The Tragedy of Sparing Others from Obedience
Pastors, we do no one any favors by sparing them obedience. As a pastor of a young church, I’m often tempted to soften the call to obedience and excuse it by “playing the long game.” Now don’t get me wrong: the long game is necessary, and conformity to Christ requires pastors to demonstrate patience and confidence in the sovereignty of God. Yet this doesn’t permit a lowering of the standard.
People default to what’s convenient; that’s why it’s hard to tell someone they cannot cohabitate. People protect their sense of security; that’s why it’s hard to tell someone to give generously and regularly. People desperately want to belong; that’s why it’s hard to tell someone they can’t be a church member unless they’ve been baptized.
The list goes on and on. Simply put, the Bible makes difficult, counter-cultural demands. It poses to us a question: do we believe obedience offers our people something better than the things we’re asking them to forsake? As pastors, we face this question in every sermon and every counseling session. Will we unashamedly call our people to obedience, even when—especially when—it comes with a high cost?
A dear friend of mine recently came to faith. Shortly after his conversion, he found himself in a crunch. He had a great job lined up, but he couldn’t start until a few details were ironed out. So, in the meantime, he figured he’d go back to his old line of work and make some money. After all, he needed this money. He’d been out of work for five months. His savings were gone and he needed cash.
So he returned to his old gig. But there was a problem: this old gig required him to sin. So his conscience was pricked. After being told he shouldn’t return to his old job, he called me while driving back on his first day. Here’s what he said: “Everything in me is telling me to turn this car around. Should I?”
I confess. Here’s roughly how my thought process went: Is this really a big deal? It’s temporary. And maybe he’ll be able to avoid the ethically grey areas of this job. God, he’s so new to the faith. Is this too much to ask right now?
By God’s grace, my insecurity and fear of man lost out to God’s truth. I felt as though God was telling me, “Who are you to withhold from this man all that I have for him on the other side of obedience?”
WHAT’S AT STAKE
In these moments, it’s helpful to remember what’s at stake:
- Sanctification: All things are for our good and for God’s purpose, namely, our conformity to Christ (Rom. 8:28–29).
- Love: God loves us so much that he did not spare his own Son (Rom. 8:32). God disciplines those he loves (Heb. 12:5). Hard obedience grants us the reality of God’s love for us.
- Joy: Happiness is cheap. Give me joy, even it costs me everything (Matt. 13:44). If hard obedience is what it takes to have deep joy, so be it.
- Testimony: When someone makes a decision to obey Jesus, people notice. Obedience gives believers a platform to testify to the faithfulness, worth, and sufficiency of Christ (1 Pet. 2:12).
- Glory: If we shelter someone from obedience, we aren’t only stunting their growth but we attempting to rob God of his glory (Is. 42:8).
- Church: Can you imagine how much this will edify other brothers and sisters in Christ once word of this new believer’s obedience gets out? Don’t protect someone from obedience. It minimizes the church’s capacity to marvel in God’s power (Heb. 10:24–25).
- Provision: I kept praying “God please provide a job for this brother—miraculously, seamlessly. I don’t know what he’ll do if you don’t.” But what if all he gets is Jesus (Matt. 9:20-21)? That alone would be worth it.
And so I replied and told this brother to obey what the Holy Spirit had prompted him to do. I’m glad I did—and so is he. A few minutes later, he texted me: “I turned around and let them know I can’t accept the position. That is insane.” I replied, “How do you feel?” He wrote back: “I feel joy.”
We’re not doing anyone any favors by sparing them obedience, even when it’s hard, even when it feels “insane.” We’re only withholding from them everything on the other side.