How do I go from obeying God out of obligation to obeying Him out of love?

Derek Thomas & 2 others
2 Min Read

THOMAS: I think most Christians struggle with this question from the time they are first aware of their sonship to the time they reach the pearly gates. It is an issue of law and gospel: What is the motivation for obedience?

For me, it is necessary to preach the gospel to myself every day to get this issue right. I am not afraid of the word duty—there are commands and obligations on me as a Christian—but what is the motive of duty and obedience? The motive is that I am the Lord’s. I am forgiven. I have been adopted. I am in Christ. I am a new creation. It is a perennial temptation, however, for most Christians to turn obedience into a form of legalism.

GODFREY: Some of the traditional disciplines of the Christian life commended by our forebearers are helpful for this question. Specifically, the practice of daily Bible reading and prayer to keep us close to the Word of God and its influence.

During the grand old days of the Dutch Reformed world, the Bible was read after every meal, accompanied by prayer. This could descend into legalism if you were not careful. For example, there was a discipline to make sure every child at the table listened to every word that was read. The parents might slap the table, look at the child, and say, “Last word,” in which case the child had better know the last word that was read. Whether slapping the table helped children develop a love for the Word of God may be debatable, but it is true that if the Word of God is not present with us, then love for God is less likely to be developed. In that regard, I commend the Psalms as an example of hearts engaged with God.

NICHOLS: We are talking about a duty versus delight issue. People make a mistake in thinking, “If I do the duty without the delight, then I am being insincere or inauthentic.” Christians have an obligation to duty, and we need to commit to the duty, then the delight will follow. Jonathan Edwards used the word relish to describe his delight in God. John Calvin spoke of redeemed people as having a sense of the sweetness of God, which we also see in the Psalms.

I would also throw gratitude into the mix. Duty flows out of gratitude for what God has done for us, but the delight is not always there. We need to put ourselves under the Word in prayer and attend church. Then, the delight will come.

This is a transcript of Derek Thomas’, W. Robert Godfrey’s, and Stephen Nichols’ answers given during our Blessed in Christ: Detroit 2021 Conference and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email or message us on Facebook or Twitter.