“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18, ESV)
The phrase that came to mind as I read this passage was “willful obedience”. For most of the verse, Jesus is making the point that his sacrificial death was completely voluntary. No one was forcing him to do it. He laid down his life by his own free will, insisting that he had the authority to do so. At the end of the passage, however, Jesus says that this was the “charge” he had received from the Father. The translation “charge” makes it seem as though it were just a responsibility he had, but the Greek word actually means commandment or order and was linked to the commandments in the Mosaic and Jewish law. How could Jesus lay down his life voluntarily when he was ordered to do so by God the Father?
We often speak of willful disobedience, especially when a child knows something is wrong to do and blatantly does it anyway, but we rarely talk of willful obedience. The word “authority” in John 10:18 can also be translated as “right” or “liberty”. Willful obedience is knowing that you have full authority/freedom/right to do otherwise, but doing what you are supposed to do anyway. In John 15:14, Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” This isn’t spiritual extortion or conditional love. It is the idea that if you truly love Jesus, you will choose to obey him even though you have the freedom not to.
Jesus was never a “do as I say, not as I do” type teacher. The 2 verses preceding John 15:14 say, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus willfully obeyed the Father’s command to lay down his life for mankind. We are to willfully obey Jesus’ command to lay down our lives (wills, rights, liberties, agendas) for each other.
Obedience is not the antithesis of freedom. Obedience is the perfect fulfillment of freedom. It is choosing to conform our will to match God’s will, and only when we do this, we will truly know what it is to be free.
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8, NASB)