One of our members asked the following:
I’m trying to get my mind around God’s blessings and our obedience. Is God’s blessing contingent on our obedience? Does He bless us because of our obedience? It seems some people believe that God is expected to come through for them if they are obedient.
Can you clarify?
A Humorous Illustration
A tele-evangelist said that if I give him $100 in seed money, then God will give me $1,000. I called his hotline and asked him to give me $1,000 in seed money and if he did then God would give him $10,000.
The TV evangelist illustration points to some of the confusion and absurdities in our Christian culture regarding obedience and blessings.
My member friend was essentially asking if I could shed some light on this confusion.
I’ll try to do this by elaborating on these four essential points:
(1) Does your obedience gain favor from God? (2) What is obedience? (3) What is a blessing? (4) What is your motive for being blessed?
Does Your Obedience Gain Favor from God?
It is important that we separate our obedience from the obedience of Christ. There is a place for our obedience and there is a place for Christ’s obedience. How we view both of them is the difference between being a Christian or not.
We are justified before God because of the obedience of Christ–not our own obedience. To be justified is to be declared not guilty before God. Justification is what happens when we are born again. The only way you can become a Christian is through the obedience of Christ. Our best works are filthy before God Almighty.
Our obedience does not merit any favor with God as though we can become more righteous by doing good. That is not the purpose and point of our obedience. Some Christians believe that if they do good, they can earn more of God’s favor. This is problematic on many levels.
While there is a place for obedience, it is not in how we think or work in order to be positionally right before God. The only way we can be righteous before God is to be clothed in a righteousness that is not our own.
This type of righteousness is called the alien righteousness of Christ. Jesus + Nothing = Everything. Our righteousness or our good deeds do not earn brownie points with God. You get brownie points by accepting the works of the Son.
An example of how we can get messed up in our thinking regarding obedience = blessings is if we believe that by doing good, we should have a good day. If that is how we think, then we could easily be tempted to believe that the bad things that happen to us is because of some sin (disobedience) in our lives. This was the mistake of Job’s counselors.
God will rain His blessing down on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). Whether you receive God’s blessing is not so much about you being good as much as it is about the hidden, mysterious, wisdom of God who deems to bless you.
This is hugely important. How you think about this will affect how you think about guilt, sin, legalism, obedience, blessings, and your relationship with God. There are too many Christians who are stuck in a performance-driven, perfectionistic way of living because they believe God’s blessing is contingent on their behavior.
Whenever you smuggle your performance inside your justification, thinking that your performance matters, then you are preaching another gospel. This is not the gospel of grace. It is heresy.
What Is Obedience?
Obedience and blessings are understood within the framework of sanctification, not justification. After a person is saved by the miraculous, unmerited favor of God, he begins to live a life of obedience. He can do this because he is empowered to do so.
Prior to being saved, he could not obey God in all ways because there was no empowering grace to do so. But now he can. He can live a life of obedience. It is important to understand that the obedience that he musters up is not according to his own strength, but Christ working through him.
This does not mean that he is being passively acted upon as though he has no responsibility to obey, but he is being called to actively live out his obedience as Christ works through him. It’s a cooperative effort. Sadly this is often missed, which sets us up to misunderstand the idea of blessings.
If you think that your obedience comes from your effort alone, then you could easily expect God to bless you based on and because of what you did. The logic would go like this: It’s all about me–I obey and God’s blesses my effort. The Bible teaches that it is not your obedience alone. Your obedience is God working through you.
It is all of grace from beginning to end. And because your obedience is not you exclusively working alone, but you cooperating with God by His grace, then your attitude about blessings is also biblically adjusted.
I used to think like what my friend was suggesting above: I have been obedient, therefore God will bless me accordingly. Do you see how this could mess you up? It messed me up. I lived a life of obedience and I expected God to come through for me. This set me up for disappointment.
God had to break into my thinking and reorient how I thought about obedience and blessings. The first thing He did was remind me that my obedience was a cooperative effort, not me working alone.
What Is a Blessing?
The second thing He taught me was that I had a whacked view of what a blessing was. For example, the gospel is a blessing. Let me restate that: the death of Christ is the greatest blessing known to man. Let me say it another way: it was the will of the Lord to crush His Son (Isaiah 53:10).
I’m sure you rejoice in what I just said, but I wonder if you are connecting the dots. I wonder if you’re making personal application to your life. What if you were not the recipient of the blessing like we are with the gospel, but the means by which others receive the blessing–the means is the crushing of Christ?
We are too easily tempted to have a one-sided or skewed view of what a blessing is. The tele-evangelist in the illustration would teach this skewed view. He sees it from one side: the bounty you receive.
There is always a giver and a receiver of a blessing. A blessing is like a coin: there are two sides–the two make the one. It’s only a blessing when both sides are operational. You can’t have a blessing without someone giving the blessing. We tend to think about the receiving part of a blessing and when we do, we diminish the goodness of God, the power of God, and the grace of God.
God gave Paul a major blessing that he was not initially pleased with. We know it as the “thorn in the flesh.” That was a blessing from God. How do we know this? Because Paul told us it was a blessing:
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Once Paul grasped the double-sided nature of a blessing, he became joyful. He was excited. Though I am not going to make this point now, I want you to see why Paul was so excited about God blessing him the way He did.
Paul was excited because he understood the purpose of blessings. Blessings are primarily for others, not for ourselves. Paul was stoked because he knew his thorn would enable him to be a greater blessing to others. This is the purpose of blessings.
We can become so selfish in how we think about God and His blessings that we miss out on so much. Paul experienced an unusual kind of God’s goodness while being exposed to an incredible measure of God’s grace and power. He was blessed through the means of a thorn. The thorn was the blessing that enabled him to be a greater blessing to others
Without the thorn, there would not have been a blessing. Blessings can come in ways we could never conceive. Sometimes it is through poverty that another person is blessed with wealth.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. – 2 Corinthians 8:9
What Is Your Motive for Being Blessed?
Thus far I have addressed:
- Our obedience does not give us favor with God. Our favor with God comes through our acceptance of the obedience of Christ. This is a justification view of obedience.
- Even our best obedience is a cooperative effort. It is never us alone, doing good things. This is a sanctification view of obedience.
- Blessings are not always winning the lottery. Sometimes the best way God can bless us is to give us a thorn in the flesh. The blessing of the thorn is God seeking to save us from ourselves, as he did with Paul.
Now I want to address the motive for being blessed. The real question should not be, “Is there a blessing for me when I do good?” If that is the question we are asking, then we’re heading into the weeds. This is how you set yourself up for disappointment.
For example, you do good and God does not come through. You’re disappointed. If your obedience is motivated by what you can get out of it, then you have a narrow view of blessing, also known as a craving for personal prosperity. This kind of thinking is a trap.
The better question to ask is “Why do you want to be blessed?” Or, “What is your motive for obedience?” Our motive for blessing and our motive for obedience should be the same.
So, how about it: Why do you do good? Why do you obey?
- Do you do good to have a better standing before God? (Wrong)
- Do you do good to received God’s blessing for personal gain or prosperity? (Wrong)
- Do you do good in order to reap God’s blessings, regardless of how He chooses to “bless” you, so you can be a blessing to others? (Right)
The Word of Faith movement totally misses this. They sow seed money so they can get something in return. It is all about doing good to receive good. They get money. You get money. Everybody gets money. For them it is not about doing good, to receive good, in order to bless others.
The gospel teaches us that Christ did good to bless others. He went about doing good (Acts 10:38). His whole life was anti-self-centered. He was always about His Father and others. The gospel is always other-centered.
The two greatest commandments are other-centered, i.e. love God and love others (Matthew 22:36-40). Christ’s motive for obedience and our motive for obedience should be the same–to be blessed, enabled, and empowered to serve others rather than ourselves (Mark 10:45).
This kind of attitude is how you can endure hardships and personal suffering. You are illuminated by the Spirit of God, knowing that God is working His good blessings into your life so you will be better equipped to bless others. This is the point of Romans 8:28–all things work together for good.
However, if you’re sitting back with a one-sided view of blessing–God is going to lay some cash on me–then your theology is twisted and it won’t be long before you become bitter and possibly checkout of religion altogether.
Here are some other-centered reasons to be obedient. As you read through this list, note how your motive for obedience is all about others:
- You obey because you want to honor God.
- You obey because it is one way you can express gratitude to God.
- You obey because you want to model Christ before others.
- You obey because it is right.
- You obey to be blessed, so you can spread that blessing to others.
Pray for God’s Blessing
All of these motives for obedience have a distinct, humble, other-centered, expression to them. It’s always about others and never about us. Now let’s do a heart check. I want to do this by drawing your attention to the last bullet point: I obey because I want to be blessed. Is that wrong?
No, not necessarily. There is a law of sowing and reaping. God can pour out all kinds of wonderful blessings on His obedient children. This is not a statement that we should shy away from. The Word of Faith movement does not shy away from it.
But here is the big difference between what the Bible teaches and what they teach: though you obey, in part, in order to receive a blessing, your purpose in desiring that blessing is so you can give it to others and not hoard it for yourself.
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. – 2 Corinthians 9:10
Paul said that God will bless the sower if the sower is planning on a big harvest. God will pour out blessings on you if your intent is not to wallow in it yourself. If you are thinking about the harvest and can’t wait to bless others with what you have been given, then expect God’s blessing.
There is nothing wrong with a desire to be blessed if along with that desire you also can’t wait to bless others with the blessing which you have been blessed with. God supplies seed (blessings) to those who want to sow that seed for a great harvest. He does not supply blessings so you can be selfishly consumed by it.