingdom. What a freeing truth that is; yet it does not free us from obedience but rather puts us in a right relationship with obedience. For Paul finishes his thought in his letter to the Ephesians with this: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10, emphasis added).
OBEDIENCE INCREASES OUR SPIRITUAL FITNESS
Many Christians have come to believe in their heart of hearts that to obey God’s commands, to kill sin and live unto righteousness, will cause them to resent the Lord and love Him less. This is one of the oldest tricks of Satan to whisper in our ears that we cannot be happy without our pet sin, that we would be miserable if we did not allow ourselves room for this or that transgression of His law. The truth of the matter is quite different. Does killing sin sting? Yes! In the moment, it quite literally feels like death because we are killing something in us. But much like those that tear down their muscles in the gym only for them to come back stronger, more able, more fit for this physical life, tearing down sin in our lives makes us happier, more peaceful, stronger, and more fit for life this side of glory. More importantly, choosing to endeavor after spiritual health now helps to build up our ability to endure under more intense trial and temptation later. Like a soldier in the midst of combat relying on his training and fitness to help him survive, when we are in the habit of obeying God’s Word, we can rely on it when we find ourselves under spiritual attack. When we obediently meditate on God’s Word day and night (Ps. 1:2) we will, like Christ in the wilderness, run to it in the moments of our spiritual affliction (Matt. 4:1–11). When we pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17), we will cry out to the Lord in our darkest hours (Ps. 88). When we don’t neglect the coming together (Heb. 10:24–25), we will have our burdens borne along by one another when we are struggling (Gal. 6:2).