The word “obedience” can be a trigger for those raised in a law-keeping system. Years ago, my wife was mentoring a young woman who was newly discovering grace and leaving behind a legalistic mindset and lifestyle. One of her first requests of Rhonda was, “Don’t talk to me about obedience!” Her rule-keeping background had turned obedience into a chain.
Our freedom in Christ sets us free from our chains, even the chain of obedience. Does that mean a free-for-all lifestyle with no thought of obeying Jesus? No, not at all.
Our obedience flows from an understanding of what Christ has brought to us and done in us that is not commonly taught. Our obedience is not some allegiance to Jesus PLUS a rule-keeping system. It is understanding that “in Christ” we are a new creation with a new nature and a new heart and a new Spirit and a new want-to; a new power over sin. Thank you Jesus!
If the word “obedience” is a legalistic trigger from your past, let me offer you this. I like to use the word “alignment” for expressing my new life in Christ. The apostle Paul wrote, “I entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1).
Ephesians chapters 1, 2, and 3 summarize our calling with all kinds of powerful descriptions of who we are in Christ. “Saints who are blessed with every spiritual blessing. Chosen before the foundation of the world. Holy and blameless before Him. Adopted as sons.” And that is just in the first 5 verses of the book! There is so much more in these first 3 chapters; more than I can squeeze into this post. Suffice it to say, our calling, His description of who we are in Christ, is incredible!
So when we come to Ephesians chapter 4, Paul is asking us to “align” our actions and attitudes with these amazing truths! The theology of who we are in Christ is not difficult. The New Testament is saturated with its explanation. But putting it into practice, learning to live in “alignment” with our new identity, is the transformation process that God desires for us. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
Our freedom in Christ comes with this choice that is always before us. Our old man died at the cross with Jesus. But we can still align ourselves with the old man way of thinking and doing; an alignment the Scripture calls “walking according to the flesh.” But we also have the freedom to choose – and might I add that we have the power of Christ in us to make this choice – to align our actions and attitudes with the new man. A new man “which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). God is speaking into our new hearts, “Walk this way with Me.”
Don’t let the word obedience scare you. It is a beautiful word because is aligns us with living according to WHO WE ARE. Not a to-do list. Not a drudgery. Not a buck up and do what you don’t want to do. In your heart of hearts – or may I say your new heart of new hearts – obedience is what you want. It aligns your actions and attitudes with who you really are. The freedom to obey is not a contradiction. Obedience that derives from our being placed “in Christ” is the ultimate in living free.