Obedience, part 3 (The obedience of those who don’t belong)
Well, last week’s audio was entitled Obedience, Part 2 [The obedience Spin]. In that program, we discussed some compelling realities that lie beneath the surface of what the natural mind calls ‘obedience’. Jim you had told a wonderful personal story about how you came to understand the illusion of ‘good’ vs. the realities themselves. I wonder if you might briefly expand on a few things?
It would be my pleasure, Adam. I imagine there can be many variables that help shape our individual illusions. For me, as the second of two sons, I built my facade of goodness and obedience upon the constant comparison between myself and my older brother. The dynamics in my family had established my older brother as the bad boy … and me, as the good. At least, that’s how I saw it. I mean, it seemed he would go out of his way to get into trouble. I’m sure I could have followed in his footsteps, but I liked the attention I got in being referred to as a good boy. Throughout my childhood, I was often encouraged not to act like my brother.
I remember the day we learned that my brother had gotten his girlfriend pregnant. Later that evening, as I was in my room, my dad opened the door and simply said, “Don’t be stupid like your brother!” … to which I replied, “I won’t.” You know, I think that was the only sex-talk I got from either of my parents.
See, even though my heart was just as bent on rebelliousness as was my brother, I learned to camouflage most of it behind a wall of self-righteousness. Oh yeah, I was one of those who picked up on which things wouldn’t stick out too much. Did I ever get in trouble? Sure. But my dad didn’t have deal with me like he did with my brother. My dad brought it up a time or two in later years when the family got together. He claimed that because I was so sensitive that I would immediately cry when confronted … and for him, that was the end of it. LOL!
You mentioned this fear of rejection with respect to your losing any illusion of goodness before your family. I wonder if you might be able to pick up there and maybe give us a better idea of how that might look? What kind of rejection were you fearing?
Of course, at the time, I wouldn’t have understood any of it as I’m describing it now, but all I knew was that I was the better kid. My whole identity was built upon the accumulation of the comparisons made by my family, my friends, my relatives, my parents’ friends, my church, my school mates, my teachers, my acquaintances … as well as by myself. I mean, most everywhere I went, I was known as the little brother, so that those who respected me usually made mention of the fact that I was not like my older brother.
There were times when I got a little carried away, and I felt the shame come upon me. Sometimes it came as straightforward statements, other times it was just the accusing looks that said, “You’re acting like your brother!” I’m sure I imagined way more into people’s expressions than would have been there — especially those who wouldn’t have known what I had done — but the truth is that most of my shame came from my own guilt. I couldn’t allow my illusion of goodness to get lost without losing the person I thought I was. I suppose it could be said that a good portion of my life had been wrapped up in damage control. An illusion might be thought of as a lie, however, it is built upon the accumulation of many complex systems of lies. To hold an illusion together, you have to its basic premise … and then to ignore the constant contradictions by masterfully weaving them in somehow.
You also talked about your ‘feeling of inadequacy and weakness becoming “public knowledge” ’ and I wondered if you could get into a little bit of the nature of those fears as well as what kind of inadequacies you might be referring to? I want our listeners to get a good sense of what they too might be experiencing in this way through whatever you can share.
Those feelings of inadequacy came from things like my physical strength, my appearance, my abilities, my intelligence … or I should probably say a lack of those things. At home, I tried to prove that I was better in as many ways as possible, but outside the family I was a small fish in a big pond. I rarely tried the stuff at school that I did at home because I was sure I would be shown up in a heartbeat. Although I was a know-it-all at home, I kept a low profile otherwise. I avoided eye contact with teachers in hopes of not getting called upon for anything. I never asked questions because I knew it would expose my ignorance (I tried it once in 9th grade Algebra class, and it took a couple years before I tried it again). I didn’t share my opinions, but then I didn’t seem to have very many that were of consequence. After all, expressing an opinion meant that I might have to back it up, and that would reveal that I didn’t really know what I was talking about. I never got into a fight, other than at home with my brother, because I was sure I’d end up with a beating (I wasn’t a very strong kid). And then … the appearance factor. I was a cute little kid, but once I started getting pimples, everything changed. That’s one of those things you just can’t hide as well as others. I had a horrible case of acne that lasted for many years. I was so self-conscious about it that I rarely went on dates. I mean, if I was what I could see in the mirror … yeah, that was a scary proposition.
What do you think of the idea of some of these personal revelations relating to the conclusion Paul made in the letter to the Corinthians “:I will rather boast in my weakness then”.
I had heard that verse long before I could actually relate to it. Boasting in my weaknesses? Why the heck would I want to do that? LOL! I had learned all kinds of tricks that might help me avoid any premise of weakness. Sure, I wanted a personal relationship with Jesus, and yet for years I held onto many of the same old lies so that I could still rank myself according to the same illusion of obedience I grew up with.
So, here I was in my Christian life trying to make myself strong in Jesus, but that was just building upon the same illusions of my former life. I mean, Jesus didn’t spend his time trying to show himself strong, but just the opposite. The pinnacle of his weakness was revealed as he was hung upon the cross to die as a condemned man … and he never spoke a word in his own defense. Paul made his conclusion after having spent years of his life trying to prove his dedication to God. Those old habits didn’t just go away … he had to become convinced as to how the power of Christ is revealed not by his own strength, but by Christ’s strength. And no, it doesn’t make sense according to anything we have learned in this world. I have learned in the midst of much struggle that Christ’s strength is found in the very weakness and sense of inadequacy that I tried to avoid my whole life. I think most of our struggles with obedience come from the same place, a place of trying to build upon that former wisdom … a wisdom that comes from this world … a wisdom that cannot see beyond its own barriers or its own demise.
I know many Christians view the obedience referred to in Romans 2 as being hypothetical — as if it was put there to show how no one can be obedient enough to gain salvation. Now, I won’t deny that Paul did present a such a contrast, for he does tie it all together in Romans 3:10, where he made his conclusion that “both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.” However, Paul’s argument doesn’t make any kind of a suggestion regarding some kind of degrees of obedience, instead he refers to those who “do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.” What I’m saying is that we get ourselves caught up in the obedience trap because we keep using band-aids when only the new life of Christ and his death on the cross answers our confusion.
What do you mean by that?
What I mean is that Paul didn’t mention obedience just so he could present a blanket statement about how total obedience is an impossibility, but that by an obedience that actually took place, the lie of obedience would be destroyed. And the obedience he spoke of came from the most unexpected source, which is from those who did not even have the Law. Now, don’t miss this: Whereas the fleshly mind caused us to build illusions of obedience that need to be shattered, the religious mind would have us denounce the reality of the obedience to which we were called in the life-giving Spirit of Christ.
That seems to be a critical distinction. Maybe you could expand upon it a bit.
We often stumble over our own explanations and definitions because they’re built upon the same logic by which we created those former illusions. Of course, we’ll argue that our understanding comes from rightly dividing the word of truth, but then why does our understanding fit so well with much of man’s logic? We might look at what’s written in Romans 2 and miss what it’s saying because it’s that Jew-Gentile thing, but it was written to play off the same human arrogance that kicks in when an outsider is shown as more qualified than all the insiders. Consider how those in professional fields sneer at those they deem unqualified, especially in view of the fact that they don’t even know the rules.
Let’s take a look at how Paul played this whole thing off…
Romans 2:12-16 For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.
Now, many consider this passage as a mere reference to conscience. If so, why did he refer to the conscience as bearing witness of something else? I’m not saying Paul changed his mind about all being judged guilty … but what if he may have been referring to something else in speaking about Gentiles who do instinctively the things of the Law? I suggest that his mention here has everything to do with the absurd proposition that some who have been ruled out by every possible consideration are being held up as having kept what those under the Law couldn’t keep. Let’s jump to the end of Romans 2 where Paul writes about the uncircumcized man who keeps the “requirements of the Law” …
Romans 2:25-29 For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
Have you ever paid attention to how often Jesus spoke of and to Gentiles, especially in reference to their faith?
Sheep and Goats
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:15-23