If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love (John 15:10, ESV).
In any great endeavor, there comes that point—after all the planning, all the build-up, all the cheerleading and dream-casting—when it’s just time to get to work. Time to do it.
And in reading Scripture, we see that Jesus isn’t shy about inserting this expectation into the Christian life. If we’re warm to the whole idea of finding joy in Him, walking closely with Him, living in the full blessing and privilege of relationship with Him, that’s great. But . . . let’s not forget the part about keeping His commandments. Obeying Him.
The air sort of leaks out of the balloon at that point for some people. Obedience is like the fine print they clicked past on their way to downloading the program. Obedience is like a dull, quiet Tuesday afternoon, way beyond the boisterous excitement of last weekend and even further from the distant hope of the next one.
Obedience? Ugh. That’s what Jesus says it takes to “abide in my love”?
Yes, except we’ve missed the boat on what’s truly meant by being obedient to Christ. We’ve turned it into a to-do list. We’ve turned obedience into a juggling act, where the energy we expend in keeping all these balls of sinlessness in the air is a trick we can only maintain for short bursts of time. And when one ball drops, our whole rhythm is shot. Soon we drop another. Then another. Bang, bang, bang. We can’t do this.
And yet that’s actually a good place to be—“can’t do this”—frustrated at what you can’t do, discouraged at how far short you fall in trying to live like Christ—because living like Him is not only difficult, it’s impossible. Jesus didn’t rise from the dead so He could watch you try to be more like Him. He rose from the dead so He could live His life through you. The grace that saves you is the same grace that sanctifies you. You are no more capable of taking one obedient step with Jesus as a believer than of saving yourself in the first place.
So here’s maybe the best news you’ll receive all day: the secret to abiding is obeying, but abiding is what leads to obeying. Obedience doesn’t come from willing yourself into practicing more Christlike behavior—promising how strong you’re going to be next time, declaring what you’re never going to let happen again. When Jesus commands your obedience, He is actually only commanding you to draw close to Him—to “abide” in Him—to remain at rest in Him, pushing all your burdens onto Him, leaning into your relationship with Him, drawing down new strength from Him.
The secret to abiding is obeying.
That’s where all your energy to obey is found.
“Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8)—a statement of spiritual fact that’s as true for the redeemed as for the unconverted. But “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Colossians 2:6).
Then you’ll be abiding.
And then you’ll be obeying.
No juggling skills required.
This post originally appeared on Dr. James MacDonald’s daily devotional Our Journey and was republished with permission.