Obedience without Conviction

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The concept of obedience is very familiar to us. We were all supposed to have been taught this at a young age. But yet we need reminders and succeeding generations will keep arising that need these concepts taught and reinforced.
We start with the basics—what is obedience? It is compliance with an order, request, law; or submission to another’s authority. But the doctrine of obedience or submission is under assault today. Disobedience is one of Satan’s lethal devices against the faithful. It is causing much havoc in society and homes are floundering and disintegrating, resulting in much trouble and heartache.
Obedience is also the lynchpin of Bible-believing Christians. You take it out, and the whole foundation of our Christian life crumbles. Any human society, institution, committee, or organization is similarly structured. Remove obedience from a society and you are left with chaos and anarchy. But the answer is not robotic obedience either. As the title suggests, it is possible to obey mechanically without conviction driving it – but is obedience by itself what we want?
Another question to ask; what is conviction? Conviction is a strong persuasion or belief, that is not easily changed.
So obedience without conviction is complying with an order, request, or law without a strong belief that it is necessary. And this does not specifically apply to just one or two areas in our lives but all facets - church life, home life, personal life, and public life. In other words, to obey even when I don’t “feel” like it, or it doesn’t feel right. Obedience without conviction is a Biblical concept that needs to be taught and lived.
Sadly, we find in our conservative Mennonite Churches the thinking that I do not need to obey this or that rule because I do not have a conviction for it. This is sometimes expressed in our churches and homes when we tend to allow some disobedience until the individual gets a vision and a zeal for following Christ in everyday life. We need to give grace and time for growth but, is this not just plain old disobedience? One of the reasons this distinction is becoming misunderstood is the prevalence of the “man is basically good” doctrine. So, if I am basically, usually, right/good; why do I need to obey someone else’s conviction?
There is a philosophical term for obedience without conviction: heteronomous obedience. It implies the laying down of my own will and the acceptance of a foreign will or judgment in place of my own. What is the basis for heteronomous obedience? Why do we promote obedience without conviction? Or why obey an external force? In the life of the Christian, this external force is God. The simple answer is we obey God because of our love for Him and His Word. We know that at times He will ask things of us that do not make sense.
An example of this would be Abraham in Genesis 22 where God asked Abraham to offer up his only son Isaac. Did Abraham have the conviction that his son needed to die? Of course not, but he still obeyed because of his love for God.
We could ask another question: what is obedience with conviction? This is not an issue because it is obedience by default. Obedience to my own reason or conviction (autonomous obedience) is not an act of submission but of affirmation. In other words, if you firmly believe something you will do it. We exercise this daily. Stopping at a stop sign is not just habit or obeying the law, but is mostly because we have the conviction that we could get hit!
Obedience without conviction strikes at the core of our Christian experience because we believe in a faith that produces results/works. If our faith does not produce obedience, it is dead. Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone (Jas 2:17).
So why do we struggle with heteronomous obedience?
We tend to be feeling oriented. We like to do things that feel right. True Biblical obedience/submission will not always feel quite right. This is the conflict that Paul graphically portrays in Romans 7.
We have independence issues! We want to take care of our own issues our way! The more independent-minded we are, the more this concept is a struggle. This clashes with Jesus’ words, Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me (John 14:6).
Are we trying to live with a dual allegiance? Two masters at the helm of our life? Jesus said we cannot serve God and mammon. No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon (Matt 6:24). This concept is on display when we have members that give a solid personal testimony of Jesus Christ, but their level of compliance to written standards gives evidence to something else. This person seemingly does want both ways at once, but one will win out.
Am I a backslider in heart? The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways (Pro 14:14). A backslider is weary of the battle; weary of the conflict. He started right but is sliding back to where he started.
An unconverted heart says my way is the only way. I do not want God’s way. I have no interest in obedience to an external force. I want to do what feels good to me. A rebellious life stems from an unconverted disobedient heart.
Failure to teach obedience in the home. Home is where a child learns that boundaries and structure put in place by parents must be obeyed, or there are consequences. A young child of 2-3 years old does not need, or cannot have conviction about right and wrong. What is right and what is wrong is often taught without much explanation. Of course, older children and especially teens need much explanation which builds conviction, especially if they see it lived out in the lives of the parents. But even with older teens, there are times when obedience needs to be enforced even if they do not have a personal conviction for it. If this does not happen, they will struggle, and parents will struggle, with obedience to things and situations that call for submission against their will.
The Bible records many examples of obedience without conviction. Hebrews 11 is known as the faith chapter. It should also be known as the obedience chapter. If you take obedience out and leave faith in – you have nothing left.
Noah: Genesis 6-7, and: By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith (Heb 11:7).
Abraham: By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. Heb 11:8 Also, the account already noted above in Genesis 22, gives us another example in Abraham’s life of obedience without conviction.
Naaman: II Kings 5:10-15 This is the account of Naaman receiving healing because of simple obedience. Did he have the conviction that the muddy Jordan would be instrumental in healing him? No. Sometimes we tell ourselves - it has to be more complicated than just obeying. To just obey is too simple; too much beneath us. Simple obedience here (without conviction) brought healing to a deadly disease; just as simple obedience by faith to God’s commands and opposition to our self will brings salvation.
Jesus Christ: This is difficult. Did Jesus struggle with obedience? Possibly not in exactly the same way we do, and yet we know that he was tempted in all points as we are. We have the account of his struggle in Matthew 26:39, And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. Several other passages in the New Testament seem to confirm this struggle. Jesus chose obedience in spite of the struggle, but yet we know that He did also have the conviction that He was doing the Father’s will. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Php 2:8) Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered (Heb 5:8).
How then should the truly obedient live? We live by faith, not by sight. One of the fallacies of modern Christianity is if I totally commit and immerse myself in the love of Christ, I do not need to make conscious choices to obey the Word of God because it becomes automatic. Jesus said in Mathew 7:24; Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock. Also, 1 John 2:3, And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. Our assurance of salvation is wrapped up in this thought of obedience without conviction. The following are some areas where we may need some brushing up.
We need to persevere in teaching and expecting obedience in our homes. When children are taught to obey even when they do not have the conviction or understanding, in later years, conviction should be established. Our parents have told us: you may not understand now, but someday you will. Our goal is to be obedient with conviction, but to get there we must at times exercise obedience without conviction.
Obedience within the brotherhood. Am I willing to submit and heteronomously obey the voice of my brethren when it interferes with my personal conviction? Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble (1Pe 5:5). Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren (1Jo 3:16).
Call disobedience what it is – sin. Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents... Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them (Rom 1:30,32). For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy (2Ti 3:2) (signs of the end times- perilous times shall come).
Be respectful. Respect and obedience go hand in hand. It is hard to have one without the other. Authority figures who demand obedience but are not respectful and considerate when exercising authority lose credibility and influence. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another (Rom 12:10).
It is a requirement to have peace with God and to experience eternity with Him. Romans 6:16-23. We are either servants of sin or of righteousness. In our lives, we daily choose who we will obey by almost seemingly inconsequential “little” decisions. We will often face decisions to obey the voice of the Spirit or the voices of sinful pleasure, carnality, acculturation, affluence, and self-righteousness. Sometimes we will not have the inner conviction that what we should choose to obey is what we really want to obey. May God give us the courage to always obey His will whether it feels right or not. There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death (Pro 16:25). Oh, the sorrow and heartache of those who never learned obedience and realized too late that God required it! Oh, the joy to hear the words that the obedient will hear – enter thou into the joy of thy Lord!