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“One act of obedience is better than one hundred sermons”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Quotes

BaptistWay: 14 Habits of Highly Successful Disciples: Obedience

• The BaptistWay lesson for July 13 focuses on 1 Samuel 15:1-35.

This week’s text is difficult for many reasons, the greatest perhaps being the task Saul is given from God—to completely wipe out the Amalekites. Part of me never will be comfortable with this.

You’ve likely heard the reasons used to soften its offense to our sensibilities: 1) God was using violent means within a violent culture; 2) God was taking measures to preserve his people from impurity; 3) God was doing what was necessary, but did not necessarily take joy in it. While these points are true and worth stating, they do not detract from God explicitly commanding Saul to commit genocide. In spite of his long-term plan, the evil of the people or his particular disposition, I will never be 100 percent at ease with this section in the Bible.

That it makes most people uncomfortable demonstrates the potential it has to teach some important things about obedience. As we draw lessons from it, we must be careful of making an exact, one-to-one comparison between our situation and Saul’s. Saul’s situation was unique, so unique it is unlikely anyone will find himself or herself in a similar one.

We must not use this text to justify breaking the law or engaging in immoral activity simply because “God told us to do it.” Rather, we must use it as a general guide to help understand how obedience functions under God’s authority.

Be sure of God’s command

For Saul, there was no question what God was commanding him to do. He received God’s message from Samuel, who was considered a prophet and God’s mouthpiece (vv. 1-3). While prophecy is mentioned as a spiritual gift in the New Testament, there is no position today that carries the weight and authority as the one Samuel had as both a prophet and an adviser to the king. During this period, this was God’s primary way of speaking to people and unveiling his will. Considering this, it is astounding Saul even considered disobedience.

On the other hand, Saul was a person with his own wishes, will and desires. That is something to which we certainly can relate. While God does not speak through anointed prophets in the same way he did in Saul’s day, we all have felt the conflict that comes with discerning the difference between obeying God and our own desires. In his biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life, Eric Metaxes quotes a portion of Bonhoeffer’s diary from 1928 that demonstrates the tension he experienced between obedience and his own desires: “I myself find the way such a decision comes about to be problematic.

One thing is clear to me, however, that one personally—that is, consciously—has very little control over the ultimate yes or no, but rather that time decides everything. Maybe not with everybody, but in any event with me. Recently, I have noticed again and again that all the decisions I had to make were not really my own decisions.”

For the rest of the article…

“One act of obedience is better than one hundred sermons.” 

Only the obedient believe. If we are to believe, we must obey a concrete command. Without this preliminary step of obedience, our faith will only be pious humbug, and lead us to the grace which is not costly. Everything depends on the first step. It has a unique quality of its own. The first step of obedience makes Peter leave his nets, and later gets out of the ship; it calls upon the young man to leave his riches. Only this new existence, created through obedience, can make possible faith possible. 

Dietrich BonhoefferThe Cost of Discipleship1961 edition, 70.

When we are called to follow Christ, we are summoned to an exclusive attachment to his person. The grace of his call bursts all the bonds of legalism. It is a gracious call, a gracious commandment. It transcends the difference between the law and the gospel. Christ call, the disciple follows: that is grace and commandment in one. “I will walk at liberty, for I seek thy commandments” (Psalm 119.45). 

Dietrich BonhoefferThe Cost of Discipleship1961 edition, 63.

But when once Christ had called him, Peter had no alternative he must leave the ship and come to Him. In the end, the first step of obedience proves to be an act of faith in the word of Christ. But we should completely misunderstand the nature of grace if we were to suppose that there was no need to take the first-step, because faith was already there. Against that, we must boldly assert that the step of obedience must be taken before faith can be possible. Unless he obeys, a man cannot believe.

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1905-1945), The Cost of Discipleship

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