To obey or not to obey; that is the question…

In the Gospel passage (for last Sunday) Jesus states his purpose was to fulfil not replace the law. This he achieved in two distinct ways. First by living himself in obedience to scripture. As a man he voluntarily fulfilled Jewish law. Second, as God, by literally fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies.

On the road to Emmaus, when evangelising, he explained the Scriptures concerning himself. In other words, he preached the Old Testament precisely because it all pointed to him. The Old Testament is ever relevant because Christ is always relevant. It is fulfilled in Christ.

Now note how Jesus uses a fascinating phrase when quoting scripture “But I say to you.” No prophet would dare say this! They said, “Thus spake the Lord…” apostles said, “It is written…” only Jesus says, “But I tell you…” Because he is the ultimate authority. The divine author of sacred scripture. It should not surprise us then that when Jesus says “I say to you” he always enlarges our understanding, drawing us away from mere following of rules into an authentic life of holiness.

We see that in today’s Gospel reading where Jesus reveals the law is not a dusty rule book but a way into a relationship with God. Hence it is not enough to simply avoid adultery whilst lusting after women. God’s law must penetrate our very being. We must become holy leading to the keeping of God’s law from the heart. The quality of relationship counts, the authenticity of faith. We must learn to love God and delight in his law. 

This requires obedience. Jesus said ‘if you love me you will keep my commands” Full obedience, by the way, not sneaky partial obedience. Hence Jesus stressed “until heaven and earth disappear, not one letter will disappear from the Law” Now Modern Christians need to better understand this point. We cannot simply dismiss the parts of scripture we don’t like. We cannot bend church teaching to the Spirit of the age ever watering down the faith martyrs died for. As St Paul wrote God’s word is true “yesterday, today and forever” meaning it is eternal and reliable. So what was true regarding, say sexual morality, in our grandparents day remains true today.

Isaiah wrote: “The grass withers but the word of God stands forever.” Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass, but my words will never pass away.” Don’t fall for modernist lies then. Don’t be seduced by those voices in Christianity today that delight in suggesting scripture or church teaching is outdated and must be modernised to become “relevant”. Relevant to who exactly? God or fallen man? The historic faith or the modern culture?

The word of God, sacred scripture, is not a political manifesto for man to tinker with according to his will. But a sacred deposit of faith that Christians are called, at cost take note, to obey in fullness. Ultimately that is what it means to be holy. Now half-baked Christians in any generation assure us that it is not so; in seeking comfort and ease they insist God’s word needs updating. The challenges removed. This argument is, however, just an attempt to fashion a get out of jail card; usually over one moral issue or another! An attempt to bridge the gap between the fallen demands of this world and the standards of God. Not one Saint ever stood in that gap. Not one martyr died for such illogical compromise.

You cannot cherry pick scripture. Of course, you must properly understand it. You do need the context; to understand how fallen things in the Old Testament, take marriage, are redeemed in the new. So in the old testament we see polygamy with Solomon’s concubines, and many other shoddy examples of family life, but after Christ, in the new Testament, marriage like man has been redeemed. And all we see is that call to lifelong fidelity.

 2 Timothy says: “All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” God’s Word is truth. So save us, Lord, from meddling doubt filled theologians with clever arguments. All that is needed, in truth, in any generation, is not new ways of approaching God’s laws. But greater obedience. Greater fidelity to scripture not compromise with the world.

Jesus said: “Anyone who breaks the least commandments- and teaches others to do likewise -will be least in the kingdom.” Once you start deviating from God’s word, you don’t just harm yourself you lead others into error. As we belittle Scripture, we ourselves become belittled. Just look at the loss of respect for the church wherever it has apostatised! We only find decline where the church has liberalised. Growth is found where orthodoxy remains. Something that is true regardless of denomination. It is hardly surprising – what is the point of an emasculated faith that simply endorses whatever you already believe in?

To be credible, Jesus says, practice and teach my commands. His emphasis was not only to practice but teach. “If you love me, obey my commands.” We don’t pick and choose which ones. If we love Jesus, we keep all his commands. As Jesus obeyed the commands of the Jewish faith in his day. And we will cherish scripture because, in the end, it points to him. If you really believe in Jesus, you will believe in Scripture. You will read it; study it and treasure it; and God will speak to you through it. 

Fake Christians- to make the faith fit their desires- pick choose and compromise. Authentic Christians- to make their lives fit the faith- repent, sacrifice and seek grace. It really is that simple in the end. To obey or not to obey – that is the question.

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3 thoughts on “To obey or not to obey; that is the question…

  1. The problem with the concept of obedience in a religious context is that in practice obedience to God and obedience to priests/hierarchy tend to merge. This is for two reasons. Firstly it is because many moral questions are not directly addressed in scripture. To give two rather obvious examples, the Bible tells us nothing about the morality of blood transfusion (although Jehovah’s Witnesses would disagree) nor about the morality of hormone-based contraception. So people turn to religious leaders for interpretation. Secondly, because almost all religious movements are hierarchical in structure, priests and bishops are authority figures who expect, and are expected by others, to be obeyed, and not just in moral matters. For example at the Catholic grammar school that I attended (many years ago!) the head teacher and most of the senior staff were priests, and there was no difference in their tone of voice and expectation of obedience whether they were telling us what to do and not to do in relation to sexual morality or in relation to school uniform. There was complete elision of personal morality and school discipline (to the detriment of both, I would suggest).

    And of course the focus on obedience was what enabled the Legion of Christ to thrive for many years as a movement/organisation that was corrupt from top to bottom.

    So, I don’t have a lot of time for obedience. Indeed if one looks at history it is often those who disobey (e.g. Galileo Galilei and Rosa Parks) who move humanity forward. I prefer conscience to obedience, and this attitude is, I suggest, in tune with paragraph 1782 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    “Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.”

    1. I could introduce you to many people whose conscience is just fine despite terrible wrong doing. It really is no substitute for obedience. You are correct to note that obedience in the wrong place is dangerous- but not to Christ and the faith revealed.

  2. It was blind obedience to ‘the Church’ which enabled clergy to abuse thousands. Fortunately today’s Catholics are much more aware of their own conscience and their status as adults within the community of the church. Priests are no longer able rule the laity like tyrants. The abuse suffered was not just sexual. There was massive misuse of clerical power in the past.
    Fortunately there were many holy priests who did not abuse their positions but it is a good thing that such behaviour has been brought into the open and is now not tolerated.

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