I received a traffic citation recently for not signaling while changing lanes. Needless to say it was troubling, especially since the cost is 2 points against my driving record and a fine of $178! Quite honestly, it angered me to be called out on such a petty offense when there are so many other traffic violations more worthy of the state’s time and energy. Or are there?

After a few days of musing over my troubles, I began to work through the philosophy of traffic laws and came to something like this:

  1. All traffic laws are intended to promote safety for everyone.
  2. Any violation of traffic laws potentially jeopardizes others’ safety.
  3. Christians are called to obey the laws of the state in so far as obedience does not conflict with God’s commands.
  4. Behind all of God’s commands to us, including the command to obey the laws of the state, is love for God and/or others (Rom. 13:10, for instance).
  5. What should motivate every act of obedience is love for God and/or others. Any act of disobedience is, at some level, a breakdown or failure to love God and/or others.
  6. My violation in failing to signal is an act of disobedience and, thus, a failure to love others and care for their safety.

I know…this is quite detailed and far exceeds any typical response to a mere traffic citation. But, that’s just who I am. I analyze, muse, ponder, and reflect on the implications of my behavior; admittedly more than I should perhaps. But please read on….

Jesus explicitly insists that a relationship between love and obedience exists. Read Jn 14:15, 21, 23, for instance. Jesus is not saying “If you obey me, then you will love me.” Rather, he says “If you love me, you will obey me.” Obedience is a sign of love; it is the tangible, visible expression of love. All who love Jesus obey him, but not all who obey Jesus love him. It is unfortunate that many confuse the relationship between the love of God and the laws of God.

It is sad that the biblical history of Israel repeatedly annotates this confusion between love for God and obedience to God (cf. Ps 51:16-19; Mt 23:23-24). The Apostle Paul makes it abundantly clear that the law was never to be seen as a means of establishing a relationship with God; a relationship that can only be established by faith in God (cf. Gal 2:16; 3:15-28). Instead, God’s law is a means of maintaining a relationship that is already established by God through love for Him (Rom 8:3-4; 1 Jn 4:19).

Also, Jesus promised that his burden would be light (Mt 11:28-30). Believers are not under the yoke of duty but bound by the law of love (Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14; Jm 2:8).

Love is to obedience as motivation is to action. Obedience without love is mere duty, while love without obedience is mere sentimentalism. The former depersonalizes relationships, and the latter demoralizes them. We obey God because we love him and not vice versa.

Living obediently is an expression of our affection for God (1 John 2:3-6). Conversely, living disobediently is an expression of contempt toward God. Therefore, when I am living disobediently it is often my love for God that has weakened and in need of repair.

And so, the next time you signal before making a lane change, consider the fact that you are loving your neighbor as yourself. I would say the state’s time and energy in issuing the ticket to me was well spent, especially if you increase your love for others when driving!

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4 Comments

  1. Paul,

    What do you think the relationship between the ideas of love for God and obedience to His commands in the scriptures could possibly teach or inform us about the inter-Trinitarian social life of the Father, Son, and Spirit?

    Also, what might the practical applications/implications be for Christians from the example of the Triune community concerning how we are to show forth our love for God by obeying His commands?

    Just curious what your thoughts are.

    Thanks in advance.

  2. Ken,
    Quite honestly, I’m not sure how the inter-Trinitarian social life of the triune God relates to obedience to traffic laws. Do you have some idea?

    Let me take a stab at your second question. Showing our love for God through obedience would seem to mean listening to God’s Spirit in us, thus honoring the name of God’s Son and bringing glory to God as sovereign over us.

    Am I close? ;->

  3. Hey Paul,

    I wasn’t necessarily looking for a particular answer in regards to my questions–just your personal observations at this time. They are much appreciated.

    In regards to your first response about our responsibility to obey traffic laws and a possible connection to the Triune social life, could joyful obedience to human authorities who represent the Triune God to us in the civil realm (Romans 13) possibly point to a joyful self-sacrificial inter-Trinitarian obedience/deference towards each other in distinct ways according to their individual persons?

    I really like your second response in that you bring all three divine persons into play when discussing love for God and obeying His commands.

    I guess what I’m throwing out is the possibility of a loving and joyous servant-like self-sacrificial inter-Trinitarian obedience that Father, Son, and Spirit display towards one another in distinct and unique ways according to their persons. If this could be the case, then the obedience of the Son to the Father during His incarnation would not necessarily be a temporary accommodation or state of obedience.

    Jesus said of himself during His incarnation to His disciples that if they had seen Him that they had seen the Father (John 14:9). Jesus serves others, gave His life for others, dies for the sake of others (Mark 11:45). Jesus referred to Himself as humble of heart (Matthew 11:28). Does it not follow in some manner then that the Father, Son, and the Spirit also serve each other, give themselves for the good of others, and are humble? Does Philippians 2:1-12 perhaps give us a glimpse of the inter-Trinitarian life of self-sacrifice and it’s pattern for the church to imitate?

    Throughout Ecclesiastes Solomon continually speaks of a God who who loves to give generously to those who obey His commands. God continually gives many wonderful gifts to His covenant children simply because He loves to do so. It’s His nature to give lavishly–even to wicked men. The persons of the Trinity give to each other lavishly. The Father made the world as a gift for His Son (Colossians 1:16). The Son delivers His kingdom as a gift to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24). The Son and the Father give to the Spirit the gift of the church as a temple for Him to dwell in (1 Corinthians 3:16). One could give many more examples.

    Does this type of self-denying and obedience displayed towards each other actually exist among the Trinity? If so, then we as Christians truly have an example to imitate in how to obey God cheerfully (1 Corinthians 11:1, Ephesians 5:1). Obedience between the Father, Son, and Spirit in unique ways and according to their individual persons would then be regarded to their glory as the God who by nature serves and who is humble. Imagine that, the God of the universe is humble!

    Atheists who say that God is dead may be closer to the truth than they realize. A kind of inter-Trinitarian dying to self-interest for the sake of others seems to be at the heart of their societal life.

    In Mark 14:37-39 the Roman centurion made a similar confession about Jesus that Peter made in referring to Him and the Son of God in Matthew 16:16–a title reserved for Israelite kings and tyrant thugs like Caesar. He made this confession by witnessing how Jesus died.

    Could the death of Jesus be the greatest public expression of what the Triune God is actually like–self-sacrifice for the sake of others? Could a type of self-sacrificial dying among the Trinity be at the heart of what their social life is like? If so, how does this apply to our lives, relationships, and how we view traffic tickets?

    I wonder if the next time we hear an atheist say that God is dead, with a little Triune clarification, we might have a point of agreement with them? Imagine that, the God of the universe who experienced and experiences death!

    If obedience to God shows our love for Him, would it be possible that a kind of inter-Trinitarian love is lived out through a type of humble self-sacrificial mutual obedience to each other? I admit, this may be pushing the envelope and I admit that trying to figure out the Trinity completely is impossible. That’s a good thing! It’s just that if believers are told to show their love for God by joyful obedience, yet if there is no love shown by joyful obedience towards each other within the persons of the Triune community, it seems then that Christians are left with a command to love and obey by God from a position of raw power and not by divine example. Christians are then simply being told in the scriptures to live in a manner of life that God Himself doesn’t–at least not as an on-going way of life.

    If we love and obey God from a position of His raw command of power and not from the pattern of the Triune life of love and obedience within their community towards each other, then I don’t see how Christians or any one else can love and obey God or anyone else for that matter. Over time. they will ultimately relate to God and others by raw power as well. Perpetual conflict and war will then be the order of the day in the church and the world.

  4. Okay. You’re baiting me with theology and I’ll bite for our readers’ sake, depsite the fact that my original post was in the categories of “Personal, Spirituality” and not “Theology.”

    First, are you suggesting our joyful obedience to civil authority somehow should reflect an “inter-Trinitarian obedience that Father, Son, and Spirit display towards one another?”

    From your statement, I hear you suggesting that each person of the Triune God somehow defers to or relates to the other in obedience. In what sense, for example, does the Father defer to or obey the Son or the Spirit? In what sense does the Spirit obey or submit to the Son? Since the historic, orthodox belief (that I know you affirm) is that all three persons share the same attributes, then I understand that they simply work in concert with each other…always. Co-equality and con-substantiality go hand in hand. That you see their syncronized roles as a sign of eternal submission/obedience is a bit confusing for me.

    Moreover, while the Son is co-eternal with the Father, this does not require that the Son’s incarnation was eternal. It was during the Son’s incarnation that he was obedient (Philip 2:5-11). I see no reason to suppose that the eternal Son of God, prior to the incarnation, was somehow obedient or submissive to God the Father. Jesus qua man was submissive to the Father. Jesus qua God is not. Therefore, the Son’s submission and humility was solely temporal during the incarnation. Otherwise, we venture toward the error of “subordinationism” (see especially The Post-Nicene Trinitarian Doctrine of Augustine here.).

    (Incidently, on philosophical grounds, I strongly disagree with Grudem’s Systematic Theology when explaining the “economic” Trinity that “the Son and Holy Spirit are equal in deity to God the Father [so far, so good], but they are subordinate in their roles” (p. 249). On this see chapter 18 in Discovering Biblical Equality or download a copy here. Also, don’t miss Adam Omelianchuk’s fine article “The Logic of Equality”.)

    While I absolutely agree that we can and should view Jesus’ life as our model for civil obedience, I just don’t see the theological implications from the Trinity you suggest.

    As for the apologetic idea of agreeing with atheists that God can die, it likely would promote confusion rather than clarity, since it equivocates the idea of “death” (i.e., for the atheist, death = non-existence; for the theist, death = submission/obedience. God never ceases to exist, though the incarnate Christ died).

    I hope this helps.

    Enough theology…for today.

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