Is Obedience the Requirement of God or of Man?|
Members of the church of Christ did not invent the concept of obedience, and we did not decide to make obedience necessary for salvation. Those principles came from God Himself, and members of the church are bound to uphold them and teach them to others. We could no more deny obedience to God than we could deny the Lord Jesus Himself. Even Jesus obeyed His Father to become our Savior, just as Hebrews 5:8-9 states,
8Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. 9And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation...
This same Lord Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15), so we are constrained by love and His own example to obey Him. If we do not love Him enough to obey the commandments of His gospel, then He will deal out retribution and eternal destruction away from His presence and His power when He comes again (2Thess. 1:8-10). God has determined this and not us.
God's expectations of obedience are as old as the creation of man, for from the beginning man was given commandments to follow (Gen. 2:15-17). God expected Noah to obey Him in the building of the ark (Gen. 6:13-22). He expected Abraham to obey when He commanded him to sacrifice Isaac, and He reckoned Abraham's faithful obedience as righteousness (Gen. 22:1-18; Jas. 2:21-24). He expected the nation of Israel to obey the Law He gave to them through Moses (Ex. 19:5-6). He expected King Saul to obey in the destruction of the Amalekites (1Sam. 15:1-23). These examples go on and on in the Old Testament, and there are more in the New Testament. Jesus expected His apostles to obey Him and to teach His commandment to others (Matt. 28:18-20). By the Holy Spirit, Peter expressed God's expectation for sinners to obey Him in repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). Likewise by the Spirit, Paul stated God's expectation for the churches to keep His commandments (1Cor. 14:37; 2Thess. 3:14). Indeed, we are all expected to obey the truth (Rom. 2:8; Gal. 5:7), obey the doctrine (Rom. 6:17-18), obey the faith (Acts 6:7; Rom. 1:5; 16:26), and obey the Lord Jesus and the gospel of God (1Pet. 1:2; 4:17).
Unfortunately, our attempts to practice and teach obedience to God are often misconstrued as the pursuit of salvation by works of merit. So often, any mention of the necessity for obedience is answered with Ephesians 2:8-9, which says,
8For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Those who answer this way misunderstand this passage of Scripture. They imply that salvation by grace through faith negates the need for obedience, but nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, the very next verse says, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." Taken altogether, this passage is saying that our good works in obedience to God are a credit to Him and not to us. By no means does this remove the necessity of obedience, but rather it establishes this necessity. In truth, it is the saving grace of God that has given us the instructions to obey (Tit. 2:11-12), and it is faith in Christ that moves us to do good works (Jas. 2:14-26). If we don't obey God's instructions, then we reject His offer of grace, and if we don't perform good works, then our faith is dead and powerless to save us. Therefore, obedience is not a rejection of grace and faith, but rather it is the fulfillment of them.
Similarly, obedience to the commandments of God is also portrayed as hypocritical, Pharisaic tradition. The implication here is that anyone who teaches obedience is comparable to the Pharisees, who sought righteousness by manmade traditions and superficial, outward works. This comparison fails quickly because Christians are practicing obedience to God's word whereas the Pharisees were following the traditions of men (Matt. 15:1-9). In fact, the argument turns back on those who reject obedience as a part of salvation, for their ideas concerning salvation without obedience are founded on man's traditions rather than God's word. To them, we answer, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). Who then is more like the Pharisees -- the one who obeys God's commandments, or the one who says obedience is unnecessary?
Therefore, let us be obedient to our Lord and urge others to do the same. Only by doing so can anyone truly call Jesus "Lord," for otherwise He asks, "Why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46). Let us also remember that Jesus is a merciful Lord, and He is forgiving of our sins, weaknesses, and failures (Heb. 4:15-16; 1John 1:1-2:2). However, He does not accept those who reject Him and rebel against His authority in disobedience (Rom. 2:8). For those who are troubled by the idea of obedience to God, their problem is not with those who keep or teach God's commandments, but rather their problem is with God Himself.
Stacey E. Durham
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