The Obedient Spirit

James Boyd

In Numbers, chapter thirteen, we read the report that the twelve spies gave after they reviewed the land off Canaan as Moses directed them. Before continuing in this lesson let me urge that you read from your Bible Numbers 13:25-33. After forty days on their mission the spies reported that tbe land was a land that flowed with milk and honey. But they also had a negative report concerning the inhabitants of the land, saying that they were giants, had walled cities, and they made the Israelites appear by comparison to be but grasshoppers.

The report was very discouraging to the people of Israel.“And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God that we had died in this wilderness!” {Numbers 14:2).

Two spies, Joshua and Caleb, gave a different slant to the report.“And Joshua, the son of Nun, and Caleb, the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes and they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land. If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us unto this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey. Only rebel not ye against the Lord; neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defense is departed from them and the Lord is with us; fear them not.”(Numbers 14:6-9). But the people reacted against them so strongly that they wanted to stone Joshua and Caleb. The actions and attitudes of the Israelites and the ten spies demonstrated a spirit of disobedience to God.

In the N ew Testament Paul wrote of the Gentiles, “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.”(Ephesians 2:2). He warned those of such a spirit, “Let no man deceive you with vain words; for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.”(Ephesians 5:6) Israel was made to wander in the wilderness one year for each day the spies were gone; hence, the forty years in the wilderness. All those twenty years old and upward died in the wilderness except two.

But Joshua and Caleb were of a different spirit. “But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land wherein he went; and his seed shall possess it.”(Numbers 14:24).

What Is Obedience?

 Obedience to God requires more than an outward performance of mechanical acts such as a soldier might perform at the command of his general. He might do exactly what he is told to do, but hate every minute and movement involved. But so long as he carries out his orders it is said that he has obeyed his commander. But obedience to God involves more than that. Obedience to God must come from the heart. “Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servant of sin but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.”(Romans 6:16,17). Obedience to God involves attitude as well as action.

When we worship, the heart is involved. Jesus said, “God is a Spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”(John 4:24). The heart is involved again in living the righteous life as noted in Second Timothy 2:22. “Flee youthful lusts; but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”Even our service before men is to be as service before God because of the heart. “Not with eye service, as men pleasers; but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.”(Ephesians 6:6)

Obedience means doing the right thing, but with the right motive, intent, understanding, voluntarily, willingly, and with a desire to please God. So we must develop in the heart the right attitude toward the commands of God to us and possess an obedience spirit.

Do you have an obedient spirit? How can we know if we have an obedient spirit? What are the marks of an obedient spirit? A closer look at Joshua and Caleb in the events of long ago will help us see what is the obedient spirit we all must have and display.


 It means having a spirit of humility, submission, denying self. The proud egotist never bows to the will of another, even to God. He is all for self, having to have his own way. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ... being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." (Philippians 2:5,8). Our attitude must be, "Not my will but thine be done.”As Jesus taught, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”(Luke 9:23).

Joshua called the refusal to go up to Canaan a rebellion against God. It was his desire that they obey God regardless of the cost to themselves. He was humble enough to put God before himself.

Even if Alone

An obedient spirit also means doing what God says whether anyone else is willing to obey or not. While we are not to parade our faith around for others to see in order to praise us, or do what we do simply to be different, we must do what God says is right whether we stand alone or in the company of just a few or many. Joshua and Caleb had to stand-alone. So did Daniel, Moses and nearly every other faithful servant of God. Doing right just because others do right is not really having an obedient spirit. Those that will obey just because others do will likely disobey just because others do. While we do not dismiss the value or the power of a good influence, our reason to obey must be more than simply obeying because somebody else does. We need to be as was Joshua at the close of his life when he said, “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve...but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”(Joshua 24:15).

Have you ever noticed that sometimes when people have a falling out one might say he will repent or forgive if his adversary will? Or one might say he will obey the gospel if his wife or her husband obeys. What do you mean, “If somebody else does?" The spirit of obedience means you will obey, you will do what is right even if nobody else does. The attitude we must have is “What would God have me to do?" We are not to ask, “What are others going to do?” It is easier to do right when others do right but we must do right anyway.

By His Will

An obedient spirit means doing what God commands whether it pleases us and our personal whims and preferences or not. Whether we even think it is reasonable or not does not enter into it. It is not the spirit of obedience to obey God “up to a point.”

We can be sure that every divine directive is for our good. But even if we cannot see, we should obey nonetheless. One might say, "But I don't see why I must to this or that." So what? If we have the spirit of obedience we will obey anyway. Cain could have argued that way. Nadab and Abihu had that attitude. Joshua could have said the same thing when told to march around Jericho so many times. Naaman could have quibbled that way when told to go to Jordan and wash. Christ might have stated something like that when He had to go to the cross.

Some today rebel at being baptized in water because they say they do not see any sense in it. That is not the point. We must obey whatever God tells us to do whether it appears reasonable to us or not. To obey just when it suits you or me is not true obedience. This would make man a judge of God's commands, putting man before God.

Some sons were instructed by the father to plant grain in three fields. One field was to be in corn, another in barley and the third in wheat. The sons agreed with the decision about the first two fields, but thought oats would be better in the third field and acted accordingly. How many times did they obey their father? Not once! They always acted as they saw fit. That is not the spirit of obedience.

Not Just “Get By”

The spirit of obedience does not allow for doing the least that one can do in the service of God. Some think they can "get by" with doing as little as possible. They will not do one thing more. What would you think of a parent who never did anything for the child more than just what was absolutely necessary and demanded of the parent? How much would you say a husband loved his wife if he never did more for her than what he thought he just had to do? Would not something vital be missing?

Why do some children of God wish to serve God with that attitude? The spirit of obedience asks, "How much can I do?" It does not ask, "How little can I do and get by?" It never asks, "Do I have to attend all the services of the church?" "Do I have to give again and again?" Absenteeism is a symptom of an even worse spiritual malady that absenteeism reflects. It reflects heart trouble. It lacks the spirit of obedience.

A man once asked me if I thought Hebrews 10:25 means he had to come on Wednesday night. I told him it did. But even if it did not, he would likely lose his soul because of the sorry attitude he had toward worship and Bible study. He had not considered it that way previously.

Against Opposition

An obedient sprit means obeying God even when you meet opposition. People of God will meet opposition, even persecution (Second Timothy 3:12). It has been said that the spies and Israelites had a "grasshopper" complex. Joshua and Caleb did not minimize the difficulties facing them. But they had a different sprit about them. "Let us go up at once and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it." (Numbers 13:30).

What we must ask is, "What is right?" before we ask, "What are the consequences of doing right?" Some count the cost of following Christ to see if they want to follow Him. But others count the cost to learn what it will require of them so they can do it. They have already decided they will follow Christ regardless of the cost or opposition.

Opposition can come from friends, families and many sources. As you study the lives of the faithful of God they all faced opposition. Yet, they did what God wanted them to do because they had the spirit of obedience. Daniel, Moses, Nehemiah, John the Baptist and Paul, name them and see if that is not the case with them.


The spirit of obedience says, “I will obey God because of my love for Him.” Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”(John 14:15) “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”(Luke 6:46) “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not grevious.” (First John 5:3).

I have seen bumper stickers that read, “Honk if you love Jesus.” Friend, any old goose can honk. You do not show you love Jesus the same way you get a dog out of the road. You do not show you love Jesus by such trivia and parading of nonsense. You show you love Jesus by doing His will

There are commands to obey to become a Christian and commands to obey to be a faithful Christian. We must do what He says with the right attitude, motive, intent and understanding. In other words, we must have that spirit that says, “Not my will but thine be done.”We must do what is right even if others do not. We must do what God says even if we do not like it or know why He commands it. We must do all we can and not as little as we can. We must do what God says in spite of opposition. We must obey because we love Him as He first loved us. That is what it means to possess an obedient spirit; the kind of spirit that will enable us to live with God eternally.