When we don’t obey God immediately, it reveals a gap in our trust in Him. Our walk with Christ will suffer unless we address it.
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. (James 1:22-24)
I was dealing with a couple of decisions recently, where I could tell God was guiding me in a particular direction.
The details of the decisions are not important. Bottom line, I was caught off guard when God revealed His desire in these areas.
Whether I could understand why God was revealing these things to me is not the issue. I hesitated to say yes to Him because I couldn’t wrap my head around why my well laid plans were being changed.
God is love, and grace, and forgiveness, to be sure. But He is also justice, jealous for our devotion, and is capable of seeing His will done without our involvement. And God expects our obedience.
This leads us to the question, is God still interested in my obedience when I hesitate, or have I blown it? What happens when we don’t obey God immediately?
The Cost of not Obeying God Immediately
Let’s look at 2 examples of what happens when we don’t obey God immediately from the Old Testament.
The 12 Spies
Numbers 13-14 relates the story of the Israelites preparing to leave the wilderness and enter the land of Canaan, the land God had promised them. The Lord instructs Moses to select 1 person from each tribe – 12 in all – to go into the land as spies and report their findings.
The land is discovered to be fruitful and abundant; the spies call it a “land flowing with milk and honey”. But it is also home to peoples that are described as giants, which makes most of the spies fearful that they cannot conquer them.
At first, only one spy trusts God’s promise that the land is theirs for the taking. Caleb, from the tribe of Judah. It is interesting to note that this is the tribe of the lineage of Jesus Christ.
While it is documented that Caleb spoke first, he is later joined by Hoshea from the tribe of Ephraim. This is also interesting, as Ephraim is the tribe of Joshua, the person who would eventually lead them into the promised land.
The consequences for the Israelites’ lack of faith was severe. It could have been much worse had Moses and Aaron not intervened.
First, God decreed that certain Israelites would not be allowed to enter Canaan. Those who were older than 20 who “grumbled” against God would die in the desert before they could enter the promised land.
Second, the 10 spies who gave the bad report died from plague.
As if things weren’t bad enough, the Israelites refused to obey God’s new instructions to go back into the desert. They decided they should go ahead and invade the land. Moses warned them that this was no longer God’s desire, yet they pressed forward and were thoroughly defeated.
So, we see that there can be real consequences in not obeying God immediately. Here, God’s response was in proportion to the lack of faith being displayed by all of the Israelites. After all, God had just delivered them all from the hands of the Egyptians, to take them to their promised land. God was grieved to find so little faith displayed among the Israelites.
Then the Israelites made it worse by attempting under their own power to do what God originally desired.
Jonah was called by God to preach repentance to Nineveh. Instead, he immediately fled in the opposite direction. God brings a deluge against the ship Jonah flees in, eventually causing the sailors to throw Jonah overboard to save their own lives.
However, God does spare Jonah’s life by sending a fish to swallow him, which gives Jonah time to seek God’s forgiveness.
Sometimes when we don’t obey God immediately, it’s because, like Jonah, we don’t intend to obey Him at all. Either way, there are consequences.
In Jonah’s case, his refusal to obey God put others around him in actual danger, because the sailors got caught in God’s crossfire pursuing Jonah. Sometimes the cost when we don’t obey God immediately is paid by those around us.
It’s interesting that Jonah seems to do less repenting and more acknowledgement of God’s mercy. But Jonah does say that he vowed he will “make good”.
With that, God gives Jonah a second chance to obey Him. This time we see no indication that Jonah hesitated, although when we read Jonah 4, we understand his heart still needs instruction.
While there still may be consequences to not obeying God immediately, this story gives some hope. It seems God at times allows us to learn from our mistake and move forward when we later submit and agree to obey.
The Risk of not Obeying God Immediately
These stories serve as examples of what can happen when we don’t obey God immediately. Today’s passage adds to this by showing a potential consequence to our faith as well.
The Bible tells us that faith is both the reality of what we hope for, and it is the evidence of things we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1). Obedience to God is a direct reflection of our faith in Him.
When we obey Him, we are saying that we love Him and can trust His grip on our future and our unseen surroundings. Therefore, we can step out in faith despite the lack of evidence in our physical reality.
When we hear from God and don’t obey, James shows us through today’s passage that our professed faith is not impacting our lives. Because when we don’t exercise our faith in obedience, we are acting as if God’s direction for our lives doesn’t exist.
James’ analogy of us walking away and forgetting what we look like can be taken to suggest that when we don’t obey God, when we don’t exercise our faith, we begin to forget about our faith. God’s word and direction lose their power in us.
The answer, then, is when we fail to obey, immediately or not, is to start with repentance. Then, we need to examine our faith to ensure nothing is hindering us, since Jesus tells us that those who love Him are those who obey Him (John 14:21).
It’s possible that there will be some consequence for our lack of faith, even if we don’t see it. Perhaps it’s as simple as missing out on the blessing, the better path that awaited us for following God in obedience.
But it is in God’s nature to discipline us when we don’t obey God immediately. We should be glad for this, because we are told the Lord disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:5-6). This discipline is for our benefit, to help us see that a course correction is needed.
When you recognize your lack of obedience in a certain area, ask God for forgiveness and submit to His will. Agree (without hesitation this time) to obey God in the task He lays before you. If it pleases God, He will give you another chance to obey Him.
More Bible verses about obedience to God:
Deuteronomy 5:33; 1 Samuel 15:22; Ecclesiastes 12:13; Matthew 7:21; John 14:23; 1 John 2:3-6; 2 John 1:6