The colonial education system was one way colonialists instilled order in the people they controlled. For the best part, schools—like the Police and the prison services—ensured that colonised people knew who runs the place.
The only way one could become better in such a school system was by submission whether you liked the program or not. Some pupils were good at doing the program while others always messed up.
What inspired improvement in school was the terror which the teachers were known for. There was always a saying that the backside (akabina/ekibunu) belongs to the government and so the teacher was free to whip his learners. All the time, we obeyed because the whip was always in view.
Our obedience was a result of fear. We didn’t like what was being imposed on us but it was easier to obey than endure the agony of punishment.
Terror-inspired obedience is always grounded in insecurity. Obedience is meant to earn something—respect, approval, favours, acceptance, and love. You can’t become better this way, you instead become a lunatic who is a good person when the guy you fear is around but when they are away, you become something else.
This is the kind of obedience legalism produces. A legalist treats God as a hungry bookkeeper out to get everyone who is cheating on the taxes. Such a God carries carrots for the good boys and girls, and sticks to whip the bad ones. Obedience under such a God is through fear—the fear of the heinous things that God will do to them.
Paul in Romans chapter 6 demonstrates a different kind of God, one who takes the initiative. He puts on flesh to do what we have all failed to do.
“For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” (Romans 6:20-22, ESV)
This kind of God graciously hangs on a tree, with nails through His hands and feet, but shouts “forgive them.” In His pain, He sees our pain instead, and dies so that we will live. For us who were once slaves to sin because of Adam’s transgression (which was imputed to us), He by faith makes us slaves to righteousness, again by imputation. All this happens after He has accepted our sin—far and wide—to be imputed (credited) to Him. The God of the bible deals in only one currency—grace.
It is from this free gift of grace which none of us deserves that is now our new identity. We are children of God who now call Him Father. His love for us attracts us to him, not the other way round. And this love alone can transform our lives.
The root of His justifying work at Calvary births in us a fruit of obedience. It is out of his love and mercy towards us who deserve wrath and damnation that obedience springs. Paul says that Jesus’s saving work leads to sanctification—which is theological word for becoming better. Being better, in the Christian sense, starts with Jesus, any other thing that promises results apart from Jesus is fake.
His love for us alone has the power to make us better. No elbow grease, no sweatshops, no treadmills, just sheer grace. Trust Him alone above everything else this world promises, you never know, some fruits may pop up in your life for the glory of His name.