From the time we are old enough to comprehend basic sentences from our parents, we are told to obey commands. And obedience to those commands was not required of us because our parents wanted to make us unhappy. As a father with two children and a third on the way soon, I can say with confidence that the things I ask my children to do spring from a desire for their good and not their misery. And yet, by their reactions to my commands to them, you would think I seek to torture them. I acted this way towards my parents when I was a child, and so did you. Rebellion is in our nature. Not just rebellion toward our parents, but rebellion towards our Creator. We are born rebellious toward him who gives us life, breath, and everything. We are born his enemies, and our only hope to obedience and reconciliation with him is in his grace. I wanted to make this clear up front so that there is no mistaking what I am about to write as legalistic or somehow possible apart from the grace of God. It is not, and I will address this reality in more detail towards the end.
The Danger of Partial Obedience
In 1 Samuel 15, we find the tragic downward spiral of king Saul. His disobedience to the command of God is the reason for his downfall, and yet it is not blatant, full-on disobedience. It is subtle, partial disobedience that set him totally off course. He was told to devote Amalek to total destruction (15:3). That was the command. Do not leave anything breathing, not even an animal. Now this sounds brutal I know, and the reason the LORD would require such a thing is a topic for another time. The point is, Saul was given a clear command from God that he chose to ignore (15:9). He obeyed it partially, and thus he was pleased with himself.
Partially obeying God’s word is equal to disobeying God’s word. One of the greatest dangers we face as Christians is the art of cherry-picking things from the Bible that we like and willingly choosing to ignore and discard the things we don’t like. This reveals that it is not God whom we are seeking to worship, but rather an idol. Not just any idol either. It is the worst of all idols. It is us. When we choose to ignore the things in God’s word that don’t align with the way we see things, we are worshiping ourselves. We are boldly proclaiming that we know more than our Creator. Augustine of Hippo once said, “If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.” The conscience is given us by God, but it has no liberty where God has clearly spoken. We must either have all of his word or none of it. He has not given us the scriptures to decode and figure out which parts are true, he has given them to us that we might know him, love him, and obey him.
The Danger of People Pleasing
In the account in 1 Samuel 15, we also see in Saul a desire to be liked by the people because he feared what they might think of him (15:24). This is a trap that is easy for us to fall into. The truth is that it doesn’t matter what decisions you make, there will always be people who don’t approve of them. Attempting to make everyone happy while ignoring the words of God will not be helpful to us in either direction. People will turn on you just as quickly as you turn from the LORD in an attempt to appease them. It will not be popular to stand firm and obey the things God has revealed, but it is a rock to stand on in the midst of quicksand.
People pleasing is not just a danger to us, but a danger to the very people we claim we want to make happy. It is selfish to desire to be liked by people more than to desire obedience to the word of God. Only the word gives life (Psalm 119:25, Matthew 4:4, Romans 10:17). When you seek to please people by encouraging disobedience to the word, you actually seek to keep them dying of thirst. It is always destructive. If you really want to help others around you have joy then tell them the truth. Give them the word in all its fullness, not just the parts that you deem worthy. The hearts of people are fickle, and attempting to please them apart from the word of God will suffocate you with complexities. Stand firm on the word that endures forever.
God Delights in Obedience
Samuel, after finding out Saul’s disobedience to the clear command of God, rebukes him with this word, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22) Saul had spared Agag the king and all the animals that where acceptable for sacrifice to the LORD. The problem with that is that he was not asked to do that, but to destroy everything. God’s delight is in the obedience of his people, and that is why we must not walk in our own ways doing what seems right to us. Yet all of us have failed at this so what is our hope?
As stated in the introduction, our hope is in the perfect obedience of Christ. He was the only man who has ever lived that perfectly obeyed all the commands of the LORD. Even king David who came after Saul failed miserably at times. Partial obedience and people pleasing has plagued us all, and we stand before God as unclean rebels from the day of our birth. But not Christ. From the very day of his birth he lived in perfect obedience to the commands of his Father. Every second of every day, he obeyed. A task that is impossible for sinful men and women was perfectly executed, day after day, by Christ. When confronted with the possibility of partial obedience, he held fast to the word (Mark 7:5-13). When the opportunity to please people rather than God came before him, he clung to the word, obeyed God, and told people the truth (John 4, Matthew 21:12-17). Because he has obeyed all the commands of God, we who are in him can rest secure in his obedience. His righteousness was imputed to all who belong to him, meaning his obedience is now our obedience (2 Corinthians 5:21). He did not merely die for us, but he lived a life of obedience for us.
So where does that leave us now? Because Christ has obeyed for us does that mean that we can cast aside all efforts to obey the commands of God? In a word, NOPE. We who have been saved by Christ will continue to be made more like him. This is called “sanctification”, and it is a vital part of the Christian life. By the Holy Spirit we have been given a new nature (2 Corinthians 5:17), and though the old sin nature still dwells within us, the Holy Spirit is working in us to shovel out the old and permeate us with the new. We obey God by focusing our affections on Christ and all that he has done for us, and by the power of the Holy Spirit to sanctify us through the word. Will you obtain perfect obedience in this lifetime? Well the answer is both yes and no. No, we will not reach the point of perfection that Christ did. We will spend this lifetime dealing with our sin and the sin of others. But the answers is also yes, because we have it in Christ. All of his perfection and all of his obedience is ours! Let us continue to hope in him as we strive to be like him.