God is more interested in your dependence upon Him than your obedience to Him! This was tweeted out not too long ago. Like much of what bubbles up in the twitterverse, there was no context to nuance or qualify it—just a bare bones proclamation about what our Father is truly concerned with. And it’s my perception that most people have at least a passing interest in what interests God.
Dependence upon God is a vital element of faith. When the writer of Hebrews is challenging his readers to possess the kind of faith that fuels perseverance (10:36-39), he points them to men and women of the past. By faith Noah built the ark, Abraham left his home for an unknown destination, and Sarah, unable to have children, nonetheless believed that she would become a mother. In all of these stories, there is a strong current of dependence running through their trust in God. Dependence upon God is important and it can be a challenge to the very best of people (think of Abraham and Sarah’s use of Hagar). There’s no doubt about that.
What caught my attention in the quote though was the way it contrasted dependence and obedience as if they are somehow in opposition to each other. Correctly understood, they are nothing like that. Dependence and obedience are quite complementary; they are intertwined strands in the cord of faith. If we return to Hebrews 11, we are told in the same breath that Noah “built an ark” as God had commanded (v. 7), Abraham “obeyed and went” (v. 8) and Sarah made the choice to consider “Him faithful” (v. 11). Dependent people are obedient people! That’s because properly understood, obedience is an expression of our dependence.
In the end, I think that’s what bothers me about the tweet. Obedience is treated as if it’s a lower-tier response to God. When Jesus’ resists Satan in the wilderness He tells him that, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Wasn’t Jesus saying (and showing) that His obedience was a sign of His dependence? Take a look at Philippians 2 where Paul speaks of Christ humbling Himself “by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (v. 8). Is there any suggestion that His obedience is anything less than glorious, ultimate dependence upon His Father?
After Saul had disobeyed God’s instructions through Samuel in order to make a sacrifice, the prophet tells him: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). I’m not sure where we came up with a sub-standard view of obedience but it didn’t come from Scripture. My hunch is that it’s more of the pervasive evangelical anxiety that someone somewhere will somehow think that grace is disgraced if anything positive is said about obedience. As a consequence, heart-felt, God-glorifying, joyful obedience is regularly thrown under the bus.
Paul told the disciples at Rome (and the world) that his aim was to “call all Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for His name’s sake” (1:5). He said the same thing at the close of the letter (16:26). He understood that having faith in your obedience was a toxic idea, but having the obedience of faith was to be like Christ.