By Paige Hunt
In our last article we spoke about how obedience fits into the New Covenant – it is the effortless result of receiving the love of God, and abiding in the revelation of the finished work of Jesus Christ. It is natural to conclude, then, that just as obedience is the fruit of right believing, disobedience is caused by unbelief.
Sin and disobedience are not the problem, and God is not an angry judge waiting to punish and harm people who are living in sin and disobedience. Rather, God looks upon those in messy lifestyles of sin and disobedience with love and compassion, understanding that the root of these issues is unbelief, and people’s behaviour is merely a result of that. The deepest issue is not sin and disobedience, but unbelief in Christ, His love, and His finished work.
Did you hear that? Sin and disobedience are not the issue. God has already dealt with those things through the obedience of Christ (see Romans 5:19), and has ‘sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again.’ (Isaiah 54:9, NIV). Christ has already dealt with our sins on the cross, and he desires for all men to come to the knowledge of this through a full revelation of the New Covenant. Scripture declares that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4. ESV). Interesting to note is that the word for ‘desires’ used in this verse denotes not only a resolve to save, but a love and fondness for restoring, healing, and saving people. It is an emotional-filled word that speaks of the Father’s unconditional compassion and limitless grace.
This is our God, who Jesus revealed as ‘Father’. This is an intimate picture of life-transforming security, cherished relationship, and dependence. It is the relational Fatherhood of God that saves us from our disobedience, and not our own works and efforts, which in fact have the opposite effect and stir up more sin in our lives (see 1 Corinthians 15:56; Romans 3:20; Romans 7:8).
“The pattern of Jesus’ life on earth gives insight into God’s method of transformation. He knows that you, like Zacchaeus (see Luke 19), will not be changed by performance, but by His Presence. The power of His love, the joy of His Presence, and the peace coming from His acceptance are far more capable of changing the human heart than rebuke, censure, condemnation, and rejection…” – John Sheasby, ‘The Birthright’: ‘Out of the Servant’s Quarters into the Father’s House’, p.93, bracket insert mine.
With this image of God as the Father of love and grace in our mind, let’s take deeper look at how God deals with disobedience in the New Covenant:
“And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me;” – John 16:8-9 (NKJV)
What matters (as in the primary focus) is not your lifestyle, but your belief system, because what you believe will directly influence your behaviour. This is why Jesus in John 16:9 states that the Holy Spirit convicts non-Christians of unbelief. Another thing to note is that the word for convict used in this Scripture is the Greek word ‘elegcho’, which means ‘to convince’. God desires to convince non-Christians of their unbelief, so that they can come to believe and rest in the all-sufficiency of Jesus more and more, and find the successful, abundant life that God desires for them to have! (See Romans 2:4).
The solution to any and all areas of wrong behaviour, of toxic emotions, and of failure is the finished work of Jesus, and hearing of the beauty and love of God as displayed in Christ. Hearing the good news will always inspire faith in our hearts, transforming our beliefs and giving us the abundant life freely (Romans 10:17; John 10:10). Even as believers, we can sometimes believe, act, and live as if we were still in the domain of sin, but through the Good News message the Holy Spirit continually convinces us that in Christ, we have been rescued from the mess and mire of sinful, disobedient living (Colossians 1:12-13). Jesus has qualified us to live without sin and disobedience, to walk in step with His Spirit within us!
Another way that Jesus explained how God deals with those who are not producing healthy fruits (which many would view as disobedience) is in his metaphor of the vine and the branches in John 15:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” – John 15:1-5 (NIV)
Pruning and being cut off sounds pretty painful, and legalists love to use this verse to say that unless we are obedient, we will find ourselves under the punishment of God. However, Scripture says no such thing. In fact, the Greek term for cutting off these unfruitful branches is actually the word ‘airō’, which is better translated here as ‘lifts up’. This makes much more sense in the world of agriculture from which this imagery came. Paul Ellis explains this eloquently in his online article:
“Unfruitful branches are lifted out of the dirt and re-dressed so they can be nourished by the sun. Sticking with that metaphor, the reason why some Christians are barren is that they’re facedown in the dirt and not looking at the Son. They’re busy, distracted, stressed, and have wandered from their protos agape, their primary love.” – Paul Ellis, ‘What Happens to Unfruitful Branches?’ [escapetoreality.org]
For believers and non-believers alike, sinful living is simply the result of not knowing how much God loves us, or how good this Good News message really is. Furthermore, pruning in our English terminology means ‘to remove unwanted parts’. However, God is our Creator and our Father, and he loves all that he has made! (See Psalm 145:9). No matter how disobedient you are, you will never be an unwanted or undesired part. In Greek, the word for pruning used in John 15 is ‘kathairō’, more accurately translated in this verse as ‘cleansed’. This is why Jesus declares to his disciples, who have been regularly hearing his words, ‘you are already clean (katharos) because of the word I have spoken to you’.
So God’s cure for disobedience is heaping upon us grace after grace! (John 1:14; John 1:16). God’s cure for disobedience is to speak the Good News over our lives, elevating us with the message of Christ’s obedience on our behalf! As we soak up this message, we begin to understand how much God loves us, and we effortlessly manifest the fruits of God’s Spirit and walk in His obedience. (See also Romans 1:16; Romans 10:17).
“Think about the relationship between a vine and a branch. Can a branch produce fruit? No. If you need proof, just cut a branch off a vine or fruit tree, and watch awhile to see how much fruit is produced. However, if a branch is attached to the source with a flow of life, it can bear fruit. The branch is incapable of producing fruit on its own….” – Steve McVey, ’52 Lies Heard in Church Every Sunday’
The Gospel message reveals to us the righteousness that we have obtained in Christ, and effortlessly produces God’s faith in our lives.
“For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:17 (KJV)
Jesus does not want us to be self-focused – to live by faith in ourselves, where we are constantly under the mentality of ‘right vs. wrong’, or ‘disobedience vs. obedience’. Instead, as we remain in an atmosphere of grace, where we can hear and believe the Good News, that Good News continually convinces us to rest in Christ’s all-sufficiency, eradicating unbelief from our lives. Scripture calls this ‘the obedience of faith’ (Romans 1:5).
“Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith” – Romans 16:25-26 (NIV), emphasis mine.