What Obedience Teaches Us
I was always a good student in school, but I was never the one who asked questions. You know the type I’m thinking of – the ones who are brave enough to ask the questions everyone else is thinking, but are too embarrassed to ask. I’m grateful that Jesus’ disciples weren’t all like me; I’m grateful we have recorded for our benefit the questions that Peter, Thomas, Philip, and others asked. Because I’m certain that if we were there, we’d be trying our best to keep our quizzical looks to ourselves as we tried to wrangle out the meaning of what Jesus was saying.
In John 13-14, we get to peek in on a very beautiful and instructive conversation. Listen to these questions (and imagine the sigh of relief you feel that someone in the group has verbalized what you were wondering!):
- 13:36 - “Lord, where are you going?”
- 14:5 - “How can we know the way?”
- 14:8 - “Lord, show us the Father. That’s enough for us!”
- 14:22 - “Lord, how is it you’re going to reveal yourself to us and not to the world?”
These questions come in the greater context of Jesus preparing his disciples for what life looks like after his death and resurrection, laying down the foundation for how they will know God after God-made-flesh has gone. That last question (thank you, Judas-not-Iscariot) prompts Jesus to give us all a life-changing answer:
“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him (14:23).”
Jesus’ message? God reveals himself to those who obey him. There is a connection between our love for God and our obedience, but what we sometimes miss is that there is a further connection between our obedience and him revealing himself to us.
As we walk in faithful (and admittedly, sometimes labored) obedience, God reveals more of himself to us. His nature and work become more clear to us as we prioritize his will over our own. His value and worth become more precious to us as we embrace his desires for our life. We see with increasing clarity his glory as we forsake the sinful habits we indulge in. He reveals himself to us through our obedience.
And, true to his “exceedingly-abundantly” nature, he gives us a little bonus tip:
“I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.”
Jesus knows that we will be happier if we obey. Jesus knows we will be more truly satisfied, more truly complete if we know him and see him as he really is.
Each year during Advent, we gather the family around the candlelight and retell the story of redemption from creation to Christmas. This past year, I paid careful attention to this idea of “God revealing himself to us through our obedience” to see if it plays out through the Scriptures. And it’s there, friends. Our obedience is not the initiating component of his revelation, to be sure. That initiating work is completely and solely his. But our response of obedience leads to our greater enjoyment and knowledge of God, and then further leads to a fuller, deeper joy for ourselves.
We see it as Adam and Eve respond in obedience to the promise that he will send someone from their line to crush the head of the serpent.
We see it as Noah obeys God to build a ridiculous boat.
We see it as Abraham follows God to a land unseen.
We see it as Moses directs an entire population to brush blood over their doors.
We see it as a prostitute hangs a scarlet cloth from her door.
We see it as a king defers his dream of building a temple, humbly repents of sexual sin, and leads a country in worship.
We see it as a widowed woman gathers leftover grain in a Bethlehem field.
We see it as a Hebrew young man decides not to send his fiancée away.
Throughout the sacred scriptures, we see how our acts of obedience lead to a greater understanding of God. And as Jesus rightfully predicted, then our joy is complete indeed.