In our last study we looked at the the foundational heart attitude of Faith. We learned that faith is trusting God based upon His revelation of Himself. Faith is standing firmly on the promises of God as found in His word. It is then trusting Him to fulfill those promises, based upon what we know about His character (Hebrews 11:6). Because our faith rests on the promises of God, it is not accurate to say that ours is a “blind faith.”
What we will see in this study is that faith does not stand alone as an attitude of the heart but it is inseparably linked to another heart attitude – obedience.
James 2:17-20 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?
Genesis 22:8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
When Abraham offered his son Isaac, he did it in obedience to the command of God while trusting in the character of God (Gen 22:2-3). He believed that God would provide a substitute for Isaac or that God would raise Isaac from the dead (Gen 22:5, Heb 11:19). Each of the men and women mentioned in Hebrews 11 have their faith described by an act of obedience toward God.
Salvation – An Act of Obedience
Hebrews 5:9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,
Romans 6:17-18 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
Acts 5:32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Acts 6:7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
2 Thessalonians 1:8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
The above verses make it clear that obeying the gospel is synonymous with being saved. It is perfectly legitimate and scriptural to see salvation as an act of obedienc. The unbeliever does not produce this obedience on his own however; it is the result of the intervening work of the Holy Spirit of God (Eph 2:8-9). Nevertheless, it remains an act of obedience.
Saved By Obedience
Everyone who has ever been genuinely saved has been saved by obeying the gospel. In order to understand why scripture refers to salvation in this way, we must understand two very important yet neglected aspects of salvation – repentance and the lordship of Jesus Christ.
Repentance involves turning from sin and turning to God (1 Thess 1:9, Acts 26:17-18). It is the obedient response to the gospel’s claim that sin is a violation of God’s holy character and must be turned away from.
Acts 17:30-31 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Luke 10:13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.
Acts 2:38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
These passages make it clear that repentance is essential for salvation (Acts 20:21, Mark 1:15, Luke 13:3). Since the gospel demands repentance and since repentance is a command to be obeyed – it can be said that the gospel is a matter of obedience.
Turning from sin to God is in actuality, turning from a life of rebellion against God to a life of submission to Him.
Romans 6:16-22 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 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. 22 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.
The Bible says that we were once the slaves of sin, but have become slaves of righteousness. According to the Apostle Paul in this passage, salvation involves a change in who we serve or obey (cf. Matt 6:24). Repentance is a matter of turning from one master and submitting to another. It is turning from sin and submitting to God.
For the sake of the redemptive plan, God has put all things under the feet of Jesus Christ. After the resurrection, he ascended to the Father and was made Lord over all (Acts 2:36, Eph 1:22, 1 Cor 15:27, Heb 2:8). God now demands that all who would be saved, submit themselves to the authority of Jesus Christ. (Rom 10:9-10, Php 2:5-11; John 12:26).
Repentance and submission to the authority of Jesus Christ are matters of obedience. Some might accuse us of “works-salvation” for preaching repentance and the lordship of Jesus Christ. But the fact is, this obedience is the very essence of saving faith. It is not enough to believe the facts of the gospel. The devils believe there is one God (James 2:19). They even believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God (Matt 8:29; Mark 3:11; Luke 4:41). They certainly understand that Jesus rose from the dead and that he is Lord of all (Col 1:16-17). Believing the facts of the gospel does not save us. Responding to those facts with faith and obedience does. Besides all of this, repentance and faith could never be viewed as “works” since they are both sovereignly granted to the sinner by God himself (Acts 5:31; Acts 11:18). Without the intervening work of God, the unbeliever could never obey the gospel and be saved (John 6:44).
At the moment of salvation, the believer does not understand all that repentance and obedience to Christ entails. All he knows is that Christ is the only way to be saved, and that He is the one whom God has exalted as Lord over all. As the Christian grows, he learns more and more about what it means to serve God and to obey His Son. The point is, salvation from its very starting point, involves a willing heart of obedience toward the Lord Jesus Christ.
Saved To Obedience
The man or woman who understands that salvation is a matter of obedience to God will continue in obedience. Jesus Christ himself said that this continued obedience is a mark of genuine salvation.
John 8:31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,
1 John 2:3-5 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:
The genuine Christian understands that the Christian life is a life of obedience. From the moment we hear the gospel message and God’s command to repent, we understand that He requires obedience. Repentance at its core is turning from sin to God. It is turning from disobedience to obedience.
Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
God’s plan of redemption includes calling out a people from sin and disobedience to submission and obedience (1 Peter 1:1-2). These people are those whom God would create to perform “good works.” The continued, day-by-day work which God does in our hearts by the Holy Spirit is to make us obedient to His commands. Philippians 2:13 says for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Obedience is so integral to the salvation plan that Jesus Christ made it central to the Great Commission:
Matthew 28:19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The Great Commission is about more than simply sharing the gospel with others. It is about preaching the gospel and then teaching men and women all that it means to live lives of obedience toward Jesus Christ. Believers are saved by obedience and saved to obedience.
Obedience is not Legalism
It is important to remember that obedience is not legalism. It is not doing our best to follow God’s rules in our own effort. It is not a means of achieving salvation. It is not a matter of obtaining acceptance before God. It is not a price we pay to satisfy a wrathful God. Obedience is a loving submission to the one who died for us. It is the outward evidence of our inward faith in Him. Obedience requires our effort but is ultimately attributable to the work of the Holy Spirit of God inside of us. It is God and God alone who deserves glory for our obedience.
Obedience, an Act of Love
Sometimes we think of obedience as forced or obligatory, but a Christian’s obedience toward God should not be this way:
John 14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
John 14:21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”
The word of God is plain, if we love Jesus Christ we will obey Him. Jesus’ direct statement that a love for Him results in obedience is clear evidence that saving faith includes an obedient submission to the authority of Jesus Christ. This obedience is not driven by guilt, fear or obligation. It is driven by heartfelt love for God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. Christian obedience is a loving submission to the one who loved us and died for us. It is a legitimate attitude of the heart.
Satisfaction in Christ through Obedience
James 1:22-25 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
The word blessed here means “happy” or “fulfilled.” True happiness in the Christian life comes from obedience. The most miserable person in the world is a disobedient Christian. He can no longer find happiness in sin, nor can he experience the blessings of an obedient Christian life. The only way to true satisfaction and fulfillment for a Christian is to live in obedience to his Lord.
Consider some of the following blessings of obedience.
Answers to Prayer:
1 John 3:22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
John 7:17 If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.
The Presence of God:
John 14:23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
Stability in Life:
Many of the promises and blessings that accompany salvation are conditional. That is, they apply only to the obedient Christian life. The Christian who fails to obey God’s word, to submit to the leading of the Spirit or who continues in sin, is forfeiting the blessings of obedience. He suffers from instability in life, spiritual ignorance, broken fellowship with God and unanswered prayer. True, spiritual happiness comes only when the Christian lives a life of consistent obedience to his Lord.
Like many aspects of the Christian life, there is a paradox behind obedience. What do we mean by this? There are two seemingly contradictory sides to Christian obedience. On one hand, we all have a personal responsibility to obey God. On the other hand, we know that our obedience is impossible without the working of God’s Holy Spirit inside of us. So, who is responsible for our obedience? Us or God? The answer is both. How do we reconcile these truths? In short, we don’t.
In Philippians 2:12, Paul tells us to obey and “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. This clearly indicates that we are responsible for our obedience. But, in the very next verse Paul continues: “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” In these two verses Paul shows us both sides of the equation. We are responsible for our obedience. On the other hand, God is the source of our obedience. Paul linked these truths together unapologetically and without explanation. We should do the same.
The bottom line is – we must obey God while giving God all the glory for our obedience.