Anxiety is tricky. It sneaks in unaware sometimes. It takes us by surprise. Some days it seems that no matter what we do, the battle continues on just as fierce, and we can’t find a stronghold to pull ourselves up.
Perhaps you have been with us through our entire series of Restoring Peace From Anxiety, yet you still feel anxious. You have followed and applied what God’s Word says about anxiety in Philippians 4:4-8, yet you still feel anxious each day. There is one more verse for you friend. “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9 NASB).
Today, we are discussing the importance of obedience in our battle with anxiety and how disobedience may be the cause to your worrisome heart.
The Anxiety of Disobedience
It’s a touchy subject, and one that our prideful hearts never want to acknowledge, but have you ever considered that your anxiety may stem from disobedience? That your lack of repentance has led to fear and stress? That perhaps your grief is caused by a sin you have refused to give up?
The Psalmist recognized this in himself on multiple occasions:
“When I kept silent about my sin, my body washed away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.” Psalm 32:3-4 NASB
“For I am ready to fall, and my sorrow is continually before me. For I confess my iniquity; I am full of anxiety because of my sin.” Psalm 38:17-18 NASB
Sin, when left to fester and unrepented of, can cause sorrow and anxiety in our hearts. Though it promises happiness, success, and peace, sin instead leaves us with grief. As a believer, it only makes sense that you would feel anxiety from your sin—you have a new heart that desires righteousness, a heart that loves God and his commands. When we choose sin over righteousness, we feel the consequences of it in our souls.
Furthermore, the sorrow produced by sin is good for us. It meant to lead us to repentance. Paul reminded the Corinthians of this when they became sorrowful after he pointed out their sins:
“For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while—I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.” 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 NASB
The Joy and Peace of Obedience
Obedience, on the other hand, produces joy and peace. Jesus said in Luke 11:28, “On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” The word blessed literally means happy, fortunate, or blissful. It’s more than a flippant emotion, but a deep-seated joy and happiness produced by God in our hearts. Jesus also said to his disciples, “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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:10-11 ESV).
Obedience doesn’t always lead to success, a better life, or a happier life. Sometimes our obedience leads to misery, as in the case of John the Baptist (John 14:1-12), Paul (2 Corinthians 11:21-29), Peter (John 21:18-19), and the prophets (Luke 11:47-51). Obedience doesn’t always go well for us by worldly standards. But the beauty of being a believer is that we have the God of peace with us in our painful obedience (Philippians 4:9). Although we may suffer for our obedience, we have peace and joy from God that goes beyond any comprehension and any suffering.
The Motive For Obedience
This peace and joy, though it is wonderful, is not our motive for our obedience. We obey because we have been saved and changed by grace. Throughout the Bible we are called to put on our new self or godly behaviour because of our new identity in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16-17; Ephesians 2:1-10; 4:1, 17-24; Colossians 3:1, 12). Being made as new creatures, we are called to a higher way. We have new hearts for obedience, new hearts that are to be conformed to Christ, and we are to live in that reality! Why? Because it brings glory to God.
This is a part of our second motive for obedience. We obey out of love for God. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 ESV). We love God because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). We love him because of the amazing grace he has poured onto us. We deserved none of it. We were rotten sinners who hated him, yet he opened our eyes to believe and receive the gospel. Jesus Christ bore our punishment, our wrath, so that we never will. He was then raised to life three days later, setting the pattern for us to raise to eternal life. This is why we love God, and that is why we obey him.
Before I was saved, I was a false convert whose motive for obedience was an anxious attempt to please God. I wanted to be loved by him, approved by him, and have eternal life, so I worked as hard as I could to be obedient on my own. I wanted to earn his love. I thought that my good works such as reading the Bible, going to church, teaching Sunday school, and praying would get me into heaven and make me loved by God. Whenever I sinned, I feared that God loved me a little bit less. I was filled with anxiety from this.
That is the wrong motive to have for obedience. If you obedience is to earn God’s approval or love, then you have the wrong gospel. If your obedience is fuelled by an anxious fear that God may not love you if you don’t do these things, you are not living by the gospel. God says we cannot earn anything, because even our good works are like dirty rags before him. Rather, our righteousness and approval by God can only be based in Christ, who lived the perfect righteous life for us, and bore our sins on the cross.
How to Live in Obedience
We love God and desire to obey him. We know that clinging to sins will not produce happiness but sorrow, and obedience will renew true joy. But how do we live in that obedience? How do we obey God? How do we know what God wants us to do, what choices are most pleasing to him? God has provided three resources to help believers obey him.
The Holy Spirit
God has given each believer his Holy Spirit to reside inside of them, enabling them to obey his commands.
“However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
“So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”Romans 8:9-14 NASB
God has given us Scripture so that we are equipped to obey him in any situation. Though the Bible is not like an encyclopedia where we can flip to each issue that life will present us and find a specific answer, it is sufficient to provide wisdom and principles so that we can do what is pleasing to God.
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Finally, God has given us the body of believers to spur us on in holiness, point out sin, and encourage us in difficulty.
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:23-25 NASB
A Call to Check Ourselves
As believers, we were created for obedience, to do good works. God elected us before the beginning of time to be obedient to his glory (Ephesians 2:10). It only makes sense that we would be robbed of joy and peace and filled with anxiety when we are disobedient. But we can restore that peace by confessing our sins to God and striving, in his power, to be obedient in all ways.
If you are still deep in the battle of anxiety, take some time to check your heart. “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
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