Thursday, June 19, 2008

Understanding Obedience

Another post on N.T. Wright's book about Paul. I have a feeling these will become commonplace before this book is over. I suppose that's not such a bad thing, I'm just gonna roll with it either way.

I'm not sure exactly where it was that Wright talked about this, but it was somewhere in the 2nd or 3rd chapters, I think. In any case, I feel like God slapped me across the face with an understanding of the Cross and Obedience that maybe should have been obvious a long time ago. In his discussion of Paul's understanding of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ - specifically from the perspective of a 1st century Roman-Jew - Wright went into some detail about the fulfillment of the prophecies to Abraham, Paul's inherent understanding of those (as well as other prophecies about the coming Messiah), and how these things would have been naturally internalized by a man like Paul.

Somewhere in this detail, I finally came to understand the part in Romans where Paul says that Christ was the fulfillment of the law and, if you will, the counterpart-man to Adam. Where Adam's sin was disobedience to God - the eating of the fruit - which resulted in Sin's great entrance into the world, Christ's sacrifice was a great obedience to God whereby sin is defeated for all who accept the gift. Sounds great, but that's about where it always ended for me before. Then I realized (again, I'm not sure exactly what it was that tipped me off) what the operative word here is - I italicized it, in case you missed that.

So obedience is what was most vividly displayed on the Cross - humility, yes; love, yes; sacrifice, yes; but all of those things were borne out of the unspeakable obedience of Christ.

I look at it this way: Adam could have eaten anything in the garden except that food. Why that food? Could God have made that food without whatever special properties it had? Absolutely. Could God have given the special properties to something else - maybe a certain part of the garden to which Adam was debarred from entering, or a body of water he was to avoid. The fruit and it's nature as food is not what's important here. What's important is that he was given a command from God - any command would have done! - and he disobeyed.

Now look at Christ. He was God and man at once. He had all power and authority in heaven and earth at his disposal (and we see examples of that, calming the storm, miraculous healings, even bringing people back from death!) and he allows himself to be treated the way he was. And let's be clear about something else here. Wright goes into detail also about the horror of crucifixion. This was not just execution. The act was so heinous, so despicable that respectable Romans avoided it in polite conversation. I can't even think of a modern equivalent (maybe that speaks to our depravity and exceptional debasement...but that's another post), but the point is, this was horrible, in the most painful sense of the word. And Christ did it - and the reasoning behind his doing it was to obey his Father in heaven.

I think this is what Paul's saying when he says that any "good" done without God is not good (I'm paraphrasing, obviously). If God wants the glory for anything we do - and if we do good things in His name, not ours - then how could we do them for any reason other than simple obedience? It suddenly strikes me that if I give out an amount of money every week or month, and that amount of money is a sacrifice for me (because I believe that just giving 10% is not what's important, what's important is not the amount, but that the giving is sacrificial, whether more or less than 10%), but I don't do it to be obedient to God, then it doesn't matter. If I tell someone I love them and give them food or money or my time, but I do it because it makes me feel good about myself or because I feel guilty, then it doesn't matter! I am convinced that the only justifiable reason for any such action is in order to obey the dictates of God. Otherwise how can I say that I do it for God? If obedience is not the basis for my action, then how can I honestly say it's not because I feel better after? Christ's sacrifice was incredible, and painful, and loving, but it was most of all - and, I would argue, most of those things simply because it was - obedient. Maybe I'm wrong here, but I cannot shake this new belief that love is not love for God if it is not borne out of obedience, sacrifice is not sacrifice for God if it is not borne out of obedience.

I'll end with this thought. If nothing I can possibly do, or say, or think, or feel can be worthy of my God on its own - and it can't, how could anything I do be worthy of the God who created me?! - then it follows, doesn't it, that only my vivid, simple, sincere obedience to God would be of worth to Him? Any amount of money I give, any amount of time I give, any amount of love I give is absolutely pathetic in comparison to Christ's sacrifice, and is of absolutely no worth in comparison to His Love - what He requires instead is constant, life-changing obedience. Nothing less, and simply, nothing more - because anything I could do should flow out of obedience to God's commands. And that's my epiphany for today.

1 comment:

Raffi Shahinian said...

A note to all N.T. Wright fans. Big T.V. appearance tonight, 11:30 ET / 10:30 CT.

Should be interesting. Thought you might wanna know.

Grace and Peace,
Raffi Shahinian
Parables of a Prodigal World