Thoreau represents a segment of society that believes that “disobedience is the true foundation of liberty” and, consequently, “the obedient must be slaves.” And while that may be true wherever injustice controls a nation, it is obedience, not disobedience that provides maximum freedom for mankind. This is especially true in the spiritual life of the believer. It is when we obey God and his Word that we receive the greatest rewards. Thomas a Kempis wrote, “The more humble and obedient to God a man is, the more wise and at peace he will be in.”
Reviewing in our minds the earthly life of Jesus we watch one who lived a life of perfect obedience. As a boy of 12 he returned to Nazareth from an unusual experience with the rabbis in Jerusalem. Luke describes him as growing in wisdom and stature, gaining the approval of God and all who knew him (2:52). Obedience to parents and religious obligation marked his quiet growth to manhood. As we watch Jesus during his three years of public ministry we get the impression that he did everything exactly as it should be done. He was obedient to every valid expectation of him. At several places, where his actions seemed to depart from that standard, we find there was a responsibility of greater importance that called for his obedience. For example, when accused by the Pharisees of unlawfully picking grain on the Sabbath, Jesus responded saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). What his disciples did was wrong only in the eyes of the religious leaders. In God’s sight there was no disobedience.
The most moving example of Christ’s obedience was his willingness to go through those dark hours before his crucifixion, especially Gethsemane. There has never been an example of obedience to God that could rival the experience of Jesus when, in great agony of soul, he prayed, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Mark 14:36 NLT). From that point on in the narrative Jesus moves ahead with quiet submission to the will of his heavenly father. Scripture never records an act of obedience greater that Christ’s willing surrender to die as a ransom for sin.
But, as we mentioned earlier, obedience is not a stand-alone victory, but the pathway to the fullest joy. God never called us to do his will in order to restrict our pleasure. Every “law” he pronounced was that we, by obeying, might have a richer life. God is other-centered. He longs for us to have the fullest and richest life possible on our way to eternal joy. To accomplish this he lovingly tells us about the obstacles along the way. Obedience is maximal joy.