The Bookends of Obedience

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15)

In light of Jesus’ words here, what is the motivating force for new obedience?  For some it is fear.  They are afraid of the consequences of disobedience; they try to obey out of a sense of dread.  They try harder and harder, but it never works for long.  We are simply too weak to obey in our own strength out of a sense of fear.  For others, the motivating force is guilt.  They feel guilty over past disobedience—the problems it caused and the people they hurt—and they resolve to be better in the future.  Their resolve caused them to do more initially, but it never works for long.  We are simply too inconsistent to obey in our own strength out of a sense of guilt.

The motivation for those in whom the truths of the Gospel have taken root is rooted in gratitude.  They look back at all God has done for them in Christ, and out of a heart overflowing with thanksgiving, they desire to walk in new obedience.  Looking back at the grace we have been given is a wonderful motivation for living a life of obedience . . . but if we stop there, we have stopped short of a full understanding of the Gospel and the finished work of Jesus Christ.

Gratitude that looks back on grace received is a powerful motivator for obedience, but it can easily morph into attempting to pay God back for all that He has done, a feat which we could never accomplish.  If we could pay God back, it would not be grace that was given to us in the first place!  For “if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6).  What we need is not only gratitude that looks back on past grace, but faith that looks forward to the future grace promised in the Gospel. This attitude of looking to the past and to the future is beautifully and succinctly expressed in Romans 8:32.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

The first part of this verse focuses on the grace God has already given to His people; the second half focuses on the grace God will give to His people.  The ultimate motivation for new obedience is the combination of looking back in gratitude for grace given and looking forward in expectation to grace promised.  These are the bookends of living a life of obedience (albeit imperfectly) for every disciple of Christ.  John Piper explains:

The faith in future grace is the power for obedience that preserves the gracious quality of human obedience.  Obedience does not consist in paying God back and thus turning grace into a trade.  Obedience comes from trusting in God for more grace—future grace—and thus magnifying the infinite resources of God’s love and power.

Our hearts should be filled with gratitude over the grace we have already been given and brimming with positive anticipation for the grace we have been promised and will experience when we are brought home into glory.  What God began, He will complete (Philippians 1:6) and He will complete it with the grace of the Gospel, poured out in the past, the present, and in the future.  When God promised to never leave or forsake us, He promised us a future grace we can bank on!  The power for new obedience is rooted in the promise of new obedience, because of the One who made the promise.  He is faithful to fulfill His promises even when we are not faithful to them.  As Paul assured us, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).

When we look back in gratitude for the grace we have been given and forward to the grace we have been promised, we are propelled by the unimaginable love and mercy of God, who has given us all we need to live the life He has called us to live—by confident faith in indescribable grace.  Look back in gratitude and look forward by faith and there is no telling what God can do through you!

This is the Gospel.  This is grace for your race.  NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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