A man has two sons. The first does whatever he is told. If the father tells him to water the ox he puts down his book, goes to the stockade where the ox is kept, fills a bucket with water and takes it to the ox. The other son is different; he too does whatever his father asks but that is not the end of the story. He spends time thinking about various ways in which he would be able to bring pleasure to his father. Just carrying out his chores is not enough. He asks himself, “How can I do other things to brighten his day. If this were a biblical parable the author would ask the question, “And which is the obedient son?”
In his first letter Peter refers to his readers as “obedient children’ and counsels them, “Do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance” (vs. 14). But will they? It is interesting in the Greek text Peter calls the “teknia hupakoes,” (children of obedience — that is, children in who the spirit of obedience dwelt). This indicates that Peter viewed them not simply as believers who did the right thing (son #1), but as those whose deepest desire was to bring pleasure to God (son #2). And this makes all the difference in the world.
One thing that the Sermon on the Mount teaches is that the ethics of the old order didn’t go far enough. “Don’t commit adultery” is replaced by “don’t look at a woman lustfully” (Matt 5:27) and “eye for eye” with “turn the other cheek” (Matt 5:39). God didn’t send his Son to make people act better, but to be better. He desires us to be “children in whom the spirit of obedience dwells.”
One other thing needs to be said about obedience. We normally think of it as carry out the expectations of another person or the social group in which we live. It is that which we owe for the privilege of living in an ordered world. The dictionary refers to obedience as “dutiful or submissive compliance.” But certainly that is not the kind of obedience God desires on the part of his children. His desire is that we be inwardly transformed by the presence of his Spirit so that now we long to live in a way that pleases him. That is not obedience in the dark sense of submission to a set of rules, but of living in conformity to His nature and this brings incredible joy both to him and to us, his “children of obedience."