A Case for Commandments

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments... They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them" - Jesus (John 14).

It seems to be in vogue these days to want to talk about discipleship in the context of long-term transformation. Basically, the logic presents itself this way: as the Holy Spirit works in our lives over a long period of time, we will be better abled to love/forgive/reach/extend grace to/ give financially to - God and others.

The problem: the above statement is absolutely true. The wholer we become, the holier we can become through the power of the Spirit.

And for that reason we need counseling and small groups and worship and accountability partners and devotionals and prying questions and sermons. We need to grow and become whole. Our capacity at self-deception knows few bounds and our ability to be functionally broken is near limitless. We need to be transformed, to grow, to be whole.

The real problem with the above logic is that we can't afford to wait for our own healing before we interact with and minister to others. This is where the commandment becomes important.

Now, I am well aware that the existing generations have a knee-jerk reaction to anything involving commands and obedience. I know because of my own resistance to the ideas, but, nevertheless, we are presented with a scripture full of commands given to us - the imperfect humans beings we are.

Commandments serve, precisely, to meet us in our brokenness. When we become Christians, the veil is lifted from our hearts and we see Christ. We are being transformed from one degree of glory into another. But all the while during that transformation process, we are still accountable for our actions, our responses, our conduct. We are still called to be like Christ - and by "called" I mean commanded. You see, it is the commandment that trumps our transformation and brokenness. No matter where we are in the process, we are still called to obedience. We are not bound to our transformation for the ability to carry out the commands of Christ. And while our transformation may make it easier to obey, it doesn't do the obeying for us. In the same manner, our broken- and sinfulness doesn't have the last word in obeying an expressed command of God. The command trumps our sinfulness by being grace to us by allowing us, through the power of the Spirit, to move away from brokenness and sinfulness. We do not have to wait for perfection or fear our imperfection to obey the commands - the commands are there to help free us from ourselves.

Secondly, there is little transformation without obedience to the commandments. While it may be true that greater wholeness leads to greater holiness, it is also true that greater obedience to the commandments allows for greater wholeness and holiness. We will progress very little in our discipleship if we wait to follow the commands of God until they are easy for us. Commands become easy by practice and obedience - not necessarily by time or education. One only needs to look at the members of their own congregation. There are some who have been in the Church but a short time and their hearts are soft and open towards others. And then there are some who have been in the Church their whole lives and have hearts of stone. Time does not make us more mature or wise, experience and practice do. Likewise, while theological education is invaluable to any Christian, it does not secure our faithfulness to God. There are many people educated beyond their wildest dreams about scripture, theology, the Church, and God, and, yet, they have no faith to speak of at all.

Thirdly, commandments are in place because those things commanded are hard. If they were easy and only required us to become more mature then it would stand to reason that maturing in the faith should receive more weight. But that isn't the case. Commandments are commanded of things that God wants and we won't do if left to our own devises and ways. They go against our inherent nature. Maturity may produce right action, but it most likely won't - at least not by itself. The mere fact that commandments are commanded should give us pause as to their weightiness and difficulty. Their existence alone speaks contrary to who we were and points quietly to who we should become

Finally, the commandments generally try to get the focus off of our selves and on to God and others. This new logic of giving our personal healing priority places the focus back on ourselves. As big a fan as I am of psychology and counseling, which has helped me immensely and I could not recommend it enough, this new logic seems to be a part of the over-psychologizing of Christian discipleship where the self is the primary concern. We are all drawn to the metaphor of each of us being a cup that is so full of God's love that it spills over to others, but what happens when we aren't feeling all that full? Do we not love? The apostles tell us that love always perseveres - does it? By over-focusing on our selves, our journey, our transformation, and our boundaries, we have fallen into the old traps of sin and brokenness - namely, to focus on the self at the exclusion of others. Moreover, we have missed the one obvious function of the commands, which is to help us focus on our selves less. I am now wondering if the focus on long-term discipleship and transformation has not been the greatest cause of long-term discipleship and transformation. Our ancestors reported great and overwhelming instances of God's grace that helped them overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles to our faith, and, yet, we imagine transformation taking decades.

For these reasons, and more, we should be leery of an ethic which over-emphasizes time and prioritizes the individual. Again, we all need individual healing and maturity - which requires time and somewhat of a prioritization of the individual. But it might be more worthwhile to focus on obeying the commandments of Christ. This just may be the greatest pathway to wholeness.

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." - Jesus (Matthew 28).


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