Though it was years ago, I will never forget the frighteningsight I saw while driving down the street that day. A car on the side of the road ahead of me was engulfed in flames. Dark smoke billowed up into the sky as fire charred nearly every inch of the car. Somehow, the gasoline that was supposed to power the car had instead ignited it in a destructive inferno. Power vs. Energy This scene graphically displayed to me what a powerful fuel gasoline is. The fire it produces can either create merely a substantial amount of energy (flames and smoke), or it can be used to release power. The dictionary defines power as “energy that can do work.” Much of the energy around us may seem “powerful,” but unless it is actually accomplishing something it is not really delivering power. For example, some estimates say that a lightning strike releases 15 million volts of electricity. That is a lot of energy! But since we are unable to harness this energy to help us do work, it really produces no power.
This same principle holds true in the spiritual realm. When the Lord pours out the fire of His presence, it can either release great power — power to set us free and overcome the enemy, or merely produce wild fires which, though they may seem spectacular, can result in great damage. For some people, God’s flames of freedom burn off the ropes of bondage, but others use their liberty as a license to sin. What makes the difference? Why does the presence of God bring power to one and results in destructive wild fires for another? Why do some receive glorious freedom and others fall into folly?
Power Converters We can begin to understand this by seeing what converts energy into power. For the gasoline engine there is a combustion chamber of specific dimensions and design to contain, control, and channel the ignited gas to drive the piston. It is the same principle in nuclear power plants. Things are meticulously designed and painstakingly controlled so the energy released from splitting the atom is productive and not destructive. For both the engine and the power plant, the energy released becomes power — power with a purpose.
What is the “engine” that contains and channels the spiritual energy — the fiery freedom God’s presence brings into our lives — to make it powerful? It is obedience! Freedom without obedience is like energy that doesn’t produce power. Our unrenewed minds tend to think of obedience as limiting, but the spiritual truth is that freedom is not restricted by obedience — it is released! This is one of the paradoxes of God.
The Scriptures tell us that Jesus baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11). But it says of Jesus that He was anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power (Acts 10:38). Why the difference? Jesus was the one man who lived a life of total obedience. “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). As He walked in obedience, the fire of God in His life was always used obediently … producing power.
The Importance of Obedience We need our minds to be renewed in regards to obedience so we will have the mind of Christ and not our old, carnal thinking. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5–8). Under the Old Covenant obedience was the required law. Under the New Covenant obedience is the path to experiencing the abundant life Christ died to give us and having the power to be changed and help change others.
One winter morning while I was driving north in Wisconsin, the Lord gave me a very powerful vision. The horizon started to become brighter and brighter. It looked like the brilliant light that streams out from an early morning sunrise (only the sun was already up, and doesn’t rise in the north). As the intensity of the light continued to increase, I realized that the Lord was giving me a vision of something very important. The light turned into a dazzling ball of fire rising on the horizon. As its blinding brilliance continued to ascend, I began to wonder what it was I was about to see: the ravished heart of the Bridegroom … the love of God … and then jumping up into full view in brilliant, flaming letters was the word “OBEDIENCE.” It was altogether lovely, more striking than mere words could ever describe. I knew instantly how beautiful and precious obedience is in the eyes of God.
The Power of Obedience The power of obedience has always been a hallmark of the children of God. The powerful result of obedience was seen when the three Hebrew men, who had refused to bow their knees to the golden image, were protected in the fiery furnace and then set free. It was seen in the protection and elevation of Daniel, who would rather face a den of hungry lions than stop praying to the one true God. The obedience of Israel applying the Passover blood to their houses released the power of God on their behalf and brought them out of bondage. In each of these cases, we see that God has us do our part, and it usually involves obedience — often in ways that seem ineffective or even ridiculous to our natural minds.
Obedience is a very important key to the Christian walk; not legalism — obedience. Oswald Chambers once said that, “The spirit of obedience gives more joy to God than anything else on earth.” The reason obedience brings God such joy is that those walking in obedience are pleasing to Him, for they are both acknowledging His Lordship and walking out their faith. This is what we have been called to: a walk of faith. Obedience is simply faith in action. If faith is never acted upon and worked out, is it really faith? It isn’t according to the book of James.
Under the covenant of grace God has made with us as believers, there is great liberty — even liberty to be sinfully disobedient! Although we have freedom to be disobedient, there is no freedom in being disobedient. This is one of Satan’s great snares. He comes to us and entices us to be disobedient under the guise of liberty. “You’re not under the bondage of legalism. You’re free to exercise your will!” And so we gullibly disobey the Lord, all the while thinking, “I really do have freedom.” But this is not liberty; it is license. It glorifies sin and dishonors God. In the end, it doesn’t bring freedom, only captivity.
Lessons from the Life of Saul King Saul is an example of one who fell into this trap. He missed the wonderful freedom of obedience and the powerful results it would have produced, and instead found himself ensnared by self-determination, delusion, and rebellion.
The prophet Samuel was sent by God to Saul to tell him to attack and destroy the Amalekites. “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over His people, over Israel. Now therefore, heed the voice of the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey’” (1 Samuel 15:1–3). God left no room for mercy or covetousness. Saul was ordered to “utterly destroy all,” to “not spare them.” All their animals were also listed for destruction.
Saul did gather Israel and attack the Amalekites, but he and the people were unwilling to completely destroy them. Yes, everything despised and worthless they destroyed, but they spared the king and the best of the cattle.
After setting up a monument in honor of his great victory, Saul saw Samuel the next day and reports, “Blessed are you of the Lord! I have performed the commandment of the Lord” (1 Samuel 15:13). I don’t believe Saul was purposefully lying to the prophet here … he actually believed he had been obedient. Saul was under the delusion that he and Israel had obeyed the Lord’s command. He felt their actions were correct, and that they had been obedient.
More Than Feelings This is the first lesson we can learn from Saul’s disobedience. Obedience has nothing to do with feelings. Unfortunately, for so many believers their spiritual walk is not obedience to God, but obedience to their feelings. Their theme song should be “Feelings … nothing more than feelings.” But as Oswald Chambers put it, “Right feeling is produced by obedience, never vice versa.” Obedience brings right feelings, not the other way around.
We don’t obey what we feel like obeying, or obey only when we feel like it. How could an army function if their soldiers only obeyed orders when they felt like obeying? “I obeyed your order, Sir. I went to the front lines. But I felt that delivering pizza to them was more important than ammunition.” Who would want a wife who only upholds her marriage covenant when she feels like it? “It wasn’t adultery. I just didn’t feel like I was married today!”
Obedience is an action, not a reaction. It is an exercise of our wills. For example, we do not forgive only when we feel like it. We forgive when we are asked for forgiveness by others, or led to forgive by God. We don’t have to feel like forgiving someone to forgive them. They probably didn’t hurt us because they felt like it, and we don’t have to feel like it to forgive them. This is not hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is not going against your feelings (this happens often in the walk of faith); hypocrisy is going against what you say you believe. If you believe in forgiveness, exercise your will in obedience to God and forgive.
Defending Disobedience It was quite obvious to Samuel that Saul had not been obedient. He replied back to Saul, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” (1 Samuel 15:14). When there are a few thousand livestock behind you, it is very hard to hide your disobedience from a prophet. Saul began to rationalize why they brought back the cattle. We “have spared the best of the sheep and oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed” (1 Samuel 15:15). In essence, Saul was saying, “We knew God’s plan, but in order to bless God, we decided to disobey Him. Through our disobedience we will be able to make sacrifices to God and honor Him.”
This shows us two important points. The first is how quickly we begin to justify our actions. The natural mind is quick to exonerate itself, but slow to repent. Secondly, in seeking to appease his disobedience through sacrifice, Saul reveals his lack of understanding the importance of obedience in the eyes of God. Samuel answered Saul’s rationalization in 1 Samuel 15:22–23, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” In the Old Testament over and over again the Lord required sacrifices of His people … yet God states clearly here that obedience is far greater than sacrifice.
With every step of self-defense, we can see Saul becoming more bound up. There is no freedom for those who choose disobedience and resist repentance. Saul next tries the defense of partial obedience. “I have brought back the king, but I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites.” This statement doesn’t even make sense! How can you totally and completely destroy something you’ve brought with you? Partial obedience is just another name for disobedience. Partial obedience is like being “kind-of-pregnant.” Certain things are all or nothing, black or white. Obedience is one of these things. It is “yes” or “no,” “obey Me” or “deny Me,” there is no middle ground.
First Samuel 15:23 says, “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.” In the Hebrew, this verse literally says, “rebellion is divination.” It doesn’t say it is like or similar to divination. It is divination! God is our all-knowing, sovereign King. Choosing to disobey His clear commands is by anyone’s definition rebellion. When we do this, we are rejecting His leading and seeking to be led by another spirit. That is divination or witchcraft.
Disobedience — Spirit of Anti-Christ We begin to see here the vast difference between obedience and disobedience. Obedience causes the fiery presence of God in our lives to produce powerful changes — transforming our lives and impacting this world. Disobedience causes God to be set against us because we have rejected His authority in our lives and are seeking to be led by another spirit (whether we want to admit it or not). Every time we willingly choose to disobey the Lord, we are cooperating with the spirit of the Anti-Christ. Whenever we encourage others to disobey the Lord, the spirit of the Anti-Christ is actually working through our lives.
When Jesus was being tempted by the devil after fasting for forty days in the wilderness, He rebuffed him three times. Only one of the devil’s temptations, however, caused Jesus to respond “Get behind Me, Satan!” (Luke 4:8). This was when Satan was tempting Jesus to directly disobey the Word of God by worshiping him. Jesus also said to Peter, in Matthew 16:23, “Get behind Me, Satan!” That was when Peter was trying to dissuade Jesus from being obedient to God’s plan to go to Jerusalem and die on the cross. Over the years, Peter had been far from an ideal follower on many different occasions. He was often impulsive, self-focused, and reactive. But in all the times the Bible shows Peter falling short of the mark, there is only one time Jesus calls him a stumbling block and speaks of Satan working directly through him. That was when Peter told the Lord to disobey God’s leading. It is the spirit of the Anti-Christ that encourages disobedience, and we will have to say no to his enticements to disobey the Lord if we want to be truly led by the Holy Spirit and have His freedom and power.
How often do we, like Saul, fall short of the mark because we fail to walk in the beautiful freedom and simplicity of obedience? Saul lost so much in his life — his position before men and his favor with God — all because he would not keep God as the Lord of his life and joyfully obey His instruction. Saul was trying to serve God on his own terms, instead of pleasing Him through a walk of simple obedience. That didn’t work for Saul, and it won’t work for us either. Jesus is either Lord of all or He is not Lord at all. With God it is all or nothing.
In these days as the Lord is preparing us for a great outpouring of His presence, let us choose to put away disobedience and become fully obedient to the Lord in all things. We need to repent of any and every way we have allowed the spirit of Anti-Christ to work in our lives or through our lives affecting others. God wants the fire of His presence to be a blessing that empowers His Church, and He is calling us to embrace obedience not for His sake, but ours. We can walk in the freedom that obedience brings, not by striving to obey through legalism but because we have been so deeply loved and desire to display our love for the Lord through willing obedience. The Lord has a beautiful freedom for every believer if we will walk with Him in the simplicity of obedience — an obedience that will invite His presence and release His power into and through our lives.