Last week we were looking at some of the ways we worship cows made of earrings, which is kind of an Old Testament way of referring to how we end up worshiping things that we make with our hands – or just worshiping ourselves.
It’s easy to think of obedience as almost a niggling detail, like obedience in the sense of doing your homework or making your bed. But as I’ve dug into it further from a Biblical perspective, it has become obvious that disobedience is a lot bigger and a lot deeper than that. Here are a few Old Testament examples:
- Lot’s wife disobeys and turns back to Sodom after God has told them not to look back – and is turned into a pillar of salt.
- In Exodus after the gold jewelry is made into a cow-shaped idol, Moses returns from the mountaintop where he has been getting the law from God (gotta love the irony!), burns the idol and makes them drink idol-ash water. Then…
“Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control – for Aaron had let them get out of control to be a derision among their enemies– then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, ‘Whoever is for the LORD, come to me!’ And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him. He said to them, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Every man of you put his sword upon his thigh, and go back and forth from gate to gate in the camp, and kill every man his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbor’.’ So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day” (Exodus 32:25-28, NASB).
- And from the fifth book of the Bible…
“If your brother, your mother’s son, or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods’ (whom neither you nor your fathers have known, of the gods of the peoples who are around you, near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end), you shall not yield to him or listen to him; and your eye shall not pity him, nor shall you spare or conceal him. But you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. So you shall stone him to death because he has sought to seduce you from the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such a wicked thing among you” (Deuteronomy 13:6-11, NASB).
Whoa, huh? That’s the punishment we deserve for following other gods?! Good thing we don’t follow other gods…except…uh oh… Scripture says that we are slaves to whomever we obey, whether that is God or ourselves or a cow made out of earrings. If I obey myself instead of God, I am exalting myself above Him – I am “following” myself instead of Him. It’s interesting and very revealing to ask ourselves who we are following in any given situation – Our feelings? Other people’s opinions of us? God? What is ruling our choices and behavior and how we treat others?
One day, in a particularly self-righteous moment, it dawned on me: Jesus got the punishment I deserved. I follow myself and not Him; I’m the one who is serving other gods by my choices and actions. But He took the punishment. He is the one God turned away from even though I was the one who earned that. That is something that will deflate self-righteousness in a hurry! How can we think ourselves better than anyone else when that is what we deserve?
So often, I think of my disobedience as no big deal. “It’s just this one little thing”, I seem to say to myself, as the one little thing snowballs into a bunch of little things – or maybe even one really big thing. “It’s just this one time – I’ll obey next time.” But it rarely seems to end there. I justify one thing to myself and that makes it easier to justify the next thing, and the thing after that, and the thing after that, until one day I discover that it is more of a reflex to do what I want to do or believe what I want to believe than it is to follow God. There is no “big” sin that isn’t preceded by a heart change that happens over time when we justify ourselves and our actions when we know that is not what God has – out of His infinite love – commanded for our own joy!
A great example of this kind of thinking is Eve, bless her heart (as they say here in Texas). The serpent draws her into a discussion about what God actually did or did not say regarding the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and as it happens you can see her starting to change her point of view from following God to following herself – what she can see and understand, and her own desires. She starts out reiterating what God has said (“You shall not eat from it”), but then adds to what God has said (“or touch it”), to listening to the serpent refute what God said entirely (“You surely will not die!”), to listening to the serpent accuse God (“For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”).
She then decides that she will evaluate the situation for herself:
“When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6, NASB).
Notice what happens here – it says that the woman saw, and that it was a delight to her eyes. The problem with Eve evaluating the situation that way is that her eyes do not see much compared to what God sees, so when she evaluates the situation based on what she can see she is making a decision based on very limited and inaccurate information. What she sees is ruled by her own desires and limitations – she sees the tree as “desirable to make one wise”, instead of seeing it how God sees it and what He has told her through Adam about it: “for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17).
It’s not hard to see all the ways in which we do the same thing. We know what God commands, but we look at the situation from our limited vantage point and decide that we know what is best and so do what we think we should do, rather than what God commands. (I most definitely include myself in that!). We convince ourselves that our disobedience doesn’t matter or only matters to us. Romans 5 blows that whole idea up, however:
“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men” (Romans 5:12a, my emphasis), and
“For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (Romans 5:19a, my emphasis).
Looks like Adam and Eve’s one act of disobedience affects us all. Understanding this makes it harder to see disobedience as merely being in the realm of not making our beds, doesn’t it? It is easy to imagine Adam and Eve thinking, “It’s just fruit”, isn’t it?
Seeing all this can really be a beating. We spend so much time justifying ourselves to ourselves that seeing our disobedience for what it really is can be pretty ugly. It should be ugly to us, as it turns out, but thankfully it doesn’t end there. God so loved the world that He sent His only Son to die for our sins, to take the right and just punishment that our disobedience deserves, so we can be forgiven and reconciled to God.
In His infinite grace and mercy, God has made a way for us back to Him. The second part of Romans 5:19 says this: “even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous” (my emphasis). Talk about a happy ending! Through His power and might we can be obedient – because we can trust that what He sees and understands is infinitely more than what we can see or understand, and because He strengthens us through His Holy Spirit. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me“, Paul tells us, and the same is true for us. We are not alone in this:
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:28-32, NASB).