Nobody likes to be told what to do. Individualism is human nature. Even if we trace back to the very beginning, the first conflict recorded in the Bible is of a man and a woman deciding that God’s command was limiting them, so they broke it, tasted of the fruit and ushered sin into the world. And that began the long, sad history of God appealing to people to come up under His truth and His grace, but to little avail.
Jeremiah 35 is a great example of God’s appeal to his children. This passage is really about obedience. It’s a story that shows us a picture of what God’s heart is like, and why obedience is so vital for a life of faith. Here we have the story of a family, the Rechabites, who are religiously following the rules laid down by their ancestor some 300 years prior. The rules were not God’s rules, but they were meant to set the Rechabites apart. Jonadab, their ancestor, gave his descendants these rules so that they would be distinctive in a crooked and sinful culture.
Jonadab is not unlike most parents. Every home has rules that other families don’t have. “Well, that might be okay at the Smith house, but we’re Joneses and we don’t do those sorts of things.” We set up rules based upon the things we value. But what do you do when God speaks? Whose instructions do you follow?
In Jeremiah 35:12–17 God speaks against the people of Israel and in a nutshell calls them out for not listening to God’s prophets and following God’s commands. He points out that the Rechabites have faithfully kept up the family tradition by following their ancestor’s commands on non-essential issues, but have ignored God’s voice as heard through His prophets.
And so it is with us. We say, “God, I want Your grace, Your presence, Your blessing. I want to love You and honor You and live for You.” God says, “Wonderful, here is what My way of life looks like. Flee sexual immorality. Forgive your enemies. Be generous with your money. Love and serve your neighbors. Stop lying, gossiping, and cheating.” But in our hearts we balk at that. We say, “I can’t do that. I won’t give that up. I won’t go there.” So rather than fighting that sin, we justify it, excuse it, we make it okay.
But God wants our obedience. Here are four reasons why obedience to God is vitally necessary.
1) We obey God because He created us, and therefore we owe Him everything.
In verse 13, God speaks to Israel by first introducing Himself. “Thus says the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel.” That’s not just good etiquette. God does this all throughout the Bible as a way of putting what He’s about to say in proper order. I am God. I am the Lord of all things. I am your God. There is no higher authority than Him, therefore His creation belongs to Him (Psalm 100:3). We obey Him because we belong to Him — not as a slave to a master, but as a child to a father.
2) We obey because God is righteous and He commands what is right.
God’s commands are not arbitrary, but they reflect His character. God tells the Israelites in verse 15 to quit sinning and change your habits. There is a standard God gives us that reflects, not just a way to live, but the way to live (Deuteronomy 32:4).
3) We obey because God is our Father, and His commands are loving and meant for our good.
Don’t miss this one. We see it in the scripture we’re reading today. God says, “Again and again I called out to you. Over and over I sent My prophets to turn you away from evil, so that you may dwell in the land I promised you.” This is not a fierce and uncaring judge talking. This is a patient Father calling His children home (Psalm 84:11). We obey because our loving Father commands only what is best for us.
4) We obey God because it brings honor.
In verse 17, God finally says, “All the disaster I pronounced will indeed come upon you because you refused to listen to me.” After years of ignoring God’s voice, the seeds of disobedience bloomed and grew and then came the full fruit of Israel’s sin, and it was disaster for them. That is such a dominant theme in the Bible, that if we sow to our own sinful flesh, we will reap corruption. But the opposite is also true. In Jeremiah 35:18–19 God commends the Rechabites for their diligence in keeping their ancestors commands and says that they will always find favor in God’s eyes.
So if we obey God He will honor us. Simple enough, right? No.
In our sinful nature we want to rebel against instructions. We want to do things our way and ignore God’s leading. But there is good news. His name is Jesus.
Because of Christ, your relationship to God is not slave to master. It’s not criminal to judge. It’s child to Father.
Jesus died on the cross to forgive our sins, to forgive our disobedience. But what made His death effective? What makes Jesus’ death such a powerful thing for us? The answer is this: His life. The reason Jesus is able to forgive your sin is because He had no sin of His own. A sinner can’t die for other sinners. Only a perfect substitute will do. Romans 8:1–4 says it perfectly.
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Now, let’s tie this all together. Obedience to God is vitally necessary for us, but not as a means of salvation. All that needed to be earned has been earned for us through Jesus. So, the motivation for obedience must be seen through the lens of what Jesus has done. Because of Christ, your relationship to God is not slave to master. It’s not criminal to judge. It’s child to Father. And if we as human parents command our children out of love for their good, how much more does our perfect Heavenly Father command us in love for what is truly good.
First Peter 1:14–15 sums it up for us:
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior.
We are children of the Holy One. We are no longer ignorant, but we have been brought into the light. And our obedience is our response to the love and grace of a holy God. Many of us believe in Jesus, yet we still view God’s commands as religious law. No, God’s commands are a gift to us! What a privilege that you have been made a child of God and called to reflect His holiness.
The question is, what sin in your life is keeping you from reflecting God’s holiness? What do you need to let go of so that you can begin to better shine the light of Jesus?