The Intimacy of Obedience
Adam and Eve disobeyed God and fell from grace; their disobedience brought sin and curses upon all humanity. The examination of the nature of sin and lost innocence has dominated the Christian message from the beginning. Disobedience, temptation and sin have been prominent theological grist. All too often our church experience focuses on navigating a Gospel with only two aims: first getting saved, and then battling sin in our lives. Thankfully we are saved from our sin through the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. But this narrow focus ignores the loss of intimacy through obedience. We are not only saved from sin, but we are saved for and into Intimacy and Oneness with Christ.
God gave Adam and Eve a commandment – the only “do not” in the Creation narrative – to not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Their obedience fostered intimacy; God would walk with Adam in the cool of the garden. Their rebellion caused them to be cast out of the Garden until Christ brings us hope of restored intimacy through Oneness with Him.
Covenants were designed to bless through obedience. God’s part of the covenant was to bless, ours was to obey. Sadly the promise of blessing through covenantal relationship was never enough by itself to keep us from sin. The coming of the Messiah fulfils God’s desire for intimate covenantal relationship. God sends the Messiah to redeem us from sin and to restore us to the Intimacy of (and through) Obedience.
We can look to Mary in John’s Gospel. The only words she has in John are to the servants at the wedding: “Do whatever he tells you.” (Thanks to Rev. Bertie Pearson, Grace Episcopal Church, Georgetown, TX for this sermonial insight). Interesting to remember that Mary’s only instruction was to obey Jesus. “Do whatever He tells you.” From early on, obedience produces a result that is greater than the sum of its parts–”God said to Abraham…’(Do) whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendents shall be named.’” Mary echoes this invitation in that through her Son, Jesus, we and our descendants shall be named.
Jesus Invited others into a restored intimacy of obedience: The rich young ruler came to Jesus seeking eternal life, having kept the commandments since he was a youth. Jesus invites him into a covenant of obedience. All he had left to give were his possessions, which were many because he prospered in an obedience of commandment:
“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” Joshua 1:8, and:
“Observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go.” 1 Kings 2:3. This ‘obedience of commandment’ promises favor and prosperity, but never allows for that intimacy which was lost in the Garden.The rich young ruler walked away sad having chosen his prosperity over an invitation to intimacy.
After Jesus revealed His path of suffering and death, Peter offered the same temptation Jesus met when He was led out into the wilderness–that of disobedience to God’s leading. Jesus scolded Peter and said, “Get thee behind me, Satan. You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men.” (Mt. 16:22). Just as in the Garden of Eden, we see satan tempting us away from the obedience that brings to fruition our God-given destiny of identity, purpose and intimacy.
Jesus continues to reveal what obedience is by showing what it is not. His parable of the Prodigal Son returning in forgiveness to enjoy redemption and blessing contrasts with his older brother caught in bitterness by slavery to obedience. He chose to live as a slave to commandments out of a sense of obligation. Rather than choosing the intimacy of obedience and identity as a favored son, this brother refused to come inside to join in the feast. Jesus invites us into a New Covenant of obedience producing grace, favor and provision, but most of all, intimacy. “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.”Romans 8:14
Jesus encounters Pilate before the crucifixion. He offers to Pilate his truth in the only terms Pilate would understand: “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” The ultimate truth for Pilate was obedience, but only to Caesar. Wrong king.
“For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”Romans 5:19 Even Jesus’ last commandment to John in Chapter 21 connects intimacy to obedience: “Simon, do you truly love me? Take care of my sheep.” (Jn. 21:16-17). This Gospel closes with His invitation; “Follow me!” How we view this–as a commandment OR as an invitation– might show us what side of intimacy we are living in. John 14:15, 20 holds our invitation to intimacy and Oneness, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments…(In that day) you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.”
The crucifixion is not the endpoint of our obedience any more than it was His. Jesus rises from the empty tomb to appear to his His disciples and said, “Peace be with you!...As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. And with that he “breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Here Jesus shares one of the Keys to the Kingdom that he gave to Peter– forgiveness. Through our obedience we are not only brought into right relationship and intimacy, but we are brought into the very oneness with God that allows us to pronounce His (and our own) forgiveness.
Through Christ and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit we are invited to walk the path of the intimacy of obedience and to be restored to intimacy with God. When we do not hide as Adam and Eve did, God walks with us in His Kingdom Garden, “in the cool of the day”. God’s original plan and purpose for us is restored when we enter into the Intimacy of Obedience.
“To him who overcomes [and repents, according to Rev 2:5] I will grant to eat of the Tree of Life which is the Paradise of God.” (Rev. 2:7)
“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”John 14:23