In any given story, one character to watch out for is the guy who is always being told what to do and always doing whatever he wants anyway. We’ve all seen this guy before. If he’s five, he keeps playing with his Legos until mom says it three more times. If he’s fifteen, he says, “Huh?” If he’s twenty-five, he begins a debate over the nature of authority and its appropriate application. If he’s fifty-five, he’s much more mature, so he nods and says, “That sounds like a great idea” before he goes back to his own business. There is one heart, although many faces, among those who avoid first time obedience.
Jesus told a story about a son who acted as if he was going to obey at first, but it was only that, an act. That son not only disobeyed the will of his father, but also missed out on the kingdom (Matthew 21:28-32). In a different context, James explained that those who only hear the word rather than hear and do deceive themselves (James 1:22-24). Their final condition is worse than their first because now they think themselves to be examples. They are examples.
John wrote in his gospel about the good Shepherd and His sheep. The refrain throughout chapter 10 is that Jesus’ sheep hear His voice and, when He calls them, they follow Him. The Shepherd’s voice is familiar. They have a relationship. They have history together. The true Shepherd knows His sheep, and we know the true sheep as those who follow the Shepherd.
The point is that we ought not make Him say it again, whatever “it” is. We shouldn’t act as if His will is an interruption. It’s unnecessary to negotiate about the extent of His authority. It’s inappropriate to appear as if we’re going to follow and then wander off our own way when He turns around. For Christ’s sheep, first time obedience is like our favorite wool sweater we always want to wear.