My dog will do anything for green beans, hot dogs or chocolate. Even together. I know. Chocolate is terrible for dogs, I know. Before you begin to think I’m the worst pet owner, I promise I do not serve my dog any of these things purposely.
Okay, maybe once or twice, but only when times are hard.
When she had a bellyache and wouldn’t eat anything for days, green beans did the trick. When she’d run away down the street, the only thing that would send her galloping back was my voice yelling “HOT DOG!” (Or maybe it was my classy demeanor. Who knows?) And the chocolate? The only thing the dog could hunt was a Reese’s peanut butter cup.
So, when I think of obedience, I think of my dog. She isn’t the most well-mannered, but girl knows how to get what she wants.
Puppy obedience school runs on a principle our human hearts know too well:
If ______, then _______.
If you sit, stay and roll over, then you’ll get a treat.
If you run, hydrate and eat well, then you’ll lose weight.
If you read, study and work hard, then you’ll ace the test.
As we read about the young men at the end of Daniel 1, the same seems to be happening. They have probably prayed, listened, kept faith and now they are blessed! But see, when I hear that, my heart fills in the blanks for me: If I pray harder, obey more and read the Bible, then I’ll be blessed. I begin to confuse blessing with a means to getting what I want, and I’m left feeling defeated.
Here’s the thing: our failure to perfectly follow Christ has already been defeated on the Cross. The connection between faith and works can become muddled and sticky, especially when we involve our own sinful, yet well-intentioned, minds to straighten it out. However, we can rest assured that, from God’s holy perspective, faith and works are never in opposition because His design for both is purposeful and good. Daniel and his friends didn’t follow a prescribed regimen for holiness. By God’s grace, they humbled themselves as His servants, so He would exalt them at the proper time (1 Peter 5:6).
When my dog isn’t running away for prepackaged meat treats, she spends the other half of her time perusing my closet. Other than maybe catching my contagious love for fashion, I don’t know where she learned this, because I absolutely did not teach it to her. Especially the part where she likes to welcome guests with a presentation of my dirty laundry.
Each day, she picks items of clothing, sinks her teeth gently into the fabric and parades it downstairs to her favorite spot. She sits in her scented souvenir pile each day, never hurting it, only lounging. Now that I think of it, this too, is my fault.
Because I leave my closet door cracked slightly, she can push it open with her nose.
Because I feed and love her, she wants to surround herself with my scent.
Because I allow this to happen, she can go straight to the reward, without an “if” or “then.”
The same is true for us.
Our obedience is always and only prefaced by God’s goodness and grace to us. The only “if, then” statement in the Bible we need to worry about is the one that was completed by Jesus—He turned our “if” into a “because”!
Because we are in Christ, we get to seek first the reward: the Kingdom of God!
Because we are in Christ, our obedience is no longer driven by lack but by taking joy in The Giver!
Because we are in Christ, His blessings are given with specific Kingdom purposes.
Because we hold this as truth, we get to obey him by fearing the Lord and worshipping Him faithfully with all of our hearts (1 Samuel 12:24).
Friends, whether in exile or eating chocolate, we can only obey because of God’s grace.
May our obedience flow from the reward we already have in Christ. Amen.