I remember subsisting in college on a diet of peanut butter and, on rare occasions when I could afford ground beef, Hamburger Helper. I’d cook it up on Sunday night and eat from the same skillet for the next few days. I thought I was living large—until a more financially solvent friend took me out for steak and lobster. What had I been missing? Soon the beefy mac on the stovetop lost its appeal.
It’s the same way with faith in Christ. We think we’re doing all right in life; after all, everyone struggles to make sense of life’s purpose and meaning, right? But then we come to understand two things: one, that what the world is offering us is hollow; and two, that what Jesus is offering us is freedom itself—release from death’s iron grip and also from everyday, humdrum, pointless struggles. Being liberated from sin and exposed to a bigger view of life is like tasting steak and lobster for the first time—it changes our view of what’s good. It’s thrilling!
But that initial excitement can wane. We go from new believers who can think of little else besides Jesus to more seasoned churchgoers who inadvertently shift into cruise control when it comes to the things that feed our faith, such as Bible study, fellowship, communion, prayer and evangelism (see Acts 2:42-46). New life can become old hat if we’re not careful. So, how can we return to our first love?
The answer is through worship and obedience. If that sounds too prescriptive, stick with me. It’s actually the key to revitalizing our understanding of who we are in Christ. When we do that, we’ll be refreshed and recharged, ready to get back to the most important business of all: loving God with all we are, and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40).
Worship and Obedience Go Hand in Hand
The importance of obeying Jesus is tied directly to worship. Jesus told His disciples, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). There are a couple of ways to read this. One is conditional: Keeping Jesus’ commands is how we show our love for Him. In other words, the only way we can show Jesus we love Him is if we obey what He told us to do.
The second is correlational: In order to be able to keep Jesus’ commands, we have to truly love Him. As one translation puts it, “Loving me empowers you to obey my commands” (TPT). Read this way, we see that part and parcel of loving Jesus means being empowered to obey Him.
Looking at it this second way should affect how you worship Jesus: Your worship doesn’t make you worthy in His eyes, it recognizes that He alone is worthy. And as you acknowledge that essential truth and simply admit that He deserves your complete devotion, He gives you the will and power to please Him in what you think, say and do.
Once More, with Feeling
Both our worship and our obedience are tied to God’s Word. We know what pleases God from reading the Bible, and we grasp the extent of all He has done for us. In the Old Testament, God was very specific about how He wanted Israel to worship Him, and when people strayed from that model and the protocols He established through Moses, things went badly for them. Worship and obedience are tied together like two people in a three-legged race. When people try to pull the two apart, they end up tripping themselves and others.
Then, in the New Testament, Jesus demonstrated and taught about the kind of heart that showed true worship. He cut to the core of the Law, showing that the attitude of our heart goes hand in hand with our deeds. For example, you don’t just avoid committing adultery—you forsake the habits of mind that feed adulterous instincts (ogling attractive people, looking at porn and so on).
And as you learn and grow in your faith, God empowers you to do what pleases Him. In that way, all you do becomes an act of worship—of saying, “You deserve my best, God, at home and at work and in my community.” True worship—worship in spirit and truth—involves obedience to God’s commands because it engages our whole heart and so plays out in our actions.
A Sacrifice of Joy
We often think of obedience too narrowly—as the way we avoid getting into trouble. That goes back to childhood and our experiences with rules and rewards. As adults, we often think, I’m done with that whole obedience thing. I can make my own decisions, thanks. But a mature response to God involves conforming our thoughts and ways to His desires—because by doing so, we can enjoy the full benefits of belonging to Him, especially the fruit of the Spirit (peace, joy, love, kindness, patience, goodness, gentleness, self-control, virtue, knowledge, perseverance—see Galatians 5:22-25 and 2 Peter 1:5-9).
That’s why the Apostle Paul told us to connect our formal theology with our practical theology. “I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him” (Romans 12:1, NLT). When we walk with worship and obedience intermingled, hand in hand, we’ll see the difference in our lives. As Paul put it, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2). Obedience flows from, and is enabled by, a heart of gratitude for God’s grace in Christ. That’s the path to a life that leads upward toward the prize in Christ Jesus. ©2019 Skip Heitzig
Unless otherwise marked, Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.
Above: Chaplains with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team pray with a man on Grand Bahama Island following the devastation of Hurricane Dorian.
Photo: Todd Sumlin/2019 BGEA