Obedience: An Unexpected Path to Freedom

assistance guidance joshua obedience spiritual formation Aug 28, 2018

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about obedience. It’s one of those words that is definitely out of fashion these days. It sounds like nothing but bad news.

A while back, I was reading through the book of Joshua. It tells the story of a young Joshua taking over leadership of God’s people from Moses. He is leading them into a land God had promised to them through Abraham.

As the Joshua and Israel story nears its end and this promised land has become theirs, Joshua gives these instructions to a few of the tribes who were heading back to their territories. It sounds to me like a way for Joshua to get at the essence of what their life in God can be:

But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Joshua 22:5)

To most ears, a sentence like this doesn’t sound like good news: “Be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you.” Too many imagine obedience as a kind of slavery. It sounds like a limit on human freedom. But Joshua knew something we have often forgotten.

God’s ways are ways to the good life, the abundant life, the full life. God gives us guidance as to how we can most fully and freely enter that life. Obedience here is simply following the best advice on life available today.

If you join a gym and hire a coach, do you then resist everything they say to you because they are just robbing you of your freedom? Of course not.

If you feel they know what they’re talking about and trust them, you follow their advice, you give attention to their counsel, you obey them. Where obedience sounds to the modern ear like a loss and a limit to freedom, it is actually an invitation from the depths of wisdom to enter into our best possible life.

Looking back at Joshua’s instructions, listen to some of the lines that unpack God’s invitation to his people.

Love the Lord your God. Joshua wants God’s people to always live in the loving presence of God and to learn to love God back. We are able to love because God has always taken the first step towards us in love. Love is life.

Walk in obedience to him. Keep his commands. Again, we’re back in the gym and listening to our trainer. If we obey their guidance day after day, week after week, month after month, we are going to gain the strength, the flexibility, the endurance and the freedom to fully enjoy physical health and well-being. This is something we want. Obedience is the path to this place. How much more will this be true if we obey the guidance of the Lord of eternal life?

Obedience is not mainly just doing the will of another but agreeing with the will of another. A union of wills is what underlies holy obedience. Holy obedience is not a “have to” or “should,” but a “want to” and a privilege. Holy obedience leads to a life we most deeply and truly desire.

Hold fast to him. We may be tempted to “let go of God” and cling to something or someone else. This doesn’t take us to places of freedom. This doesn’t fill our souls with what we most need (or want).

Serve him with all your heart and with all your soul. Service here is not filling our lives with God jobs. It is entering into the humble, servant-like nature of God. It is realizing that our God washes feet—our feet. Service is not slavery. Service is the freedom to live in the depths of divine love and life.

For Reflection

Are there elements of God’s guidance that you’ve found yourself resisting? Why? As Dr. Phil often says, “How’s that working out for you?”

Is there some direction of God that you feel especially drawn to follow, just like you might follow the lead of a physical trainer? How would you like to begin?

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash