I was walking back to my office after class and saw some Gideons handing out Bibles to students. I overheard one student laugh and tell his friend that he got a Bible. Others refused to even look at the men handing out the free books. At the best, most were indifferent. At the worst, some were offended. Why this indifference and offense? While there are a number of reasons many are indifferent or offended by the Gospel, I think one of the biggest reasons is that the Gospel makes a claim of obedience on our lives. Why is this so offensive?
Obedience is offensive because it claims there is another God beside myself. The Gospel lays out a certain way of life that leads to our flourishing and God’s glory. But many see these limits of our “freedom” as one of the toughest parts of Christianity to understand. The sheer fact that Christians claim an objective truth can easily rile up any good, modern subjectivist around. That is the heart of the issue. Isaiah 45:5 says, “I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God;” This verse is a punch in the face to most people today.
Having to lay down my desires or what I think is best in order to obey God causes us to confront the God of self in our lives. It’s not that most of these people just really want to do evil things all day. It’s more like they want to have the freedom to make their own decisions about what is right and wrong. In essence, they want to play God. Therefore, the obedience demanded in Christianity will always cause offense because we do not get to be the god we so desperately desire to be.
Obedience is also offensive because it forces me to face my sinful urges. Many churches today have shied away from talking about obedience to God because it doesn’t sound gracious or loving. While the grace of God is our only hope for salvation, our obedience is an outward proof of our salvation. James 2:26 says, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” A.W. Tozer said it this way: “It is almost unbelievable how far we will go to avoid obeying God. We call Jesus ‘Lord’ and beg him to rejuvenate our souls, but we are careful to do not the things He says. When faced with a sin, a confession or a moral alteration in our life, we find it much easier to pray half a night than to obey God.”
We don’t want to think of ourselves as “bad” people. It is always easiest and most comfortable to find someone out there acting in more obscene ways and compare our lives to them. Therefore, we don’t have to be obedient to God’s commands but can still feel fairly good about our morality. Nevertheless, when we come face-to-face with Jesus Himself in the Gospel and His commands for our lives, we are left with only one response: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5). This type of self-defacement is hard to stomach today. But it is the only real response to the obedience required by our God.
Obedience is offensive. Claiming that others have to follow God’s commands appears to be limiting and restrictive. But the truth about obedience to God is that it is the most incredible and free way to live. When we see God’s commands not as a burden to work around but rather a light to guide our way, we are free to live for His glory and the good of others. We no longer have to protect our “freedoms” or sins because we have found a better way to live. Jesus said in Matthew 11:29-30, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Come and see how obedience to God is truly the only freedom we have or need.