"Partial Obedience is Disobedience"

Posted by Ryan Thompson on

Imagine a common scene for a teenager: your mom is leaving for a few hours and gives you some rules to obey. Don’t watch TV. Don’t eat candy. Don’t take the car for a ride.

You choose to obey the candy and car commands, but who will it hurt to watch a little TV? She’ll never know. Plus, you’re not hungry and you have no reason to drive.

Is this obedience?

When you pick and choose which rules to follow, and only obey partially, it is like you are not obeying at all. This is like King Saul’s partial obedience that lost him the kingdom. He was sure God wouldn’t care if he only took some of the animals and loot that he was supposed to destroy, plus one defeated king.

James has a similar view of obedience. James 2:10 says “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” Partial obedience is no obedience.

Jesus commands us to be perfect. We are called to be as holy as God. We are told the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Thank God that he saved us by grace through Christ, the only perfect one!

When our heart and soul are not aligned with God, it is usually easy to know after a while. Our obedience becomes a routine and we start to make exceptions for sin. We begin to have passion for things other than God to fill that emptiness.

It is harder to know when we are not loving God with our mind.

Some groups even believe that the mind is a hindrance to spirituality. They (heretically) believe that you should shut off your mind to be able to connect with God directly with your soul.

The Bible shows that the mind should not be ignored in our obedience of God:

Romans 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

1 Corinthians 14:15, 19 “I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also…in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct other, than ten thousand words in a tongue.”

1 Timothy 4:7 “Discipline yourselves for the purpose of godliness.”

Proverbs 16:3 “Commit your works to the Lord, and your plans will be established.”

In order to plan something, we must use our mind. To have discipline, we must choose to pray, read, and memorize by using our mind.

Love is not mainly a feeling. Feelings are a result of the choice to love despite our circumstances. Our mind is what keeps us in loving obedience even when we don’t feel like it.

If we let our heart run our lives completely, we will eventually lose our obedience. Like Saul, our mind will start finding excuses to justify the behavior that we desire. We will fall into partial obedience, which is disobedience.

So how do we love God with our mind?

Plan to obey God.

Pray about what you need to do in order to obey and love God better, and plan to do it. Do you need to plan to wake up earlier? Or have a set time with God? Or talk to someone about the Gospel? The Christian life is not all spontaneous.

Planning is using your mind to choose to do something even if you don’t feel like it at the time. Saul let his heart overrule the plan. It did not end well for him.

You might say, “But I’m too busy to plan more time with God!” If you are falling into halfhearted, partial obedience, it is a sign that you need more time with God and his Word. If you truly want to love God more, to obey him, and to be close with your Father, you will find the time. Usually it just takes better planning.

Some say that planning like this is legalistic and heartless. Aren’t you depending on your own power instead of God when you take it into your own hands like this? This question is actually a sign of a legalistic attitude. Don’t forget that even our planning comes from the grace of God: read Philippians 2:13 “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” So your planning is a sign that God is working in your life, not a legalistic action that leaves God out.

If you want to obey God fully, start with your mind. If you wait on your heart, you will have a rollercoaster ride of partial obedience. The man after God’s own heart is one who chooses to obey God in his mind first.

—Ryan Thompson