I'm sure many of us can recall the couple-decade old bumper stickers which read, "God says it, I believe it, that settles it". Or perhaps fewer of us still remember the gospel recordings of 40+ years ago of Christian performers singing some variation of the same slogan. While bumper-sticker theology and cheesy Christian music of yesteryear isn't exactly the highest hanging fruit on the theological tree, unfortunately the typical response to this Christian catchphrase still makes the rounds in reformed and evangelical churches today. When the, "God says it, I believe it, that settles it" cliché is trotted out in our churches, we typically hear the just as tired rebuttal of: "God says it...that settles it! Whether I believe it or not doesn't change the fact". Case closed, right? Bumper sticker theology soundly silenced with slightly longer bumper sticker theology. (Maybe we just need to reduce the font size so it'll all fit?)
Now truth be told, I must admit that I too am guilty of using the very same reductionistic argument in an adult church-school class or two in the past—and ashamedly, I believe it may have even made it into a sermon at one point! But can't we do better? Doesn't the Bible speak with greater precision, beauty, and delight than mere duty? Is there more to be said than "God said it, and that settles it?"
Surely the scriptures speak with an authoritative voice, and that speaking is definitive. After all, Jesus tells a parable to his disciples in Luke 17 which is about a servant who is required to do all that the master commands, concluding with the statement, "So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:10). Additionally, Jesus summarizes our love for him as an obedient love when he says, "If you love me you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). And if we can rightly be referred to as God's slaves (Romans 6:22), will be welcomed into his glorious rest as faithful servants (Matt. 25:23), and are called upon to obey "because it is right" (Eph. 6:1, 2 Thes. 1:3), then surely there is a place for appealing to mere duty. But what I am advocating for in this post, and what the scriptures certainly advocate for throughout their pages, is a more robust rationale for our obedience than bare command.
God regularly calls us to be selflessly-oriented and others-focused. While this too could be folded into obedience (Jesus' words in Matt 22:39 about the greatest commandment come to mind: "And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself"), it instead grounds our obedience in something more than compulsion. God calls us again and again to examine our motive, ensuring we are seeking to glorify him and serve others – he is providing for us a "more excellent way" than duty: love (cf. 1 Cor 12:31). Love for our God, and love for our brothers and sisters. We are called to obey, but with a greater intention in mind than simply doing as we "ought" to do.
Not only has God provided us with a purpose for our obedience to him, he has also supplied an end or a goal of that obedience. A life lived according to God's revealed will is regularly described as producing good fruit – fruit such as a harvest of "righteousness and peace" (e.g. Hebrews 12:11 and James 3:18). The obedient life has a telos, an end; and that end is a good and glorious one!
Do we find ourselves obeying because we must; like the compelled and constrained child strapped into his carseat but who is still proverbially "standing on the inside"? Or do we seek to obey our God because we know what kind of person we want to be? Conforming our lives to the pattern of God's law produces an upright character, against which their is no law (see Psalm 119:7, cf. the fruit of the Spirit, particularly Gal. 5:23). The desire to be found after the pattern of his character is far more glorious than simply "doing what we're told".
Finally, God has not commanded us to obey as a tyrant, seeking for his followers to obey his arbitrary will. Not only is his law a reflection of his character he calls us to imitate (1 Peter 1:16), but he has provided what a life designed as blessed looks like. The abundant life (John 10:10) is the life lived in willing and glad subjection to God's truth.
A Robust Ethic
The ethic offered in the Scriptures by our all-wise Lord is far more nuanced than, "Because I said so!" (even if at times insolence needs to be silenced; see Romans 9:20). While it is true that he speaks as Lord in his word, and not as one simply holding out to us just one of many possible opinions; he does so in a way that is beautifully attractive and robust. He calls us to obey, as one who delights in doing the will of our Father; because it is right; because it brings blessing to others; because it produces the good fruit of peace; because it conforms us to Christ-like character; and because it is the life well-lived. God calls us to obey, but unlike stressed-out parents in a moment of weakness, he does not snap at us with the simple retort: "because I said so...and that settles it!"