There’s something inherently infantilizing about the word “obedience,” isn’t there? We endure its need as kids, and as we get older, we do our best to outgrow it. Of course, there are times where it is necessary in our careers and so forth. But speaking in broad psychological terms, the word “obedience” seems to incite our inner rebelliousness.

As a follower of Jesus, the concept has a deeper meaning to me. I believe in obedience to the word of scripture, and to what I might personally receive in prayer. I believe in those things for myself, but as you all know, I don’t make such assumptions for you. However, I do believe that there is a broader interpretation of the concept from which we can all benefit.

Consider that all of us must practice daily obedience to our own conscience, to our own beliefs in right and wrong, and even to something as simple as our own practical needs. If you’ve made a game-plan for your day, or for the next few months of your career, for example, then in order to get any real benefit, you will have to practice obedience to that plan. Now, you may call this a needless, hair-splitting redefinition of the word “discipline,” and be mostly correct. Still, something interesting happens when you apply this concept to the practice of morality, or what you might call your conscience.

When it comes to how we relate to others—which is what morality is overwhelmingly concerned with—obedience becomes a much more useful and appropriate term, precisely because it invokes a relational aspect. One exerts discipline for their own plans, for reasons of their own. But obedience requires a relationship. Not only that, it requires that most elusive and essential of virtues: humility.

Think back to when you were a child, and no doubt you will recall instances where you pushed the rules to see what you could get away with. Most of us do the same thing every day in our adult lives. We do this for two reasons: to get as much for ourselves as possible (pleasure, freedom, fun, money, etc.), and as an attempt to express something about ourselves—typically independence.

Almost nobody wants to spend their days only obeying anything. The idea strikes us as suffocating and unbearably boring. But I think this comes from an incomplete understanding of what the state of obedience should be. I’m speaking frankly here as a follower of Jesus, as one who believes in a higher power to which we owe our obedience. But I have become increasingly aware in the past months of the importance of truth as a companion virtue to things like love and obedience.

In other words, the simple fact of obedience to a set of laws or morals is only a manifestation of something deeper: an ongoing quest to become the sort of person to which they point. As with discipline, obedience is both an expression of commitment and a necessary step toward an end.  But the end, in this case, is about our deepest identity.

Have a blessed, wonderful day!

Dr. Alex Loyd


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