Five Selfish Reasons to Obey God
“For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19)
Should obedience to God be looked at from the standpoint of self-interest? Aren't we always told to “deny self” in order to take up the cross? And yet, even in denying self, on some level aren't we still acting based on self-interest, even in our desire to follow Christ?
Self-Interest Offers Good Reasons to Obey God
The truth is, God made us all as human beings with personal needs that dictate prioritizing at least some of our more critical ones. To be of help to others, basic personal needs must be met, to some degree. And, while there are certainly times when God calls us to “deny self,” He also created us with needs that we must attend to that, by nature, are self-focused. Let’s face it—we must have a self before we can deny self, and unless we attend to the needs of the self, we run the risk of losing self.
Obedience to God is what binds together the reality seen by human eyes, and God’s word. When we are obedient, no matter what we see with human eyes, we can still partake of God’s divine plan for our lives. But, when we are disobedient, we run the risk of allowing what we see with human eyes to determine how we will react or respond to any given situation.
Jesus proved it is possible to live in a body made of flesh and blood, and still not sin. By using Christ as our example, that means there is hope that we can be obedient to God.
It is by no means easy for us, but we can overcome temptations of the flesh. It's just that, the only way to do it, is through obedience. We can submit to the constraints and the restraints required by all the commandments and other clear warnings God provides for our lives, through Scripture. We can give God ultimate authority over our lives. But, in order to do that, we must first be willing to obey. And that's where self-interest can help.
Five "Selfish" Reasons to Obey God
Being obedient to God needs to be a personal decision. We should obey because we want to obey. When obedience is done grudgingly, because we feel we have to, we run the risk of cultivating a rebellious spirit. When that happens, being obedient will begin to feel like an unpleasant imposition, not like a pleasant choice.
As someone who worked as a college professor for nearly twenty years, I know that compliance with rules is achieved most effectively when you find a way to connect with people from the standpoint of immediate and even long-term “self-interest.” My students were always more interested in working on and completing assignments to the best of their abilities, after I had shown them what they could gain from doing so. I would explain what it would mean for them, to give an assignment all they had to give--not just in terms of a grade, but also for improving their skills and understanding of principles and practices involved in their future career.
By the same token, there are selfish reasons to obey God. Here are some of them.
1. Obey to obtain the best possible outcome for yourself, in any given situation.
Keeping God's commands is the only way to always ensure the possibility of "the best possible outcome" in any given situation. No matter what, keeping God's commands will not only not harm you, doing so will do good for your circumstances and for your immortal soul. You'll get more satisfaction, no matter what the outcome of any situation might be, knowing that you chose to obey God in your actions. God's will for you, always, is "good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2)
2. Obey to keep a clear conscience.
Nothing we do is ever hidden from God, even when our actions are hidden from mankind. Knowing that God sees all you and I do is a good reason to do what God says we should do, no matter what. As the apostle Paul pointed out in Romans 13:5, avoiding punishment is not the only reason to obey/do the right things, but also "for the sake of conscience." It pleases God for us to serve Him boldly and confidently, and that comes from having a "pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith." (1 Timothy 1:5)
3. Obey to prove your love for God, and to demonstrate your faith.
When it comes to loving God and having faith, talk is not only cheap, it is worthless. In the words of one old gospel hymn, "everybody talkin' bout heaven ain't going there." Obeying God's commandments is the best way to prove your love, and to demonstrate your faith in Him. If you love me, you will keep my commandments, says the Bible, in John 14:15.
God's word clearly instructs us that obedience to God's commands is the way to prove our love and to demonstrate our faith. It is written, in 1 John 2:3-6: "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked."
4. Obey to obtain God's protection.
Based on what the Holy Scriptures say, the rewards of obedience are many. It provides personalized blessings that far outshine anything that could be gained from disobedience. Among many other things,God's protection is one of the blessings of holy living.
God's commandments were given to us to keep us from doing things that, through sin and grief, will cause harm to us and others. Obedience won't guarantee that everything will always turn out the way you want them to. You will still face both good and bad in your life, and God will allow you to go through trials and testing. Still, in the toughest moments of your life, obedience will allow you to feel God's protection. No matter what comes, you will be safe, and you will find hope in His pure love for you. As the word of God says in Ecclesiastes 8:5, "Whoso keepeth the commandment shall feel no evil thing: and a wise man's heart discerneth both time and judgment."
5. Obey to avoid God's displeasure and discipline.
Think of the person you would be, or what your life might be like, if your parents had never disciplined you when you were growing up. Our parents used discipline out of their love for us, to teach us right from wrong. When we displease God through disobedience, He uses a loving kind of discipline as well.
God doesn't always prove His love by delivering us from the hardships of life. Sometimes he allows us to go through trials that serve as His discipline and as correction for disobedience, and not as condemnation. In Revelation 3:19, Jesus said, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent."
In practical terms this means that if someone says he/she is a Christian and lives in sin without any form of discipline, such a person is probably deceived, and is in need of correction for disobedience. Without it, the person's path can only lead to spiritual death and eventual separation from God.
At What Price, Obedience?
I've often wondered what would happen if everyone obeyed God, without question. What would be the universal consequences if every day, every one of us on planet earth forgot about religion and denominations, and just obeyed God's Ten Commandments?
If everyone could agree upon the merit of all of ten, demonstrating agreement through compliance, what do you think would be the end result of obedience to God's commandments? Do you think the Human Race would suddenly find itself living in a world resembling Heaven? Instead of one that, more and more every day, seems to be doing its best to resemble Hell?
Instead of worrying about tomorrow, would trust and faith enable us to simply trust God to care for us? Instead of lying, stealing, and cheating—doing whatever we feel is necessary to get what we need or want, would we all do the right and the righteous things, based on God’s instructions for how we should live? Instead of living in the flesh, in the moment, and giving in to sexual immorality and every fleshly whim and desire, would we choose instead to love God enough to use spiritual restraint? Would we choose to keep our minds, our bodies and our lives clean and respectful of God’s commandments, warnings, and judgments?
There is nothing God asks or commands us to do that is not for our good. Everything He asks or commands is for our benefit, not His. And while obedience to God allows us to use our lives on earth to glorify His name, His laws, rules, principles, and guidelines for our lives are all meant to save us from harm and loss. It is because of His love for us that He warns us of the consequences of disobedience.
When God says, "Thou shalt not," it is meant for our good. When He says “No," when what we want to hear is “Yes,“ it is not for His gratification, nor is it done simply to assert authority over us. It is for our salvation, not our detriment.
With disobedience comes a way of correction for us, and correction gives us a "second chance" to get it right. Not being corrected will lead, ultimately, to unhappiness or worse. When we make mistakes in life, or when we go through difficult times and circumstances, being obedient allows us to see that conquering our sin nature, rising above the desire to go against God, and overcoming temporary roadblocks to spiritual self-control enables us to live a more successful life that is focused on and centered around a loving, caring God.
© 2013 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD