I am continually amazed by how much I learn about what it means to be a child of God by being a parent. Take obedience, for instance.

Before I was a parent, I thought of obedience as doing what God told me to do.

Period.

Sounds good, right?

Well, now that I am a parent, I realize I don’t really accept right behavior with a wrong heart.

We don’t really call it “obedience” if our kids do what we ask late… or half-heartedly… or while grumbling… or after they angrily storm out of the room. We don’t even really consider it “obedience” if our kids just happen to do what we asked because they were about to do it anyway.

Obedience is more what happens when our kids are confronted with a choice to do what we want or what they want and they choose to do what we want right away, all the way, the cheerful way, and say “okay!”

As a matter of fact, we recite that little mantra quite often in our house. Even our three-year old knows we define obedience as doing what we ask “right away, all the way, the cheerful way, and say, ‘okay!'”

And because we love our children, we discipline them if they fail on any one of those points. You see, while I want my children to exhibit behaviors that follow my instructions, I don’t want to cultivate a habit of external actions that do not match their internal reality. Put another way, I want their hearts obeying as much as their hands.

In a way, I would rather they refuse to do anything at all than choose to act without a good attitude, because at least they are acting honestly and consistently with the position and condition of their hearts.

It is easier, but very dangerous, to simply require changes in behavior. But I don’t want to cultivate right behavior. I desire to cultivate right hearts, from which right behavior will flow. Right behavior is the byproduct, not the goal of obedience.

And I think God desires the same thing from me.

True Obedience

God wants my heart set on his will, not hiding rebellion behind a facade of legalism.

Scripture is not just clear that knowing what is right, and doing something different is sin (James 4:17). Scripture is also full of instructions and warnings for those who honor God with their lips, who do the “right things,” without a heart set on honoring God (Isaiah 29:13-14; Matthew 15:1-11; Matthew 6:24; John 4:24).

The thing is, I cannot get to the place where I say “not my will, but yours” (Luke 22:42) and have victory over that inner battle between what I want to do, but don’t and don’t want to do, but do (Romans 7:15-20), if I do not meditate on scripture.

And meditating on scripture should change not only my attitude, but also my actions. At some point, we actually have to do the right we know we ought to do, God really does want us to do it with a heart submitted to him.

God did not accept the Israelites physically traveling in the desert as obedience… when they were grumbling (Numbers 11:1, Numbers 14:27-30; 1 Corinthians 10:5, 1 Corinthians 10: 10-12; Exodus 5, Exodus 14, Exodus 15, Exodus 17…).

God did not accept the Jewish leaders’ attempts at obedience… when they merely followed rules and traditions (Matthew 15).

God did not accept the rich young ruler’s sacrifices as obedience… when he harbored love for his “stuff” over love of God (Matthew 19:16-26).

God did not accept the Pharisee’s self-righteous, external actions as obedience… when he compared his actions to men rather than being humbled by the holiness and grace of God. (Matthew 18:10-14).

Jesus says if we love him, we will obey him (John 14:15; John 14:23).

The only way we can obey him right away, all the way, the cheerful way, and say “Not my will, but yours” is if we know his commands.

The only way to know his commands is to read his Word, to meditate on it, to saturate our hearts with his will.

And, knowing his commands, we need to get busy about doing them.

Francis Chan sums this up well in this 1-minute video on obedience.

The question for us becomes, will we honor God with our hearts, or hide behind a facade?