The fourth step, Obedience, is a conformance of our will to the will of God and the wills of those in authority over us. When we learn obedience, we no longer focus on our wants and desires. We focus on where we are needed, and what is asked of us. In the previous step, Fear of God, we are compelled to act by our acceptance of responsibility. Being responsible begins the process of acting according to God’s will instead of our own, but we still hold back some discretion. We choose what we are responsible for doing.
In obedience, we cease to choose for ourselves. We surrender our will to God and allow Him to leads us. This may involve submitting to the authority of another person to direct us. In this step, we are not concerned about what we enjoy or want to do. We do what we are told out of love for God.
The progression from Charity, to Fear of God, and on to Obedience is a progression of humility. Charity started with a limited effort on our terms. Fear of God progressed in humility by taking responsibility for helping with less consideration for the sacrifice we need to make. Finally, we embrace acting in ways that are outside our desires in obedience to the Lord purely out of a desire to do His will.
Obedience includes obeying authority figures we encounter in the world. We should always obey God first, but it is not enough to just obey God. We must also obey our parents, church authorities, government authorities, our employers and other authorities. Obeying God is a spiritual good, but obeying a worldly authority does not carry this same good. Despite this, obeying worldly authorities is important for developing our ability to obey God. It is a good practice and helps to form us to obey God.
Obedience to worldly authorities may be a form of obeying God. There are authorities in our world that possess authority from God. The first place we see this in the Church. When Christ gave the keys of heaven to Peter, He delegated His authority to the leaders of the Church. Our obedience to the Church is obedience to God. This is true even if their leadership is flawed. The human leaders in the Church are fully capable of develop a poor strategy or managing the execution of a strategy poorly. We are obligated to obey these directives as a practice in virtue (there is an exception – we should never obey an immoral directive that will cause us to sin). This obedience does not mean we do not think, but instead, we practice choosing to do what others want us to do, especially when we desire something else.
The authority of our government is also a delegated authority from God. All authority rests with Him, but He grants us the ability to form governments. The governments we form possesses authority from God. This holds for all governments, even the ones that misuse this authority. Again, we can never obey an immoral law or directive, but apart from that, we are obligated to abide by the laws our government.
Obedience also helps grow in our humility. When we choose to put the decisions and commands of others above our own, we grow in humility. We learn to serve. Eventually, if we are subject to a command of an authority figure, we will receive an instruction we do not want to follow. Following the decision despite our desires is an excellent act of humility.