When Obedience Is Hard

“I can’t Mommy, I just can’t.”

One of my kids had just done what I told him not to do. Again. Sometimes I get exasperated and feel like saying, “Just stop it. Now.” And on occasion, I have said that to which my son replied, “I tried, but I can’t.”

And he is right. We can’t obey on our own. Left to our own devices, all we would do is sin. The Bible says that even when we try to do good, it’s not good at all (Isaiah 64:6).

It’s only by the Spirit at work in us that we can obey.

Too often, in my responses to my children, I make it sound as though they need to just try harder, do better, and then they will be able to get things right.

What I need to do is what the apostles did in the New Testament when they pointed their readers to the gospel. Paul encouraged the Colossians by pointing them to the gospel benefits they have through Christ.

“We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:9-14).

In this passage, Paul reminds the Colossians that it is through the power, strength, and grace of God that they are able to obey.

The truth is, I don’t need to point my children to all the ways they need to just do better, I need to point my children to the One who got everything right for them. Jesus obeyed his earthly parents in everything because my children cannot. Because Jesus lived a perfect life, he became the perfect sacrifice for sin. When my children trust in Jesus through faith, God looks at them and sees the righteousness of Christ instead of their sin.

Gospel truths are what I need to remind my children of when they are in battle against sin. I need to remind them that because of what Jesus did for them, they are children of God. As God’s children, they have access to the Spirit who strengthens them to resist sin. It’s the Spirit who changes them. It’s the Spirit who empowers them to obey. It’s the Spirit who will sustain and carry them.

It’s true, my children cannot obey. That’s why Jesus obeyed for them. And that’s exactly what I told my son.

“You’re right. You can’t do it. That’s why Jesus came to die, because we can’t get everything right. Let’s pray for God to help you obey.”

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