It amazes me how many times I have to explain this concept to my four year old son. The distinction between obedience and disobedience blurs all too quickly for him. Even when there are clear consequences and privileges for disobedience and obedience, he often chooses the disobedient path.
I must admit I blur the lines in my own life. I can't claim to be a four year old though. Sometimes it feels as if I am just a young boy, but that is usually due to my own foolishness. As James would say, "I know the good I should do, and yet I fail to do it." (James 4:17, my own paraphrase).
Why is obedience so hard? Especially when we know the consequences will not and cannot be good for us?
It's a heart issue. We want to be masters of our world. We want to have control. It feels so much more satisfying, or at least we think so, to have control over our own little slice of the universe. Disobedience allows us to assert this dominance over our slice. After all, I have a right to be disobedient if I want.
Rights are invoked by Christians all the time. I have a right to eat what I want. I have a right to watch what I want. I have a right to be friends with the people I want. I have a right to use my money the way I want. I'm sure we could make a long list of all the rights we have.
What's the problem with this type of assertion?
Again, it's a heart issue. Whenever I assert my rights over the rights of another person, I am showing the character of my heart. Even when I am just asserting a right and it is not immediately clear how another person is involved, I am still seeking something for myself.
The heart which seeks to be served is a disobedient heart. But we all like to be served right? Yep, we do. There is nothing wrong with enjoying and appreciating it when someone serves us.
The problem arises when our rights or our wish to be served motivates us. This is what I am talking about when I talk about the heart; the heart is our will which motivates us, desires within us, and moves our will.
One thing I believe Nietzsche got right about slave morality is this - it emasculates everyone when imposed upon others. Slave morality, in essence, is the idea that virtues such as charity, kindness, and humility are a reaction to a master morality of strength and will, originally determined by its consequences. Nietzsche abhorred the biblical and Christian concepts of morality for several reasons, but most importantly he thought it necessary to revalue morality in terms of the will to power.
There are two major distinctions Nietzsche failed to realize about Christian morality, or perhaps he understood and did not believe. In any case, Christians do not believe strength and will are evil in themselves. Second, Christians cannot defend an imposition of morality as the way by which true equality is gained.
On the first point, we believe strength, or fortitude in Aquinas' terms, is a virtue. We just believe strength is shown in different ways, e.g. restraint or the defense of the defenseless. This is why Christians should not always be silent in the face of evil. Christians must be advocates for others.
Christians cannot defend an imposition of morality as the means of true equality because we believe in the uniqueness of salvation through Christ. What does salvation have to do with equality? Everything! Salvation must be universally accessible and universally able to be rejected. If morality is the highest standard of equality, or at least the means by which equality is granted, then salvation no longer rules our thoughts and actions as Christians. Even more, true morality is result of a changed heart, formed by Christ. So, in order for morality to be real it must be first formed in the forge of salvation.
Salvation* must be the guide by which we see all men and women before God. The government may attempt to legislate morality, but Christians must understand it is a relationship to God in terms of Christ that determines our standing, both temporal and eternal.
It is at this point we remember the service of Christ.
Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. (Mark 10:45; John 3:16-17). He showed us the essence of an obedient heart. He showed us how to follow God fully. He did not come to assert his rights, but instead to serve others.
As I celebrate Christmas this year, I want to seek to serve others. I want to do this in strength, but also in humility.
If I am going to serve others, I must be obedient to God rather than my rights.
I am seeking to serve in obedience this Christmas.
Luke 2:8-20 (HCSB)
The Shepherds and the Angels
8 In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. 9 Then an angel of the Lord h stood before them, and the glory of The Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: 11 Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. 12 This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.”
13 Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
14 Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth t to people He favors!
15 When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”
16 They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the feeding trough. 17 After seeing them, they reported the message they were told about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard, just as they had been told.
*As a side note, salvation extends beyond the mere conception of getting into heaven. Salvation must be thought of in terms of the full redemptive work of Christ.