Lately I’ve been going through This Changes Everything, How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years, by Jaquelle Crowe (now Jaquelle Ferris). A couple weeks ago, I came across the chapter on spiritual disciplines and was convicted at almost every turn of the page. There was one particular point, however, that turned my soft nudge of conviction into a good hard smack.
You see, in this chapter, Jaquelle gives the highly relatable example of two hypothetical teachers. The first she dubs Miss Rose, and the second, Mr. Smith. Now, as the illustration goes, Miss Rose is a wonderful teacher. You love her, and she loves you right back. She supports you, has known you since you were born, and spends hours of her time investing in you. In contrast, Mr. Smith is “that” kind of teacher. He’s indifferent to your existence, doesn’t care at all, and is stingy with his grading. Now, Miss Rose and Mr. Smith have both assigned you a paper to write, Miss Rose supporting you and giving you all the resources you need, and Mr. Smith, well, he is his same unconcerned, overly critical self.
This is where Jacquelle comes out and makes the point:
“How you view the two papers will be dramatically different. You still have to do both of them, but writing for Miss Rose will be a joy. She loves you and is leading you to success. Not so with Mr. Smith. Writing for him is… performance driven, and your only motivation is to pass the course and get on with life.”p.80
Interesting, isn’t it? Well, she’s not done. After giving this example, Jacquelle turns right around and compares our hypothetical relationship with the imperfect Miss Rose to our very real, concrete relationship with our perfect and glorious Lord, Jesus Christ:
We’re in Miss Rose’s class now. We do them [spiritual disciplines] because we get to. We practice the spiritual disciplines because we are motivated by abundant affection for Christ and a thriving desire to grow in him. We do them because of the gospel.p.82, (words in brakets are mine)
We obey God because, “we get to.” Have you ever thought of it like that? I know I haven’t. If we love God, then we love to do what He does. If our joy is in God, we find joy in doing the things of God.
So many of us go to church every Sunday, sit quietly during family devotions, and even show up every morning for our own personal study with God, without ever really thinking about what we are doing or Who we are doing it for. We go through the motions of worship without one cry of genuine praise or adoration towards our Father. We practice serving others because it’s the “thing to do.” We put up a front. We judge others who don’t do what we do, but we don’t ever really look into our own hearts and wonder why we are doing all these things. We’re performance driven. We act like we are in Mr. Smith’s class, fulfilling those tasks before us so we can get a good grade and move on with our lives. We obey out of duty.
But if you are a Christian, that is not the kind of life that God has called you to live! That is not the kind of life that He has called me to live! And more importantly, that is not the kind of life that is pleasing to Him. You see, we may be able to pull the wool over the eyes of our church, our family, and even ourselves, but God isn’t fooled. He looks at the heart. He sees our real motivations. He doesn’t want you obeying Him because you have to, or because it’s your duty. He wants you to obey Him, to walk in the way of righteousness, because it is your pleasure to do so because you find your pleasure in Him!
Remember that famous John Piper quote? The, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him,” one? Well, it’s true. When we delight in God so much that obeying Him and following Him is a privilege and joy– that is when He is most magnified. That is the kind of heart that God wants to see in His children, a heart that is so enraptured with Him that it can’t help but proclaim His works and follow in His footsteps. In John 14:5, Jesus says this to His disciples:
If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
If you love me, Jesus says. We don’t obey to be saved. We obey because we are already saved and our hearts are captivated with love for God.
If I’m being honest, though, I don’t have that kind of heart. I’m saved, but the joy I find in my Lord isn’t perfect. As I look back on my life, even over the past few months, I realize that a lot of my apparent “obedience” has been performance driven. Sure, there were moments of genuine love for Christ that overflowed into a passion for His works, but there were also a whole lot of other moments when I obeyed out of a dull, robotic sense of duty.
As much as it pains me to see how void my heart is of real, passionate, throbbing love for my Savior, I know that this isn’t “breaking” news to Him. He knows of all my weaknesses, and has known about them for some time. In fact, He sees the muck in my heart even better than I do. He knows I don’t love Him like I should. He’s seen all those moments when I get excited over a Star Wars TV show and then turn around and begrudgingly spend time in His word. He sees all those times when I did obey Him, but not out of love or joy. He sees it, and He stays with me anyway. Why? Because I am His child. He died for me, and He’s not about to let that sacrifice go to waste.
If you are a child of God, then He is going to stay with you, too. He knows all your imperfections, but He has not left you to fight them on your own.
When I quoted Jesus earlier I cut Him off right at verse 15, but if you’re familiar with this passage, you know that this is not the only thing He says:
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.John 14:15-17
The disciples were distraught. Jesus had just told them that one of them was going to betray Him. Then, He had said that He was going to a place that they could not follow! They were confused, and maybe even a little hurt. How could He say that He was going away? How could He leave them? Where was He going? Which one of them would betray Him? Jesus knew that they were afraid and troubled. On this last night with His disciples before He is captured and hung on the cross, Jesus spends it comforting and teaching them. “It is better that I leave,” He tells them, “because then the Holy Spirit will come.” His comfort to them was that they would not be alone, that His Spirit would be with them, and that it would help them and give them strength.
If you are a Christian, then you have the Holy Spirit too. If you’ve been convicted like I have, don’t stop there. God is working in you, and if you ask for joy in Him, He will most certainly give it.
We obey God because we are motivated, not by a reward, or a good grade, or even because we know it’s the right thing to do. Our ultimate motivation is not something that can be taken away. It’s not a thing or an object. Our ultimate motivation is a person. Our ultimate motivation to obey God is God, and more specifically, our enjoyment in Him. Don’t let that be lost on you. Don’t continue to let your spiritual life be shackled by the chains of performance and duty. Cast them off. Pursue joy instead. Pursue joy in Christ.
You are in Miss Rose’s class now.
A note from the author:
The necessity of our delight in God is a freeing principle of the Christian faith that I have only just begun to realize. As in just, I mean this past week as I researched and prepared for this blog post. There is so much that can be said on this topic, but for the sake of brevity, I honed in on the arena of obedience for this post. If you would like to learn more about this topic, then please check out the link to John Piper’s sermon, “What Is It Like to Enjoy God?” below. This is one of the things that I listened to this week as I was preparing, but I wasn’t able to incorporate as much from the sermon into my writing as I would have liked. Even so, that doesn’t mean that you can’t check it out for yourself. I learned so much from it, and I want you to be able to learn from it too! (and when you’re done, send me an email and let me know what you thought!)
In Christ with Love,