It is true that God deserves our obedience simply because of who he is. He is the Potter; we are the clay. He is the King; we are his subjects. A creature should comply with his creator’s every command. A servant should submit to his master with no questions asked. But even so, our Creator, King, and Master has not designed us to be emotionless machines. He does not desire forced submission or robotic obedience. He wants us to obey him willingly and gladly—from the heart! He wants us to delight in his commands (Psalm 119:47) and rejoice to do his will (Psalm 119:14). And what is it that produces this kind of joyful, electric obedience in our lives?
God is pleased with obedience that is compelled by love for him. But what does it mean—or, what does it feel like—to obey God from love? By some people’s definition of love, it would look like impassive, desireless submission. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard it said, “Love is not a feeling; it is commitment and sacrifice!” I agree that it is commitment and sacrifice. And yes, as not-yet-perfect human beings, there are many times we perform acts of love without feeling much emotional satisfaction in the act. However, I would argue that love, in its fullest and most perfect form, always “feels.” It always rejoices. It always delights. Why? Because there are desires bound up in love that are deeply satisfied when we please the one whom we love!
Though it may sound a bit counterintuitive, obeying God from love entails pursuing and gratifying our own self-interests.
The reason I say this may sound counterintuitive is because many people equate self-interest with selfishness—a nasty, loveless thing. But this is an incorrect equation. We don’t love what we don’t want. If we truly love something or someone, we intensely desire more of that thing or person. Therefore, genuine love for God necessitates the presence of holy self-interests. I use the qualifier “holy” because there are obviously types of self-interests that are sinful (or selfish) in nature. If we give money to our church because we want God to restore our gift to us tenfold, our “obedience” is fueled by a sinful self-interest. If we read the Bible every day because we want God to bless us with health, wealth, and prosperity, our “obedience” is motivated by selfish desires. It is wicked to do what God says just because we want to get some earthly reward from him to spend on our passions.
However, it is a good—no, a loving thing when our self-interests are absolutely God-centered. Wanting to experience more of God’s presence and power in our lives is a God-centered self-interest. Longing to be full of his joy is a God-centered self-interest. Desiring to see others know and make much of him is a God-centered self-interest. These kinds of self-interests demonstrate God’s immeasurable worth to us and align perfectly with his own interests! He wants to give us more of his presence and power. He longs to fill us with his joy. He desires to be known and made much of by all peoples.
Obedience that pleases God is that which is birthed out of love for God. And love for God is pregnant with God-centered self-interests. If we think that the loving, sacrificial obedience to which the Gospel calls us requires us to please God without also pleasing ourselves, we are dead wrong. So far as the self-interests that motivate us to obey are God-centered, God is tremendously satisfied with and glorified in our obedience.