Learn to Speak the Language of Obedience

The power of forgiveness is your secret weapon against sin. This forgiveness comes to you by the grace of the gospel. The law did not forgive you. The law told you what you should have been doing. It told you what you had done wrong.

So, what does the law tell you now? Now that you have been forgiven by the grace of the gospel, what does the law sound like to you?

It is still there. We are talking about God’s unchanging standards of right and wrong, what people should do and what they should not do. This is still there, in the Bible and in your world.

What has changed is the way you relate to that law.

In 1864, Horatius Bonar explained this change in his book, God’s Way of Holiness:

Our new relationship to the law is that of Christ Himself to it. It is that of men who have met all its claims, exhausted its penalties, satisfied its demands, magnified it, and made it honorable. For our faith in God’s testimony to Christ’s surety obedience has made us one with Him. The relation of the law to Him is its relation to us who believe in His name. His feelings toward the law ought to be our feelings. The law looks on us as it looks on Him; we look on the law as He looks on it. And does not He say. “I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea thy law is within my heart” (Psa 40:8)?

We now see the law as Christ sees it; we feel the same way about it as He does. This is a lesson that many Christians never really learn. And if they don’t learn it, they will not be ready to listen to God speak to them in the language of obedience.

Yet God still speaks this way to us. He tells us what to do and He expects us to obey. Command-and-obey language is all over the New Testament.

“You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:14)

“Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (1 John 2:3)

“Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters.” (1 Corinthians 7:19)

Examples abound. This language of obedience runs throughout the New Testament, and it is addressed to people who are forgiven, who are “not under the law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). It is addressed to people like you, who are being transformed by the power of free and total forgiveness.

In his day, Bonar had heard Christians offer many objections to the language of obedience. “Call it duty,” said some, “just don’t call it law.” Others said, “It is a privilege to do what is right, so it is not obedience.”

As Bonar examined these various objections, he found that it was all just a game played with words. He concluded that these Christians simply could not bear the idea of God telling them what to do, much less other people telling them what God was telling them to do. They had no objection to doing the right thing, they just didn’t want to be given commands to obey:

If the objection to the believer’s use of the law be of any weight, it must apply to everything in the form of precept; for the reasons given against our having anything to do with the moral law are founded upon its preceptive or commanding character. The law, in itself, is admitted to be good, and breaches of it are sin, as when a man steals or lies; but then, the form in which it comes, of do or do not, makes it quite unsuitable for a redeemed man! Had it merely said “stealing is wrong,” it might have been suitable enough; but when it issues its precept, “Thou shalt not steal,” it becomes unmeet; and one who is “not under the law, but under grace,” must close his ears against it, as an intruder and a tyrant!

People want to do the right thing because they want to do it. That is, they want to do it of their own free will. And if they are freely willing, they should not need to be told to do it.

This approach sounds reasonable. But Bonar found a certain kind of rebellion in it:

Is obedience a matter of option, not of obligation? If it is answered, No; we will love God with all our heart, but not because the law enjoins; I answer, this looks very like the spirit of a froward child, who says to a parent, I will do such and such a thing because I please, but not because you bid me.

The example he gives here is brief. It deserves a closer look. It will help you to recognize when you or others are making this mistake.

Consider this scenario: Parents tell their boy to clean his room. He wants to clean his room, but he resents being told. “I am going to clean it,” he protests, “because I want to, but not because you told me to!”

Is this the spirit of obedience? If he cleans his room, he will be doing what his parents told him to do. But is there not a higher obedience? If he really wants to clean his room, why would he object because his parents told him to do what he already wanted to do?

It is the authoritative nature of the command that he objects to. He doesn’t want to hear this kind of language. He feels constrained by the relationship it reveals.

Don’t be like this child. If you really are free, you can obey commandments without fear or resentment. You can be told what to do and do it. This is a healthy aspect of your relationship with God. It does not imply that there is any kind of tension or antagonism between you and God.

The language of obedience does not imply such antagonism, but it will reveal it if it is there. If it bothers you that God still tells you what to do, it may be that you are confusing sonship with slavery. Sons and slaves are both commanded to do things, and both obey. For one, this is a blessing, for the other, it is bondage.

If commanding language sounds like controlling language, rebellion will look like freedom. Then, even when commands are followed, they can be followed in a spirit of rebellion, like that boy who cleaned his room under protest.

Working together with God means receiving His commands as a manifestation of a healthy relationship. Then, when commands are followed, they are followed in a spirit of grace and sonship.


personal transformation

This excerpt is from Personal Transformation the New Testament Way – 14 Practical Lessons from Horatius Bonar’s 1864 Classic God’s Way of Holiness

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