There is a great scene in the comedy film O Brother, Where Art Thou? that speaks to the subject of sin and obedience.
After escaped convicts Pete and Delmar are saved and baptized, they have a discussion with the skeptic Everett about the extent of the forgiveness of their past sins:
Pete: “The Preacher said it absolved us.”
Everett: “For him, not for the law. I’m surprised at you, Pete, I gave you credit for more brains than Delmar.”
Delmar: “But they was witnesses that seen us redeemed.”
Everett: “That’s not the issue Delmar. Even if that did put you square with the Lord, the State of Mississippi’s a little more hard-nosed.”
This is a great reminder of a truth not often taught in the evangelical church today: sin has consequences in this temporal ream, even forgiven sin. Churches today have developed a low view of sin, as theologian Wayne Grudem details in is paper, Pleasing God By Our Obedience. This has led to a low view of obedience and a low view of grace. All of this bears consequences for our work.
This is not a new problem. Paul addresses it in Galatians 5:13 when he writes,
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
The Greek word that Paul uses here for flesh, sarx, refers to the sinful state of human beings, often presented as a power in opposition to the Holy Spirit.
Ken Wytsma, speaking at The Justice Conference in February, sharply defined this problem in our current age:
Christians can become “intoxicated” with the “hero part” of justice. There is a temptation to “look good without being good.” Being a true “hero,” though, is not about the single acts that bring glory to oneself, but persistence, determination and hard work.
We need to do more than look obedient. We need to actually be obedient. Eugene Peterson explains what we’re seeking when we abandon obedience in his classic book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction,
A common but futile strategy for achieving joy is trying to eliminate things that hurt: get rid of pain by numbing the nerve ends, get rid of insecurity by eliminating risks, get rid of disappointments by depersonalizing your relationships. And then try to lighten the boredom of such a life by buying joy in the form of vacations and entertainment.
Embracing obedience to the teaching of God’s law is in the own best interest of the Christian seeking to avoid sin. It is the path that God has provided us to find true joy. Throughout the Bible, God could not be any clearer on this point: He blesses for obedience and curses for disobedience.
Obedience brings joy. One of the verses that talks about this concept in the Bible is in Hebrews 12:2:
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross (obedience), scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
This has great implications for us in our work. To quote again from Peterson,
The curse of some people’s lives is not work, as such, but senseless work, vain work, futile work, work that takes place apart from God.
Our obedience in the long haul, even in the most mundane area of our work, not only provides a sense of joy, but is also what God uses to give our work great satisfaction and significance. It is this higher view of obedience that leads us to a higher view of “grace.” It is this higher view of “grace” that enables us to do the “good work” to which we have been called.
So how do we live out this obedience? Ephesians 6:13-15 offers some of the tools at our disposal:
Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is…indispensable… (The Message)
I’ll dive deeper into these tools and the implications of obedience for our work in future posts.
Do you think the Church has developed a low view of sin and obedience? What does this mean for your work? Leave your comments here.