Several weeks ago, a video surfaced of Victoria Osteen, wife of the famous Lakewood “church” “pastor” Joel Osteen, delivering a message to their “congregation” of almost 30,000. In it, she describes the purpose of obedience as such: “I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God—I mean, that’s one way to look at it—we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy.” As expected, the audience heard that, and erupted in applause.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that two people who are as absolutely loose on everything doctrinal, as the Osteens are, would spout such ridiculous dribble. But what’s alarming is not the statement made by the woman in front of the rotating globe, but the reaction by the crowd. amd possibly the thousands/millions watching at home, who honestly believe that everything we do for God is ultimately about ourself.

This represents a marked shift in thinking about God and His relationship with us, and one that is relatively unique to our time. For centuries, the opinion about God, whether right or wrong, has been that He is a just and firm Father, One who has no patience for evil and demands service in even the harshest arenas. Today, the Father is more akin to the one you see at Target who watches helplessly as their kid throws a temper tantrum next to the gum section, and eventually acquiesces to whatever demand the child makes. In other words, scream loud enough, and God’ll give you whatever you want (maybe they take it from Luke 18:1-8?).

In reality, the Father is a hybrid of the two, albeit more in the traditional sense than the more modern view. He is not unreasonably harsh, but is firm on His demands without exception. He is also loving and generous with His blessings, but not to the point of allowing us to have our wildest dreams. 

Perhaps the writer of Hebrews has the most apropos response to the Osteen’s theology of how God interacts with us: “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Heb. 12:7-8). Therein lies the rub; if one claims to be a son of the Father, not only can you expect discipline and rebuke, but you should welcome it as a sign of your adoption.

While we all, in the moment, want God to be like that irresponsible father at the checkout line who gives us whatever we want, we as adults know that’s not what is best for us. We need to be disciplined and we need to not get our way all the time, anymore than we would let our own kids get away with that. Perseverance through discipline and chastening has a way of creating perfection in us, as James remarks in James 1:2-4, and it is these qualities that God seeks to instill in His children.

Is obedience for our good? In a sense, yes. 1 John 5:2-3 tell us that our obedience should become non-compulsory and a joy to fulfill (in a certain way). But that is certainly not why we obey God. We do it because He demands it of us, and because He is the Father who is worthy of our worship (Rev. 4:11). And just as we respect our own fathers for their discipline as we mature, so we grow to respect God as we grow in respect to our faith.

Last modified: February 11, 2019