What is Obedience to God?
Why is Obedience So Hard?
Why is Obedience so Important to God?
In the first century, many believers found it easy to obey God, because they knew what the word meant. Obedience is only hard if you are using the wrong definition.
In modern times, to obey someone is to do what they say. But in the first century, it meant to listen attentively and repeatedly to what God said until you were thinking in agreement with Him. Obedience is important because it is the primary way we learn how to think, and how we learn to think determines how we will live. As we learn to increasingly think like God, we will increasingly act like Him.
I have long known the New Testament definition of obedience, and it continues to change my life. Rather than trying to do what God has said, I focus on hearing him over and over. So, it is important to me to know what He has said, which is not always what I have been told He said. When I read a passage or hear something that makes God sound mad, mean, or confused, I ask Him if He really means that or is that someone’s misunderstanding? God never gets upset at me if I question anything I have read or heard, including Bible translations. He always welcomes my honest desire to make sure I know what He really thinks.
I think obeying God is interesting and fun. The literal meaning of obedience is the process of repeatedly hearing what God says. True obedience causes me to ponder (meditate) on God’s word, and when I keep hearing and pondering (repeatedly thinking about) words which God has spoken, I eventually notice something I had not seen. This can change my perspective and cause me to think differently, which always results in more Christ like behavior and feelings. Obeying God’s words has resulted in many wonderful changes in my life.
God is not a tyrant or authoritarian and does not demand that we immediately do what He says. His definition of the word obey means to focus our attention on listening to him before we do anything else. His words are life.1
Obedience is important to God because when we think about and ponder what He says, His words become our thoughts. Obedience is important because of what it does to our hearts and minds. Whatever we keep hearing will eventually be part of our belief system.
Our lives are already a perfect reflection of what we really believe, which may not be what we think we believe. By obeying God, even our hidden thoughts come to agree with His words. When we automatically think in agreement with God’s words it means we believe them. What we believe is always reflected in our behavior without effort on our part. I mean, how difficult is it for you to be who deep down in your heart you believe you are? What do you think would happen if deep down inside you knew what John believed too, that as Christ is so are you in this world?2 How hard would it be for you to be the new creature God says you are if you really knew that what God said is the truth?3 It would be easy! The reason it is hard to be the new person God said He made you inside Christ is because you are not yet believing it like Jesus does. You also believe other things which hinder you from truly trusting what God says. When we continue to obey God by listening with the intent of believing what He has said, even if at that moment we don’t, we eventually come to believe His words like He does.
This is important to God. He knows that if He can get us to simply keep listening to what He says we will eventually believe Him like Jesus does and live the way He wants us to.
Of course, we need to realize this is true with regard to any voice we continually or frequently hear whether true or false. It may be via television, radio, internet, people, newspapers, and even our thoughts, because repetitively thinking something is the same as hearing or reading something over and over.
God offered the Children of Israel a new identity as the Mighty Nation of Israel. They would have taken that identity if they had been willing to listen. But they refused to obey; they refused to hear Him. Some first century leaders were aware of how the Jews in the Wilderness refused to obey, and in Acts 5:57 Luke told his readers little had changed. Those Jews didn’t want to hear the truth, and neither did those in the first century, so they covered their ears.
But they shouted with loud voices, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one mind. (NIV – emphasis added)
Unfortunately, sometime after the first century the word translated “to obey” came to mean doing rather than repetitively hearing God’s words.
The Greek verb rendered to obey is hupakouō a compound of hupo and akoúō. Hupo is a preposition which means under or beneath, often in the sense of submission. Akoúō is a verb which means “to hear,” so hupakouō (ὑπακούω) is often explained as “hearkening or submitting to a command,” that is, doing what is told. This is how I understood obedience to my parents and teachers – “Do what I tell you!” A nicer way that some understand the word is “to submit to doing what is heard.” The noun akoḗ means “a hearing,” so similarly, hupakoḗ is commonly understood as “a submission to what is heard.” But God uses other meanings, which are often accurately stated in lexicons yet easily misunderstood.
I don’t believe God demands performance from children before they have been taught what they need to do. First century believers understood hupakouō meant “to submit to hearing,” which meant they were supposed to keep hearing God’s truth until they were thinking in agreement with what they had been hearing. In a similar fashion, hupakoḗ is a noun that meant “an act of submitting to hearing or a submission to hearing.” It means submission to repetitively hearing and thinking and is what Moses was referring to in Deuteronomy. He wanted the Jews to keep God’s words in their minds until they were thinking them, instead of the garbage that had dominated their thoughts as slaves in Egypt.
6“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.4
The story of Mary and Marth in Luke 10:28-42 illustrates two understandings of obedience but doesn’t mention the word. The sisters had been following Jesus and listening to Him. While Jesus was visiting their home, Martha became frustrated because her sister wasn’t helping prepare food for their guests. I mean, they both had listened to Jesus a lot. Now it was time to serve their guests, right? But Jesus surprises those today who believe He is most concerned about His followers serving Him and the world. He told Martha that she was pulling herself apart by trying to do too many things, and that Mary had chosen what was most important, which would not be taken from her.
So, what was Mary doing? Sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to what He said. He was not concerned about Mary doing enough, because He understood obedience (repeatedly listening), which would eventually cause her to live the things about which Jesus spoke. This is the way children learn, and adults too. But so often, adults are expected to already know what they don’t know. Jesus didn’t think that way.
God’s words work inside us when we are willing to submit to hearing them, especially when we have an attitude of wanting to believe them.
Of course, if someone doesn’t believe God’s words but is willing to keep hearing them, faith will come. No matter what people keep hearing, even if not true, they will come to believe it. That is why it is so important to be hearing the truth. If what you “keep obeying” is not true, you will end up believing incorrect knowledge is true and suffer the consequences of living like what is false is true. (This subject will be a constant topic in these blogs.)
God desires obedience, but not because He is trying to make us do anything. He knows that obeying Him will eventually cause us to do naturally and automatically what He wants without struggling. Obedience makes it easy to learn and fulfill the will of God without fear or frustrations.
Beginning in childhood, we all learned to think and act as we do by obeying (hearing and thinking in agreement with) the many voices all around us. In other words, we have all learned to think the way we do because of what we have obeyed, that is, repetitively heard and then thought about. Little children do not decide to obey, they do so automatically. They absorb everything. In fact, no one knows what little children actually hear until later in life when they are living what they have learned. God uses true obedience to train all including adults to be who He knows we are inside Christ. Remember, we are members of Christ’s Body, so what is true of Him is true of every member of His Body. How can it be otherwise?
Obedience is not a work that makes anyone righteous. It is something we already do. The issue is who or what are we going to obey? Voices which tell us truth or lies? I have found the best source of learning what is true and false is to ask God. He wants you to know and will make sure you do. As I have learned to obey His truth, I have increasingly recognized what is and isn’t true no matter what the source. It is very much like Secret Service agents learning to recognize counterfeit money. They spend their time studying real bills which then enables them to spot the fake. This is a far more enjoyable way to live.
You may have heard there is more than one type of obedience, but to God and those first believers the word only meant submission to hearing until you are thinking in agreement with what you have been hearing. If you obey the truth, you will eventually find yourself thinking what is true and acting like it. The same applies when we keep listening to things that are not true.
My daughter-in-law says people lie to change someone’s reality. That is what the Serpent did in the Garden of Eden and is still doing. Once Adam and Even believed his lies, it changed their reality. It didn’t take long before their behavior reflected what they now thought was real. If someone can be tricked into believing something that is false is true, they will live like it is true. The implications of this are as big as all the problems in this world combined.
When you keep listening to what God says with the intention of believing, you will eventually find yourself doing what He says, and it won’t be hard. Of course, if you keep listening to what is not true, it will be just as easy to think and do wrongly.
God designed us to believe what we choose to obey (keep listening to). When we keep listening to what is not true, we become ruled by it, because it determines what we think. Our thoughts and behavior are always determined by what we believe is real.
None of us are aware of everything we believe, but our deepest beliefs become evident by our behavior. Some claim to believe God’s truth yet act contrary to it. That is proof that they are being controlled by beliefs of which they are not even aware. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit convinces us of wrong beliefs so that we can change our minds and believe His truth.
When we accept what God means by obeying Him, things begin to change. We learn to believe what God believes by listening attentively and repetitively to what He says. True New Testament obedience easily enables believers to grow into living exactly like God desires. It results in fellowship with God that increasingly reflects the life of the Early Church.
1 cf. John 6:63
2 cf.1 John 4:16
3 cf. Corinthians 5:17
4 Deuteronomy 6:6-9 (NKJV)