Monday, October 27, 2008

But What About Obedience?

The is the third and final posting on the topic of covenants. JCA

Does obedience play a role here? Certainly. Jesus said “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Yet, he contrasts servants and friends (John 15:13-15). God isn’t looking for trembling servant obedience. God is searching for an obedience born of gratitude. There is no doubt that Jesus’ call for each of us to “take up our cross and follow” cannot be left out of this discussion. Crosses are for dying. Christ calls us to die to self. But in making this call, Christ is calling us to a death to self that leads to a whole new order of life in him. It is a call to relationship, a call to share his experience. Our lives mingled with his life.

Isn’t it interesting that the word “paradise” spoken to the thief on the cross (“Today you will be with me in paradise.”) comes from a Persian root that means a garden? In the beginning, God walked with our first parents in “the garden” in the cool of the day. Jesus is saying, “Look, my friend (For the thief had accepted Christ’s friendship.) we are going back to the garden, to walk in the cool of the day. I have made a covenant with all who will believe, like my friend Abraham. I freely give all who will receive the benefits of the covenant.”

Believing in a covenant of grace does not exclude acceptance of Christ. If a wealthy parent dies and leaves all of his/her wealth to his/her child, the child must accept the inheritance to obtain the benefit. It is not a work; the child does not have to work for the benefit. But, the wealth will do the heir little good if the heir never claims it.

And to claim the gift of God, implies friendship—for that is the true prize God offers. It’s not about fire insurance. It is all about friendship. And true friendship implies mutuality. You can be friendly on your own, but you can’t be friends with another without mutuality. Friendship changes people. Love transforms. Paul says we are saved by faith alone. James says works are involved. How can they both be right? It’s simple. It’s not faith and works. The truth is that faith works! We cannot truly believe and remain unchanged.

A dear friend of mine was reviewing this article and offered some insightful advice on how we are to view obedience within a covenant of grace:

"Obedience" is a strange term to use in the context of friendship. When you are my friend and you shout out a command "duck" or "watch out" or "watch your step," I do not stop to weigh your motives or to assess our relationship. I spontaneously respond out of my implicit, visceral trust relationship with you. I just know you would not be commanding me anything except out of a concern for my safety and well-being, for my own good.


What kind of covenant has God made with humanity? God has met people where they are again and again. I think my friend is right. The covenant calls for obedience, but it is an obedience of trust and love, not of grudging surrender. Whether money or obedience, “God loves a cheerful giver.” For me, however, the point is clear. God has offered us a royal grant, an unconditional covenant, a covenant of grace, in short, friendship. God holds out the hand of friendship. Will we take it? It is a bold step, living without law and under grace. It can only work for those who, like Abraham, are “friends of God.”


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