Faith Working Through Love
an unyielding task master
When the Law was given to Moses on Mount Sinai, obedience became a major focus in the lives of God’s people. They tried to find God’s favor through obedience. It was also the way they hoped to avoid condemnation and punishment. As it turned out, the Law did not offer what they had hoped for, and rather than helping them, it condemned them and became the “…Law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2).
The Law shows no mercy, is intolerant, demanding, inflexible, offers no grace, holds up impossible expectations, and will not listen to any excuses. The Law is an unyielding taskmaster that demands perfect obedience without exception. Failure to obey is not an option. Condemnation and death is the expected outcome for even the most minor infraction. If you fail to uphold even a single part of the Law, you may as well have broken every part of the Law. Your only options are total perfection or complete failure.
I am not suggesting we give up on trying to obey God. The Bible is clear that obedience to the teachings of Christ is an expression of our love for Him when it says, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me…” (John 14:21). It is important we rightly interpret this passage in its context of grace and not in the context of the Law. Jesus was not saying that unless we keep His commandments, we don’t love Him. If this is the case, then no one loves Jesus, since no one has perfectly kept the commandments of Christ or ever will. This is reminiscent of Jesus asking Peter on the seashore, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (John 21:15). Peter knew he loved the Lord, but he also knew he had fallen short of keeping His commandments even to the point of denying Him three times. Grace is the proper lens through which we need to interpret the Lord’s words.
The Lord’s words might be better understood to say, “because we love Him, keeping His teachings is a natural and expected by-product of a love relationship, as opposed to being a requirement or expectation of proving we love Him.” I do not think Jesus was telling His disciples to try to keep His commands so as to prove they loved Him. I certainly do not think that Jesus was saying that if they failed, then they did not love Him. Jesus knew their hearts and I believe that the Lord was saying that to the degree that they love Him, obedience will be a natural and expected outflow.
Obedience and Motivation
Obedience is obviously important, but the motivation behind why we obey is critical. Without realizing it, many believers who love the Lord are obeying as if they were still under the Law. If we are obeying because it is the Law and, therefore, believing that disobedience is failure and punishment, then this is a miserable existence and void of relationship. If we are not “obligated” to the Law and there is “no condemnation,” we are free to obey out of love.
When Jesus died on the cross, He fulfilled the requirements of the Law (Rom. 8:1-3) and was obedient to His Father’s will on all accounts. Because of His perfect obedience, we have been released from the impossible task of obeying the Law and are free to keep the Lord’s commandments through love.
In a sense, we were married to the Law (see Rom. 7:1-3), but when we died with Christ, we were no longer “obligated” to the Law. This was a case where the Law worked in our favor. In order to be released from our “marrage” to the Law, we had to die. And because we died, we were no longer legally married to the Law, but rather, we were free to marry someone else. Jesus became our new spouse. He fulfilled the “Law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2) and replaced it with the Law of the Spirit which was full of grace and mercy. When we are operating in this new Law, we live a life of freedom and peace.
According to the Scriptures, “…what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh (our inability to keep it), God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us…” (Rom. 8:3).
What Becomes of the Law Fulfilled?
If we are no longer under the Law, what happens to the Law? Is it abolished? Jesus said He didn’t come to do away with the Law but only to fulfill its requirements (Matt. 5:17). If it has been fulfilled, then what happens to the necessity of our obedience? We know that, according to the Scriptures, the Law remains, but it remains fulfilled through Christ. Since we died with Christ, we died to the Law and it no longer rules over us. So then, how are we to obey the Law if there is no Law for us to obey? Does this mean that we should now go out and sin all we want since we are no longer “obligated” to the Law? The Apostle Paul answers this question in Romans 6:1-8: with the obvious answer; “No.” Since we died to the Law and have been made alive in Christ, how can we continue to live in sin? For Paul, it simply made no logical or practical sense. How can we revert back to the sinful ways of the flesh if you are in an unobstructed, loving relationship with Christ? That pattern of behavior no longer fits.
The law reduced to Love
We also know that Jesus and the apostles told us that all the Law can be summed up with, “…love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…” [and] “…love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:36-39, Gal. 5:6).
In reference to keeping the laws of circumcision, the Apostle Paul said, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). This is the new Law of the Spirit that God has written upon our hearts (Heb. 10:16): faith/belief being expressed and lived out through our love for Christ. An old preacher once said, “Love God with all your heart, soul and strength, and love others as you love yourself, then go out and do whatever you want.” There is much truth in this statement.
Negative Connotation of Obedience
It is unfortunate, but for many people, obedience has a negative connotation. It is associated with a sense of punishment and condemnation. For many, obedience is choosing to do the right thing whether they want to or not. It is sad to say, but for many believers, obedience is not a fun part of the Christian life. For many, obedience means doing things that they don’t necessarily want to do and not getting to do what they think they want. More often than not obedience equals struggle, effort, work, and eventual disappointment.
We may have actually made all of this more complicated than it needs to be. Obedience should not be about saying no to ourselves and struggling to do what God demands. Obedience should be the outcome and expression of genuine love we have for God. As Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word…” (John 14:23). As stated, this is not a request to go out and prove our love for Jesus by struggling to obey, but rather our love for Him should produce obedience. The question that needs to be asked is “Why are we having to say ‘No’ to ourselves in the first place?” If we love God and others, then what is it that God wants us to do that we feel any need to say “No” to? The fact that obeying is a drudgery and a struggle says that something is amiss.
The absence of Love is a belief problem
My heart belief dictates my love. Love is a fruit of the Spirit. Our fruit bearing is directly dependent upon what we believe in our hearts. This is why the Scriptures say to be “…filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, [truth] SO THAT you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10).
Transformation follows mind renewal and the manifestation of transformation is the fruit of the Spirit. Scripture is clear when it says, “…God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5). If indeed this is so, then why are we struggling to obey if we are operating in His love? When I know the truth in my heart—where God’s love has been poured out—then obedience should be an effortless expression of that love that is abiding in my heart. This appears to be a belief issue and not one of obedience.
If we genuinely believe that what God desires us to do is the very best thing for us, why would doing it ever be a difficulty or drudgery? The fact that we struggle doing it suggests we want to do something else (contrary belief). The only reason this would be the case is due to our belief and perspective being contrary to the truth.
It is interesting that there are some things we believe God wants us to do that we enjoy doing and look forward to doing and obedience is easy. These things we do without hesitation or resistance. Obedience here is not a drudgery and is accomplished almost effortlessly. Our obedience flows from the truth we hold in our hearts motivated by love. But there are other things we also believe are God’s will for us to do that we have to grit our teeth, bear down and force ourselves to do. Why is obeying God in one place a pleasure while in other places a struggle? It all goes back to belief.
Belief and Perspective
It is all about belief and perspective. In the pleasurable things we do in obedience to God, our belief aligns with God’s perspective. When there is struggle, it indicates a contrary belief. When we struggle to obey, it is because to do so pushes against the lie-based beliefs we harbor. When we know the truth in our hearts His commands are never a drudgery but a joy. Always! When obeying God is a task to complete, a difficulty to overcome, or a drudgery to endure, something is wrong in our perspective and belief.
When we know the truth from a heavenly perspective and know it in the heart, obedience becomes joyful. Jesus obeyed the Father by going to the Cross, but it was also “…for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).
To the degree that we experientially know the truth in our hearts, obedience will be a joy and a pleasure, rather than a task or a chore to complete. And if our obedience is a drudgery or struggle, then it is because we are in need of more truth and a clearer perspective. When we know the truth in our hearts, that core belief will transform us and our obedience will be an effortless expression of our knowledge of the truth and our heart-felt love for God.
In the same way, He has granted us faith in our hearts: “…the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5). This is where the peace of Christ and the joy of the Lord abound. God has called us to serve Him with gladness, not grudgingly (Ps. 100:2). To the degree we know the truth in our hearts—faith—and “…know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge…” (Eph. 3:19), is the degree that we will find obedience to the commands of Christ is a natural outflow that is accomplished by “…faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). It is not how we prove our love, but rather an outcome of it.