To Obey is Better than Sacrifice
Obedience in the Bible means this: love + trust + action.
It starts with love, as Jesus said in John 14:15: “If you love me, you will obey what I command”. Obedience comes from knowing that God loves you and you love him in return.
A lot of people think obedience is about fearing God, but God wants us to see obedience to him as a relationship of love. And out of love comes trust. If you trust what God is saying to you, and you believe that he loves you, then that will lead to action.
You need to have all three, because action without love is just superficial — and love without action is just mere talk.
Whose Side is God On?
During the US civil war Abraham Lincoln met with a group of ministers for a prayer breakfast. Lincoln was not a church-goer but was a man of deep, if at times unorthodox, faith. At one point one of the ministers said, “Mr President, let us pray that God is on our side”. Lincoln’s response showed far greater insight, “No, gentlemen, let us pray that we are on God’s side.”
Lincoln reminded those ministers that religion is not a tool by which we get God to do what we want but an invitation to open ourselves to being and doing what God wants.
ANYONE ELSE UP THERE?
A man named Jack was walking along a steep cliff one day when he accidentally got too close to the edge and fell. On the way down he grabbed a branch, which temporarily stopped his fall. He looked down and to his horror saw that the canyon fell straight down for more than a thousand feet. He couldn’t hang onto the branch forever, and there was no way for him to climb up the steep wall of the cliff.
So Jack began yelling for help, hoping that someone passing by would hear him and lower a rope or something. “HELP! HELP! Is anyone up there? “HELP!” He yelled for a long time, but no one heard him. He was about to give up when he heard a voice.
“Jack, Jack. Can you hear me?”
“Yes, yes! I can hear you. I’m down here!”
“I can see you, Jack. Are you all right?”
Yes, but who are you, and where are you?
“I am the Lord, Jack. I’m everywhere.”
“The Lord? You mean, GOD?”
“God, please help me! I promise if, you’ll get me down from here, I’ll stop sinning. I’ll be a really good person. I’ll serve You for the rest of my life.”
“Easy on the promises, Jack. Let’s get you off from there, then we can talk.”
“Now, here’s what I want you to do. Listen carefully.”
“I’ll do anything, Lord. Just tell me what to do.”
“Okay. Let go of the branch.”
“I said, let go of the branch.” Just trust Me. Let go.”
There was a long silence.
Finally Jack yelled, “HELP! HELP! IS ANYONE ELSE UP THERE?”
The First Reading is taken from the Acts of the Apostles 15:1-2, 22-29 and concerns the Council of Jerusalem which falls in the middle of the book of Acts and describes the turning point for the Church when the council officially recognized the evangelization of the Gentiles. This evangelization had been initiated by Sts. Peter, Barnabas and Paul. Thus, the Christian church broke away from the Mosaic rules while maintaining its roots in the rich theology and traditions of the chosen people.
The Second Reading is from the Book of Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23 and continues the description of the heavenly Jerusalem. In the heavenly Jerusalem there is no longer any need for God to have a dwelling-place, because God the Father himself and the Lamb are always present. The Godhead does not need to be brought to mind by the temple (the symbol of his invisible presence), because the blessed will always see God face to face. This sight of God is what causes the righteous to be forever happy.
The Gospel is from John 14:23-29: Jesus said to his disciples: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
There are four things Jesus is reminding us of: 1) He loves us first; 2) Love is responded to by doing what the other has asked us to do; 3) As we act thus on the word of Jesus, we will experience the Father’s love for us in response; 4) this is experienced by the indwelling presence of God, which is a sharing in his own divine life.
Does our life at this point reflect this teaching of Jesus? If not, what will we do to love him more by keeping his word?
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me.
Jesus shows us the consequences of not acting on his word in love. It amounts to rejecting him and the Father.
Thus his word needs to be taken seriously. “I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you. This is the second time during the Last Supper that Jesus speaks about the Holy Spirit to the Apostles. Again, he calls the Holy Spirit an Advocate. Jesus is our first advocate in the sense that he intercedes for us before the throne of the Father. Later on in John, the Holy Spirit is a teacher, a witness to Jesus, and a prosecutor of the world.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. This peace is more than a greeting. It is a gift of salvation leading to right relationship with God.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe.”
Later, he will explain that his going will be for their benefit. First, he must go in order to send the Holy Spirit upon them. Second, he goes to prepare a place for them.
His first going away is his death on the cross; his return is the resurrection. The second going away is his Ascension; he will return in his second coming.
When Jesus says that the Father is greater than him, he is referring to his humanity not his divinity. Because he says in other places that the Father and he are one.
Again, a key theme in John’s Gospel is the need to believe in Jesus as the one sent by the Father as our Lord and Savior. To believe him is to embrace his word as the truth which will lead to eternal life.
Obedience is a central theme throughout Scripture. From the story of creation to the end of Revelation, it’s difficult to turn a page that doesn’t deal – directly or indirectly – with God’s call for obedience. Remember, Jesus not only said, “Believe me,” he also said, “Follow me.” God places a high premium on our obedience.
In our time, however, obeying God’s commands often is ignored, dismissed, or glossed over. Why? Because obedience slaps us in the face. It confronts our sin. It challenges our lives. It runs contrary to our unwritten mantra: Who are you to tell me what to do?
Yet God commands us to obey, not because he is on a power trip, but rather because he wants what’s best for us. God’s commands are not to kill our fun, but to increase our enjoyment. Disobey those commands and quickly you will see how much sadness you can experience. God’s commands are not to box us in but for our protection. Again, disobey those commands and quickly you will see how much trouble you will be in.
Four realities for obeying his commands are revealed in these verses.
I. Obedience proves our salvation
John begins by saying that “we know that we have come to know him” (1 John 2:3). John is saying that not only can we know God, but that we can know that we know God. In other words, we often know in our head, accepting facts about God and recognizing that we acted on such facts. But sometimes our heart doubts. John is saying that we can know in our hearts, too. And, one of those evidences or signs of knowing that we know God is that we obey his commandments.
John is teaching that salvation is evidenced by obedience. And, in turn, that obedience contributes to our assurance of salvation. Obedience is a sign that we know God, recognizing that God expects his people to live a certain way – His way.
In the Old Testament, the prophet Hosea complained that the people of Israel did not know God. “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgement of God in the land” (Hosea 4:1). How did he know this? He immediately confirmed this by saying, “There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery” (Hosea 4:2). What had the people done? Each of those actions was a violation of the Ten Commandments. Proof of our knowledge of God involves knowing his character and requirements and living in obedience to those requirements.
How do we know that we know God? The test is whether we keep his commandments. Do you obey God’s Word? Still others think that keeping a few commandments is enough. Remember, partial obedience is another name for disobedience.
You see, if you believe the Living God, you will believe his word; you will trust his word; you will acknowledge it as your final rule of faith and practice. You’ll not just do it in the abstract; you’ll do it where it hurts; you’ll do it even when it’s hard to obey.
II. Obedience transforms our lives
By way of contrast, in verse four, John restated verse three with a warning: “The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4 ). His point is: If you claim to know God but your life is not changed by knowing him, then that is a certain sign that you don’t know God. He is not saying that the truth is in one’s head and has not made it to their hearts, like we try to do, letting people off the hook. He is saying that the person who does not keep God’s commands does not have the truth at all. Why? Because the truth of God turns our lives upside down. It changes us. It transforms us. Once you have the truth it fills you with a fire in your belly and a love for the living God; it changes everything. God’s truth always leads to love; it always leads to obedience; it always leads to a transformed life. So, when that transformed life is not present, you can be certain that the person has never had the truth; he or she has never known God.
III. Obedience springs from our love
John continued, “But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him” (1 John 2:5 ). In this verse John broadens the scope from “obey his commands” to “obeys his word.” But it is second half of the verse that arrests my attention, “God’s love is truly made complete in him.” John seems to be saying that our love for God is a reflection of God’s love for us and a response to it, so that our keeping of God’s word could be a sign that God’s love had done its full work in us. Made complete means that the believer’s love is entire and mature.
Here John addresses motive. In essence, he is communicating that we know that we know God when we love to do what he commands.
Three motives for obedience exist: We can obey because we have to; we can obey because we need to; or we can obey because we want to. A slave obeys because he has to. If he doesn’t obey he will be punished. An employee obeys because he needs to. He may not enjoy his work, but he enjoys getting his paycheck. He needs to obey because he has a family to feed and to clothe. But a believer obeys God’s word because he wants to – for the relationship between him and God is one of love. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15).
I read of a LADY housekeeper that went to work for a bachelor. Each day when the man would leave for work, he would leave a list of projects for the housekeeper to complete. In time, the two fell in love and became married. Upon arriving at work, following their wedding, his buddies asked if he left her the list. He said, “No.” “Well,” they said, “she will watch television all day and do nothing.” The newlywed replied, “No. She will do all those tasks and more, not because she has to but because she wants. She will do it for love.”
True love for God is expressed in moral obedience. We keep the commandments because of our love for God. When we comprehend what Jesus did for us by sacrificing himself on the cross, our response is to love him and to obey him. Love delights to do God’s will because it understands the cost and sacrifice of that love. Jesus loved to do God’s will, did he not? And, if we are like Jesus, then we will love to do God’s will as well. If we love God, we will keep his commands and that obedience will in turn evidence our true love to God.
IV. Obedience characterizes our walk
In 1 John 2:1, John called, “Jesus Christ, the Righteous One”. Then, John wrote, “This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:5-6 ). John employs another expression of being a Christian: in him. The phrase is synonymous with “live [literally, abide] in him.” It implies a living relationship of the deepest and closest sorts with God through Jesus Christ. This relationship issues forth, not in passivity and indifference and inattention to duty, but in activity and commitment and love for God’s will, imitating Christ’s way of living.
In other words, if someone said to the apostle John, “I know Christ.” John would reply, “Good. But, if you’re in him, abiding in Christ, then you are walking like Christ, living like Christ.” And, how did Christ live? He lived in obedience to the Father.
Here’s the question for you: Would people know that you are a believer by the way you live? Do you walk as Jesus walked?
You have heard the quip: “Actions speak louder than words.” That’s exactly what John is saying. Do our actions show that we are living in Christ? When I was a teenager a question circulated: If you were arrested for being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you?
Great saints of old evidenced their faith by their lives.
A friend of mine said about late Fr. Felix Ferrao (my former provincial of Goa Capuchin): “His preaching was good, his writing was better, but his life was best of all.” “Oh, that is the most Jesus-like man I ever saw!”
What will people say of you and me when we’re dead and gone? What will they say of me?
R.W. DeHann wrote of a missionary who, shortly after arriving on the field, was speaking for the first time to a group of villagers. He was trying to present the Gospel to them. He began by describing Jesus, referring to him as a man who was compassionate and kind, loving, caring, one who went about doing good works towards all men. When he was speaking, he noticed that his lesson brought smiles of familiarity to the faces of his audience, and some of them nodded their heads to one another in agreement. He was somewhat puzzled, and he interrupted his message to ask: “Do you know who I’m talking about?” One of the villagers quickly responded: “Yes, we do. You’re talking about a man who used to come here.” Eagerly they told about a missionary doctor who came to their remote village to minister to their physical needs, and his life was so like Christ in caring for those people that they saw Jesus in him. He walked like Jesus walked.
Are you living in Christ? If you’re resting in Jesus Christ, if you’ve found him to be the source of every spiritual blessing, you’re trusting in him for salvation; you’re fellowshipping with him in grace; then your whole life will have been changed. You see, everyone who is united with Christ expresses that union with Christ by living like Christ, by walking as he walked.
This message is important for at least two reasons. It’s important because some people profess to be Christians, but are not living in accordance with God’s word and really have no deep desire to do so. And what John would say to you is, “You’re not a Christian, friend. Come to grips with that. Realize that you need grace! You don’t need to be cleaned up and made to look better; you need grace; you need saving grace!”
This message is important because some people wrestle with a lack of assurance because of imperfections in their lives. And John would say, “I’m not asking for perfect obedience to God’s word; I’m asking you to look at your heart and answer this question: Are you keeping God’s commandments?” While keeping the commandments is not a condition for salvation, it is a sign, an evidence, of your salvation – a mark of a Christian.
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.