What pops into your mind when you think of growing in obedience to God? Do you hunger to know Him? If you are not a Christian, what do you think it would be like to obey Him? To answer that question, imagine you are on a strict diet. You haven’t been able to eat what you like, nor what fills you up, and you’re hungry. You open the refrigerator for a little snack and two options present themselves: a piece of celery and a piece of chocolate cake. Since you didn’t reach your steps goal today, you sigh and grab the celery.
Many of us view obedience to God as always choosing the celery over the chocolate cake. We are much more conscious of what we are missing out on than on what we are getting, but the Bible doesn’t picture our relationship to God this way. Psalm 63 says God’s love is “better than life” (verse 3); to know God is more fulfilling than any other relationship or experience we can have. But the Psalmist goes on in more gastronomical terms: to know God is to have one’s soul “be satisfied as with fat and rich food” (verse 5). This means that the Christian life is not merely a matter of self-denial. To say “no” to sin and yes to God is to experience the richest of foods, spiritually speaking.
Now this is not how things always appear in our experience. One of Satan’s favorite tricks is to dress up sin so that it appears delicious, making obedience to God bland by comparison. But this is like eating a low-fat brownie, or worse, eating something that looks like a brownie but is composed of ash. Sin doesn’t nourish us, it can only leave us hungry and craving more.
The reason obedience to God will fill our souls with delight is that this is what we were made for. We may try many other ways to satisfy our cravings, but they will all fail to nourish in the end. God is not interested in depriving us; what He wants is for our desires to be oriented toward Him who will truly satisfy. Psalm 37: 4 says “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Because God is a loving Father, he wants to give us our hearts’ desire. But apart from Him we will always be hungry.
Finally, if we attempt to obey God apart from faith in Jesus Christ, we will be frustrated. To continue our metaphor, this would be like trying to get that chocolate cake out of the refrigerator by drilling a hole through the door. As Tim Keller likes to say, Jesus thirsted on the cross so our thirst could be quenched. Jesus’ whole life on earth was a fast from the glory of Heaven that rightfully belonged to Him. Since He did this for you, you can be free to obey God out of a clear conscience, without fear and without trying to earn His favor. Such obedience is what we were made for, and it will bring you delight. It really is the chocolate cake.