a Christian viewpoint, intended mainly for other Christians


I have not seen very much written on the subject of obedience and the following thoughts have been some time in forming.  The cause of these thoughts was the consideration of my own, repeated, sin.  Basically, I was debating with myself and trying to understand why I continued to do things that I knew to be wrong and that were entirely avoidable. 


Obedience is inextricably linked with the Christian life.  In my experience, the issue of sin is often confused because the matter of obedience is not stated and dealt with frankly and clearly. 

Let us look at a common problem:  When a man wants to have sexual activity with a person who is not his wife, it cannot be assumed that his sexual desire has any component that needs to be cured, nor that he is under the influence of some sex-demon.  Both these things might be possible, but I would imagine them to be rare occurrences. 

The man is, it must be recognised, a fallen man living in a fallen world, but this condition does not predetermine his actions nor does it make his choices for him.  His fallen nature and his fallen environment only provide the backdrop against which his choices are made.  The choices he makes are still very much his choices.  The fallen man still has to make decisions concerning his conduct in the fallen world.  Although his basic material might be rotten to the core, the fallen man must still do the best he can with it; he cannot simply abdicate his responsibilities and refuse to play until his fallen nature is itself mended.  Playing the game, and making right choices, might indeed be part of the mending process. 

So, the man who desires to interact sexually with a person who is not his wife must make a choice: Will he follow his desires, and have sex with the person, or will he do what God's word tells him to do, and conduct himself with absolute purity?  In other words, will he disobey or will he obey; for his fundamental choice is not about sex, it is about obedience. 

Now the emotional content of the issue — for sexual desire is an emotional issue even in its rightful place, and sexual sin is almost guaranteed to raise the emotional level of a conversation — must not be allowed to cloud or overshadow the real issue at stake; the choice, remember, is between obedience and disobedience.  If we disobey, we are excluding God from our lives, while if we are obey, we are strengthening the relationship between Him and us.  It is at this very point that we have the opportunity to make a conscious step towards God, to nail our colours to the mast, to raise one more flag for Jesus' kingdom here on Earth.  It is not possible to be given either credit or blame for actions and consequences that we made no decision about.  It is only when we have the opportunity to make a decision that we have the opportunity to obey; the two always arrive together. 

This raises an important point:  The person who had never desired to do what was wrong but had always desired to do the right thing, could never in fact be obedient.  If such a person ever existed they would always do what was right but could never be credited with having made God a priority in their lives.  We can only obey when we actually want to do the forbidden thing, and it is only then, that we are making a stand for righteousness and for God.  It is only by obedience that we do the right thing when we desire the wrong.

Another, perhaps more important, point arising from this is that we can see very clearly why it is that, as far as our relationship with God is concerned, greed is no better or worse than adultery is no better or worse than homosexuality is no better or worse than stealing ...  deceit ... cowardice ...  murder ...  cheating ...  laziness ...  .  They can (usually) all be measured by the same yardstick — did we obey or did we disobey?  The precise matter in which we were disobedient is hardly relevant. 

There are two very natural objections, to the aforegoing, that I can think of. 

The first objection

The first is that other people are hurt more by some of our sins than by others and that the sins that hurt more people more badly must surely be the worst sins.  There is also a second objection and it is mentioned later.  The first objection is flawed on several grounds:

The first flaw in objection 1

Morality can be compared to arithmetic; if my addition is wrong it remains wrong even if the error was of no consequence.  Even if my lies affect no one or even if they seem to be helping people, they are still lies and they are still wrong.  If we deny this we are calling God stupid because he does not appear to have remembered to explain in his word that sometimes lies are acceptable.  Many explanations could possibly be given to show why God has not told us that lies are sometimes permissible.  The simplest of these explanations is that lies are never permissible, never acceptable, never right.  This means that so called “white lies” are also wrong.  Usually the “white lie” would seem to be a cover for cowardice and, if found on Christian lips, demonstrate a lack of love. 

The second flaw in objection 1

We can never know how many people are affected by our actions or inactions, or how they are affected.  It is not simply impractical, it is impossible since the moment we attempted to find out we would disrupt the very experiment that we were performing by adding more actions and more consequences.

The third flaw in objection 1

Even if we could know who was affected by our actions and inactions we, who have only mortal perceptions and fallen ones at that, could never know the importance or significance of the consequences.  One word spoken today could set in motion a chain of events that would be recognisable across centuries.  To see this happening, each of us need look no further than our own childhoods.  What words spoken by our parents and teachers determined our attitudes and so our actions and so the course of our lives? 

The fourth flaw in objection 1

We who are mortal can never know which events are the most significant in God's eyes.  We do, it is true, speculate constantly and we are inclined to consider the things that seem great to us to be important in God's eyes also.  How foolish we are!  To those who occupied the world arena at the same time as Jesus did, the incarnation, life and death of our Lord Jesus must have seemed like trivia when compared to the birth and death of emperors, the passing of new laws, and battles taking place.  Yet we credit Jesus with more significance than any person since Genesis chapter-3.  Do we imagine that Ruth, who chose to love Naomi, was aware that her love would one day lead to her becoming the great grandmother of King David?  Her choice does not seem to have had much to commend it other than that it was the right thing to do.  It was possibly witnessed only by Naomi somewhere on a lonely road between Moab and Bethlehem.  It was hardly likely to have been reported in the local papers.  If it happened today it wouldn't be given air time on the television news.  How then can we know what is important when we don't even know what is happening? 

The fifth flaw in objection 1

God is always offended by our sin.  So, even if our sin extends to no other human, it has affected our relationship with the one person we all desperately need to stay on good terms with. 

The second objection

The second objection is that sometimes the sinful action takes place without an actual decision to do it being made; this is a much more interesting objection.  In this situation I think it likely that what we consider to be sinful is in fact not sinful.  This does not let us off the hook in any manner; quite the opposite in fact.  What I think has happened is that the sin took place before we think it did; what we are regarding as sinful is not the sin but only the consequences of a sin that happened in the past. 

If, for example, my prideful anger is aroused and, without any thought, I strike a person, I might consider the issuing of the blow to be the sin.  In reality it is more likely that I sinned by not walking away from the situation while I was still in control of my pride and anger.  I probably sinned years earlier, and repeatedly, when I noticed that I was prone to sudden outbursts and failed to either pray about it or to find out what caused them and how they could be avoided. 

If, when driving a car, a motorist comes around a corner and finds a car broken down and blocking the road, and if the motorist cannot stop his own car quickly enough to avoid crashing into the other car, who is to blame?  I have heard this story told by the driver of the moving car and as far as he was concerned the responsibility, the fault, the blame, lay entirely with the driver of the stationary vehicle.  Whose fault would it have been then if instead of a car blocking the road, it had been a tree?  Is the tree to blame?  Or, would nobody be to blame — an accident?  I hope that you will recognise that if the driver of the moving car had driven more carefully, and had driven at a speed that always allowed him time to stop in the distance that he could see to be clear, then, he would not have hit the stationary vehicle.  The blame therefore belongs entirely to the driver of the moving vehicle.  What then is his sin?  His sin was not that he struck the car; no, his sin was his careless driving.  The crash was merely the consequences of the sin. 

If, when lying naked in bed with a woman who is not my wife I find myself having sex with her, when did I sin?  Was it at the moment of vaginal penetration, or when I first touched her, or first saw her naked, or when I agreed to enter the bedroom with her, or at some earlier time?  The only thing we can say with certainty is, that by the time my desire had taken control and I was no longer conscious of any decision that could be taken, the sin had already happened.  If I have no choice, I cannot sin; but my earlier sin could have put me in a place of no choices (see footnote 1).  Perhaps there were multiple sins - one every time I was prompted, by either my conscience or the Holy Spirit, to change my course of action.  Possibly the initial sin took place weeks or months or years earlier when I first considered the possibility of a forbidden sexual union and did not immediately put it from my mind but instead savoured the thought, allowed it linger and perhaps recur.  At that point I was perhaps disobedient because I disobeyed the command that I should not “look lustfully at a woman”, I disobeyed the command “to make every thought captive to Christ”. 

Satan uses our disobedience to pull us down

It is through disobedience that Satan gains a foothold in our lives.  To defeat Satan in our lives we merely have to obey God.  Why then does such a simple task cause us such problems?  It seems to me that there are several reasons why we Christians fail so frequently in the matter of obedience. 

  • First, we fail to recognise disobedience.
  • Second, we fail to realise that disobedience is sinful.
  • Third, we assess the significance of the sin by the suffering it appears to cause.
  • Fourth, we fail to differentiate between the consequences of the sin and the sin itself.  We compound this mistake by spending more time thinking about the consequences than we do thinking about the causes.  Not surprisingly we repeat the sin.
  • Fifth, we do not acknowledge sin plainly as such.  Instead we prefer to talk about mistakes, weaknesses and accidents.
  • Sixth, we fail to acknowledge clearly and simply that obedience is demanded of us regardless of our desires and feelings.  Subsequently we fail to see that the greatest victory over sin comes when our wrong desires are strongest but we still choose to obey.  Instead we use our feelings and desires as an excuse for our disobedience.

Obedience, or the need for it, has been included in various parts of the Christian life:  Children must obey their parents and their teachers, wives must obey husbands.  Everyone must obey God [footnote #2]. 

Satan, unsurprisingly, recognises that disobedience is sinful and that it is this that separates us from God.  It was through disobedience that the first couple fell.  It is often said that the first sin was pride — that Eve was proud enough to want to be like God.  I personally wonder whether pride, which is only a feeling, can be a sin by itself.  It is true that pride is a facet of a sinful nature but it seems to me that the sin can only come at the point of decision.  Adam and Eve, because of their pride, could have desired to be like God but then chosen not to give in to the desire; they could have chosen instead to remain in the place God had put them and thrown the fruit away instead of eating it.

Perfect obedience is something we do on our own

I would now like to look again at the point made earlier, that the only times that it is possible to truly obey God are those times that we don't actually want to. 

Imagine a man in a sailing boat on the seas.  If the wind and tide direction is such that the vessel is being blown towards the destination chosen by God then the man will arrive where he is supposed to be without him ever having to make any effort or any decisions.  In this case the man cannot be said to have obeyed God even though he hasn't disobeyed either.  However, if the wind and tide were to completely die down the boat would be becalmed and would not arrive at its appointed destination unless the man were to make some effort with the oars.  These then are the two extremes: A favourable wind and tide that take the boat to its destination even if the man does nothing, and a calm sea in which the boat will go nowhere unless the man does something.  In between these two extremes are various other possibilities that require various amounts of effort and co-operation from the man. 

Maximum obedience only occurs when the prevailing conditions give us no help to reach our appointed goal or are working against us.  In the spiritual world the times when we can best obey God are those times when circumstances, and God himself, give us least help.  This means that there can be no physical aid, no emotional support, no God-given desire to accomplish the task.  There must not even be any fear of the consequences of disobedience since that would act as an incentive to obey.  Remember though, that in order to obey at all it must also be possible to disobey; if we cannot disobey then we cannot obey either.  The greatest obedience comes, therefore, when complete disobedience is also possible. 

If we now consider that Satan can be excluded from our lives when we totally obey God then it is apparent that the time when Satan is completely excluded is when we are most fully alone yet still obey. 

With these points in mind reconsider the words that Jesus cried out from the cross: “Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?”  which translates as “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Jesus would have preferred something other than Calvary - remember his prayer in Gethsemene [footnote #3]; he could have called upon the angelic armies to save him from the situation [footnote #4] but instead, at the time when he was receiving no support or encouragement from his father, he chose to obey and therefore to die.  The power and authority that Jesus held provided him with the means to completely disobey his father but instead he chose to completely obey.  At this time of perfect obedience there was no scope for Satan to work because he was completely excluded from the arrangement by Jesus' perfect obedience. 

This seems to provide the mechanism for death to be conquered.  Jesus took death captive by going into death and, by way of his obedience, evicting Satan from of his own territory.  Satan effectively lost control of death because Jesus entered it with perfect obedience and so planted the flag of the Kingdom of Heaven firmly in the middle.  Or, to express it another way, in order for God to rule in the region of death it was necessary for him to enther death as a conquering king, and in order for God to enter death, it was necessary for God to die, and the only way for God to die was for God to first take the living form, or body, of a mortal creature.  Jesus is God with us, the incarnate God, God in human form.  When Jesus died, God went into death and thereby made death part of his own territory.  Note, it is not hell that is being conquered, but death itself.  There might be more than one way to enter hell (I don't know), but the only way to enter death, is to die.  This is why, as Christians, we claim that the most important thing Jesus did was to be crucified and that in turn, is why the cross is the symbol and focus of the Christians hope.  As Paul wrote, if Jesus Christ did not die and rise from death, then our faith is futile.


  1. This is an extremely important point with substantial implications.  It becomes apparent that the consequences of sin can follow a long time behind the sin itself and can (humanly speaking) be far greater than the sin would seem to warrant.  This underlines the need to maintain a pure lifestyle and obey even in the small things.  See also the articles about self-discipline and self-control and on simple commands for Christians.
  2. Hebrews 13.  1 Peter 2&3.
  3. Matthew 26:36-44
  4. Matthew 26:53

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