Perfect in Obedience, Not in Task
- Do you think that if your children literally obey you that they are trying to ‘earn’ your love?
- Can they, in fact, earn your love by ‘literally’ obeying you?
- If your children claim to love you and then do not literally obey you, can they lose your love?
- How does it make you feel when they won’t literally obey your commandments to them or they ‘modify’ them to fit their own desires?
God loves us unconditionally, just as we unconditionally love our children. But if we, being sinful, can love our children unconditionally, and yet still require them to literally obey us, how much more does God love us and yet still require us to literally obey him?
Mom asks 4-year-old Johnny to “clean his room.” About thirty minutes later Johnny bounces into mom’s room proclaiming, “I’m all done, Mommy. I did a great job. My room is all cleaned up just like you asked. Can we go get ice cream now?” “Okay,” Mom replies, “let’s go look at your room.” Mom enters Johnny’s room to find it pretty well picked up, but there are little piles of toys, clothing, and other miscellaneous items pushed alongside the walls, thrown in the closet, and jammed between the bed and dresser. Mom lets out a sigh and smiles. At least he gave it his best effort she thinks to herself knowing that she will have to walk Johnny through the cleaning process again in greater detail another time to help him further develop his organizational skills. Mom smiles at Johnny who is now beaming up at her with pride at the job he did. “Come on sweetheart, let’s go get some ice cream. You did a great job. Next time I’ll show you how to organize those toys and clothes and not just put them in piles, okay?” “Okay, Mommy,” Johnny replies as he races out the door to the car.
This story in many ways represents the same process we all go through to grow in our faith walk with the Lord. God does not expect perfection in every ‘task’ He has commanded, he expects us to act with a heart that is being perfected in obedience toward His Voice.
The problem is that sometimes we can become our own worst ‘taskmasters’ who obsess over the fact that we ‘cannot clean our room perfectly.’ Or worse, we think we can ‘clean our room perfectly,’ and expect everyone else around us to have perfectly clean rooms or we conclude that there is something ‘wrong’ with them. They must lack faith, or they are clearly acting in total disobedience and rebellion toward God. I’m sure you’ve run into people who have these types of attitudes in your Christian experience, whether in ‘the church’ or in the Messianic or Hebrew Roots assemblies. Or perhaps you’ve acted in one of these ways yourself.
Ultimately, the reality is that the mother in our story was not surprised by the imperfections of her son’s cleaning job because she knew he did the best he could, considering his age and understanding. She was not angry because she knew his heart was fully invested in obeying her even though he could not accomplish the task to the level that she could. She also knew that their relationship would, over time, create a situation in which she could help her son further develop his cleaning skills. But ultimately, the goal was not really about how clean the room was, but about how their relationship and the boy’s character developed through the learning process itself.
In the same way, God has asked each of us to ‘clean our rooms’ so to speak. In other words, God has asked us to obey His Commandments, but He is not expecting total perfection in every “task.” However, He does expect us to approach every task with an open and willing heart so that we learn to operate in perfect obedience as well as total dependence on Him, even when we know we will fall short of being perfect in every task.
It is only when we approach God’s Word, i.e. His Instructions for us, with a bad attitude, like a child who doesn’t want to clean his or her room and is not even going to make a sincere effort, or worse, we despise the entire request, can God rightly be upset with our behavior and proceed to discipline us like children. We would of course do the same for our own children in order to build and develop their character, but somehow we do not see or are blinded to this rule when it is in operation in our own lives.
Often, when we look at ‘other people’s rooms’ all we see are the piles of clothes shoved in the corner, or we peek in the closet and notice it is totally disorganized. It is then that our pride blinds us so that we shake our head in disgust, or worse, we begin to criticize their sincere efforts. Such behavior is completely lacking in faith. We have begun to act like evil taskmasters rather than brothers and sisters in Messiah.
We have to learn to look at the heart, realizing that yes: the heart is discerned through actions not just intentions. However, those actions are not going to always ‘be perfect,’ and this is where we have to use discernment, grace, mercy, humility, and lovingkindness with our brothers and sisters in Messiah. We have to remember that by the measure we judge it will be measured to us. This does not mean we never judge our fellow believer (the Torah has already judged their actions either for good or evil): but how we judge, when we judge, and the manner in which we judge are extremely important. Such judgment must always come forth from actual, loving, tender relationships, because God makes those same judgments of us through an actual, loving, tender relationship with us.
To the degree that we succeed in obeying God’s commandments or not is not the deciding factor as to whether we get ‘kicked out of’ God’s kingdom any more than our children’s failure to always keep their room clean would cause us to kick them out of our home. They are our children, and that kind of relationship goes well beyond that of a master and slave.
So why are so many of us treating our fellow believers like slaves that will be kicked out of the kingdom rather than fellow heirs?
We have to stop treating each other (i.e. ‘the chruch’ vs. Messianic vs. Hebrew Roots), as if our perfection in ‘task’ keeping is going to determine our status in the kingdom of Heaven.
We are not “saved” by our “works,” but we have been created in Messiah for good works. Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
Notice that the referent of the “good works” is not a mystery, and they were “prepared beforehand” so we could walk “in them”, meaning the Commandments of God. The same commandments Messiah said we would keep “if” we “love” Him. But at the same time, we cannot allow ourselves to become evil taskmasters who find fault at every turn, and never take the time to get to know people, understand what level of maturity they are at, recognize where God is working in their life, and appreciate what HE (not us) is requiring of them at this season, before rendering our verdict about their spiritual condition and destiny.
In the end, true freedom in Messiah understands that we are not obligated to be perfect in every task, but we are obligated to become perfect in obedience.
If it were anything more, who among us could stand?
Oh—that’s right, only one man, and His name is Yeshua.