As much as God cherishes obedience, there is a type of obedience that He does not accept: surface level obedience. He desires true heart obedience, and rightly so. Thomas Watson comments on this type of obedience as he observes the trend of offering God this unacceptable obedience that is free from any internal workings. Heart obedience matters to God.
To clarify, Watson is not commenting on obedience and joy (much more can be said about this subject). AS you read the statement, understand that this isn’t a denial of difficulty in righteous obedience. God understands that it may not always be joyful, but efforts to obey will lead to ultimate joy by God’s grace. But as we are faithful to obey and struggle in the fight, we can say, “Lord, I am struggling with obeying you in this area, but I trust you, and I love you, and I will submit to your will. Please help my heart in its effort to you obey you.” But, as I said, more can be said about this topic.
Instead, He is addressing that nature of acceptable obedience and its relationship to the heart. Obedience must be from the heart even if when it hurts to obey. Heart obedience is the only genuine obedience. Watson observes the hypocrisy in this false obedience and shows that similar legalistic actions are completely rejected by God. He says the following:
“Though we serve God with weakness, it may be with willingness. You love to see your servants go cheerfully about their work . . . . Hypocrites obey God grudgingly, and against their will . . . . Cain brought his sacrifice, but not his heart. It is a true rule . . . what the heart does not do, is not done. Willingness is the soul of obedience. God sometimes accepts willingness without the work, but never the work without willingness. Cheerfulness shows that there is love in the duty; and love is to our services what the sun is to fruit; it mellows and ripens them, and makes them come off with a better relish”(Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, p. 222).
Sometimes it is possible for us to have the right action but do it with the wrong heart. Watson adds, “O let us look to our ends in obedience; it is possible the action may be right, and not the heart” (Watson, p. 223). Our goal as Christians is to pursue a right heart with right actions. This will help us not to be “partial servants” of the Lord, but to be complete servants ready to please Christ from the heart.