A Convenient and Relaxing Kind of Christianity
Loving God is not as simple as we sometimes think. Christians are fond of reminding one another that in a biblical sense love is a verb, not just feeling but action. This is true, but there is far more to it than that. Jerry Bridges came to this realization and began to reflect on the command to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” In The Discipline of Grace he describes how he came to see that love is rooted in obedience to God’s commands. “Whatever else might be involved in loving God with all my heart, obedience to His law was certainly a major part of it.” (Note that when he speaks of God’s law as it applies to us today, he refers to the permanent moral law, not the Old Testament ceremonial law). To put it another way, “Our love to God will always manifest itself in obedience to Him.”
Bridges sketches out a helpful illustration of the way so many Christians love God. This was very nearly painful for me to read.
If we are to love God with all our heart and soul and mind, and if obedience is a major part of such love, then it follows that we are to obey Him with all our heart, soul, and mind. We are to put everything we have into obedience to Him.
My observation is that most of us who are believers practice what I call a “cruise-control” approach to obedience. Many cars today have a convenient feature called cruise control. When you are driving on the highway you can accelerate to your desired speed, push the cruise-control button, and take your foot from the accelerator pedal. Some mechanism attached to the engine will then maintain your desired speed, and you can ease back and relax a little. You don’t have to watch your speedometer to make sure you’re not going to get a ticket for speeding, and you no longer have to experience the fatigue that comes with constant foot pressure on the accelerator. It’s very convenient and relatively relaxing. It’s a great feature on cars.
However, we tend to obey God in the same way. To continue the driving analogy, we press the accelerator pedal of obedience until we have brought our behavior up to a certain level or “speed.” The level of obedience is most often determined by the behavior standard of other Christians around us. We don’t want to lag behind them because we want to be as spiritual as they are. At the same time, we’re not eager to forge ahead of them because we wouldn’t want to be different. We want to just comfortably blend in with the level of obedience of those around us.
Once we have arrived at this comfortable level of obedience, we push the “cruise-control” button in our hearts, ease back, and relax. Our particular Christian culture then takes over and keeps us going at the accepted level of conduct. We don’t have to watch the speed-limit signs in God’s Word, and we certainly don’t have to experience the fatigue that comes with seeking to obey Him with all our heart, soul, and mind.
He contrasts this with “Race-Car Obedience,” stating that compared to cruise-control drivers, race car drivers are driving with all their heart, soul, and mind, never dreaming of coasting along. And here is a crucial application: “God is not impressed with our worship on Sunday morning at church if we are practicing ‘cruise-control’ obedience the rest of the week. You may sing with reverent zest or great emotional fervor, but your worship is only as pleasing to God as the obedience that accompanies it.”
And now he circles back to love.
Even though obedience is the primary way in which we express our love to God, it is not the same thing as love. Acknowledging that there is a sense in which love is a verb, he clarifies: “Love it not a verb but the motive that prompts and guides other verbs. … Love always needs other verbs to give it hands and feet. By itself it can do nothing.” Therefore love takes action in forgiveness, in submission, in so many other things. “The converse truth, though, is that love gives validity to my actions and makes them acceptable to God. I can seek the welfare of my enemies so they hopefully will be nice to me or not harm me again. That is not love; it is manipulation. It is looking out for my welfare under the guise of looking out for theirs.” There’s another “ouch” moment!
Here’s the rub: “Only conduct that arises from love is worthy of the name of obedience. … Our motive for obedience is just as important, probably more so, to God than the level of our performance.”
But Bridges has not finished yet. He wants us to see that we can only love God if we believe that God loves us. “We cannot love God if we think we are under His judgment and condemnation.” And this, of course, is why we must be continually preaching the gospel to ourselves. “We must continually take those sins that our consciences accuse us of to the Cross and plead the cleansing blood of Jesus. … The extent to which we realize and acknowledge our own sinfulness, and the extent to which we realize the total forgiveness and cleansing from those sins, will determine the measure of our love to God.”
Here is a final application:
If we want to grow in our love for God and in the acceptable obedience that flows out of that love, we must keep coming back to the Cross and the cleansing blood of Jesus. That is why it is so important that we keep the gospel before us every day. Because we sin every day, and our consciences condemn us every day, we need the gospel every day.
For next Thursday please read chapter eight (assuming that you are reading along with me).
The purpose of this program is to read these books together. If you have something to say, whether a comment or criticism or question, feel free to use the comment section for that purpose.