|I'm in Denver for a day-long conference today, and my back is still killing me. I had an MRI Tuesday, and the doctor called yesterday with an urgent referral to a neurosurgeon. So evidently the fix will require something more radical than the calisthenics and pills prescribed so far.|
But I could have told you that 3 weeks ago.
Anyway, I haven't the strength or the time to write fresh material for our series on legalism, so here's something even better. It's a piece by John MacArthur, excerpted from a chapter in Trust and Obey (Pittsburgh: Soli Deo Gloria, 1997).
t the height of the Lordship controversy a few years ago, a fellow pastor wrote me:
I sincerely appreciated that man's comments. And I agree that it is possible to place so much stress on the duty of obedience that we lose sight of the joy of it. After all, the Christian's obedience should be a delight. Love for Christ is a higher motive than fear. So there is certainly some sound truth in what this man wrote.
Nonetheless, the danger of overemphasis is very real on both sides of this truth. It is not quite right to say "We obey out of love for Christ . . . and not out of duty." Duty and love are not incompatible motives. A father provides for his children because he loves them. Yet it is also his legal and moral duty to do so. The fact that a man loves his children does not lessen his duty to them. The more he loves them, the more he will see the duty as a joy and not a drudgery. But even when the duty is a delight, it should not diminish the father's solemn sense of duty.
Our obedience to Christ is like that. Certainly we ought to obey Him out of a deep love for Him. And the sheer joy of pleasing Him should permeate our obedience. Yet we should never think of obedience as anything less than a sacred duty. Our love for Christ does not make submission to Him elective. Christ is still our Master, and our relationship with Him carries a great weight of responsibility. We ought to serve Him as loving, devoted bond servants. "Abject slaves" is not too strong a term.
Jesus Himself underscored this very thing:
But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do (Lk. 17:7-10).
That imagery paints a clear picture of the kind of servitude we are expected to render to Christ as His servants.
But that's only half the picture. Our Lord also called for the obedience of love: "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (Jn. 14:15). And He elevated those who obey to the level of friends:
Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you (Jn. 15:14-15).
Obviously, our Lord viewed our love for Him and our duty to Him as motives for obedience that are inextricably and necessarily bound together: "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me" (Jn. 14:21). "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love" (Jn. 15:10).
Far from being a drudgery, Christian obedience is thus the bond of our relationship with Christ and the source of our deepest joy. And the fact that we are obliged to submit to His lordship should never alter the joy we find in doing so.
Of course, because we are still fleshly creatures, our obedience is not always joyful. And so we must realize that even when our hearts are not brimming with the joy of the Lord, obedience remains our duty. We are to obey when it brings us pleasure, but we also must obey even when we do not feel like it. Both our love for the Lord and our sense of duty to Him should motivate this obedience. One must never cancel out the other.