Copyright © 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Of the gallery of virtues which are to characterize the sons of God, obedience to God may be the most important. Love, faith, courage, patience, compassion, hope, are all necessary if we are to grow into the kind of man that God desires. But it may be true that obedience to God is the foundation on which all else is constructed.
But Samuel replied: "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams." (I Samuel 15:22)
After pondering for many years the fundamental error in Christian thinking I have come to the conclusion that the central issue is that of obedience to God. The Christian stance is that we are saved (qualified for Heaven) on the basis of a statement of belief in the facts concerning Jesus Christ. While this stance seems biblical, there certainly is death in the pot.
I would venture that what saves us is obedience, not belief; that belief is of worth only to the extent it causes us to obey God, to interact with the Lord Jesus on a moment by moment basis.
This may seem to be an "of course" sort of statement, but it hardly is that. How many Christian believers are trusting in their orthodoxy of belief but are not serving Christ with their whole heart?
Let me comment first about being a disciple.
A Christian is a disciple, by definition.
And when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. (Acts 11:26)
"The disciples were called Christians."
Are we scriptural when we claim a disciple is a Christian, a Christian is a disciple, that the two terms are synonymous?
But look where that leaves us!
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26,27)
Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)
So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:33)
Let us substitute Christian for disciple.
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be a Christian. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be a Christian. (Luke 14:26,27)
So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be a Christian. (Luke 14:33)
If a Christian is a disciple, then the above is true.
We of today say that if a person confesses Jesus as Lord he is a saved person and therefore a Christian.
But if the Word of God is true, the only person who is a Christian is he who has denied himself, taken up his cross, and is following Jesus.
Now, how many Christian believers in the United States are denying themselves, forsaking all that they have, putting Christ ahead of their loved ones, are carrying their personal cross, and are following the Lamb wherever He goes?
What is your answer to this?
My statement is, these are the only Christians. The rest may be fine people, excellent church members, but they are not Christians.
Are they saved? Only Christ knows. I do not see in the New Testament that someone can be saved and still not be a Christian. Perhaps he or she can.
All I know is, the New Testament states that the only true Christian is the individual who has denied himself, taken up his cross, and is following the Lord Jesus step by step throughout the days of his life.
So it may be true that out of the millions of Christian believers there are only a few thousand Christians. Is this possible?
You may be outraged by this. It simply does not matter. If we are going to please God we are going to have to go by His Word, not by circumstances or what we think is true.
Now, how did we get ourselves into such an unscriptural position that we believe a person can be saved without being a disciple of Jesus? We say we believe in the Great Commission. But the Great Commission never commanded us to get people saved but to make disciples, teaching them to keep the commandments of Jesus Christ.
We got ourselves into this mess by taking a few verses out of their context in the New Testament and building a theology from them. We tell people that if they will make a profession of faith according to these few verses they will be saved and go to Heaven. But we do not tell them to be a Christian they have to be a disciple of the Lord. We do not tell them they have to forsake everything and follow Jesus every day.
We are not preaching the truth, and this is why we have the moral chaos that exists in the churches and consequently in the world about us, for the Christian churches are the only moral guidelines that God has given the world. We are the light of the world, and that light has grown very dim in our day.
Let us go now to the subject of this present essay, which is obedience to God.
Christian theology is based on the teachings of Paul concerning the fact that Abraham believed God and God counted it to Abraham for righteousness. So we preach and teach that to be righteous all we have to do is believe the things God has put in the Bible.
We are ignoring all that Paul taught about the absolute necessity for righteous behavior. We are ignoring what the Apostle John stated about keeping God’s commandments. We are ignoring what the Apostle James said about Abraham being justified by the fact that he obeyed God by offering up Isaac.
Obviously we do not understand what Paul meant by insisting that Abraham was declared righteous on the basis of naked belief, for there is no contradiction in the Scriptures.
The reason for our misunderstanding Paul is that when Paul speaks of "works" we assume he means righteous behavior. This is not what Paul was saying. Paul was speaking of the works of the Law of Moses.
Paul’s whole point in the Book of Romans (and he was speaking to Jews primarily—"I am speaking to men who know the Law") is that an individual can be declared righteous apart from the works of the Law of Moses, a condition which was and still is inconceivable to the orthodox Jew. This is Paul’s point, not that righteous behavior is not an integral aspect of the Christian salvation.
Yes, we can be righteous even though we are not obeying the Law of Moses. In one instance, all that God required of Abraham was that Abraham believe what God said. Because Abraham believed God, God declared him righteous.
After this God commanded Abraham to offer Isaac as a burnt offering to God. The obedience of Abraham concerning the sacrifice of his son was regarded by God as an act of righteousness and resulted in very great fruitfulness. Abraham became at that point the father of all who believe in Jesus Christ.
Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God’s friend. (James 2:21-23)
What do you suppose would have been true had Abraham refused to obey God in the matter of offering Isaac? This is a critical question with reference to today’s theology.
We might say that since Abraham was justified by his faith at the time of the original promise, he was righteous for all time. Even though he refused to obey God in the offering of Isaac he would still go to Heaven because he had believed God on a previous occasion.
This is precisely what is preached today. We Christians teach that we can state our belief in the blood atonement, and then we are righteous for all time—even though we do not live a life of obedience to God.
We speak currently of unconditional love, meaning no matter how we sin against God He still loves us and will bring us to Heaven. Does God love Abraham? What if Abraham had refused to give up Isaac? Would God still have made him the father of all who believe?
The fact is, we are preaching a fantasy today. The "plan of salvation" we have developed is not scriptural, even though it is based on some verses drawn from the New Testament.
We are not preaching the truth of God. What we are announcing does not stand the test when the Scriptures are examined.
We are not informing people they have to be disciples and forsake all they have to follow the Lord. We are telling them they can be "saved" apart from keeping the commandments of Christ. Therefore we are not fulfilling the Great Commission. We are preaching a lie.
Now, let us go back to Abraham and see why he was declared righteous at one point by naked belief, and at another point by actions he took.
We would submit that the common denominator is not belief but obedience. It is obedience that brings righteousness, not any religious statement or action no matter how scriptural.
Samuel was chastising King Saul for not utterly destroying the Amalekites, as the Lord had commanded.
This is what the LORD Almighty says: "I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys." (I Samuel 15:2,3)
But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed. (I Samuel 15:9)
Saul had in mind to offer sacrifices to God at Gilgal.
"But I did obey the LORD," Saul said. "I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal." (I Samuel 20,21)
And so Samuel replied:
. . . "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams." (I Samuel 15:22)
Can you see from the above what we mean by saying religious ordinances, even if commanded by the Lord, do not delight the Lord as does obedience?
Saul was perfectly willing to offer sheep and cattle as sacrifices to the Lord. But he was not willing to obey God perfectly.
This is our problem today. We are willing to receive the blood atonement by faith, to do our religious duty, but we do not see why we should have to obey God perfectly in every area of life. Isn’t it enough that we have accepted the blood of Christ as our sin offering?
How we humans love to convert God’s Divine salvation into a program we can manage—that we can perform apart from heartfelt obedience to Christ! Take the four steps of salvation, do your religious duty, and then you are free to live your own life as you please.
The Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus we see that grace is not an alternative to obedient discipleship but to the Law of Moses. The contrast is between the Law and grace, not between obedience to God and grace, or righteous behavior and grace, or discipleship and grace. To use Divine grace as an alternative to the transformation of our moral character, the transformation demanded by the new covenant, is to attempt to change the grace of God into a covering of the lusts of our sinful nature.
He took him outside and said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:5,6)
At this point God required nothing of Abraham except belief. This is all. Anything Abraham would have done to establish this promise would have added nothing to the promise. So the belief actually was obedience to God based on faith in God.
Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. (Romans 1:5)
The obedience that comes from faith.
Abraham had a deep faith in God. When God spoke, Abraham obeyed God by believing the promise. Abraham’s belief in this startling promise was actually an act of obedience.
The Lord Jesus informed us that belief is a work.
Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." (John 6:29)
Abraham did not earn righteousness by obedience, Abraham received righteousness through obedience.
The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time And said, "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, And through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me." (Genesis 22:15-18)
Would Abraham have been justified by faith if he had believed that God wanted him to sacrifice Isaac and then had done nothing about it? Of course not! How then can we teach that we are saved "by faith alone" and use Abraham as an illustration of our doctrine?
To use Abraham as an illustration that we are saved by naked belief is to ignore other statements God made concerning Abraham. Certainly we can use Abraham’s naked belief and the resulting righteousness to illustrate that it is possible to be declared righteous apart from the works of the Law of Moses. But to then proceed to declare that now God requires only naked belief in the facts and promises concerning Jesus Christ, and as a result we no longer must walk in strict obedience to God in order to remain in right standing with Him, is to depart completely from all God intends to accomplish under the new covenant. The prevailing position concerning justification by belief alone is definitely unscriptural and results in an eternal babyhood on the part of the believers.
Obedience to God is the very heart of righteousness.
Love is important. But love for Christ must be expressed by obedience to Christ. "If you love Me, keep My commandments." Thus obedience to the commandments of Christ and His Apostles is a litmus test, we might say. If we are not obedient to Christ we do not love Christ. Thus we see that love is not an emotion but obedience that comes from true faith in God.
Faith is important. But faith without works of obedience is dead. True faith lives in the works of obedience to God.
God is not commanding us today to obey the Law of Moses. He is commanding us to look up to Christ for righteousness, to receive by faith the blood atonement, and then to do what Christ has commanded; for if we do not do what Christ has commanded, then we are disobeying God.
We cannot say we believe in Christ so we are righteous. We are righteous only as long as we are obeying God. When God tells us to believe, then we are righteous when we obey God in the matter of belief. When God tells us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus, then we are righteous when we obey God by taking up our cross and following Jesus. We cannot say, "I am righteous because I believe even though I am not doing what Christ and His Apostles have commanded."
You see, the righteousness does not come to us on the basis of belief but on the basis of obedience.
If we say we believe in Christ, and then do not do what Christ has commanded, are we righteous on the basis of belief apart from obedience? Obviously not.
From the days of Adam and Eve the issue has been one of obedience versus disobedience.
For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19)
Noah was righteous because he obeyed God. He demonstrated his faith by obeying God in the building of the Ark.
Abraham was righteous because he obeyed God by believing God, and then by other acts of obedience.
All the prophets and patriarchs were righteous because they obeyed God, delivering the message God gave to them.
The Lord Jesus Christ brought righteousness on all of us by obeying God under incredibly difficult circumstances.
It is not enough to believe God exists. We must believe further that He rewards those who seek after Him, doing His will from the heart.
The eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews is an account of people who obeyed God, not who subscribed to a theological position. Yet this chapter is included in the Book of Hebrews as a definition of "the just shall live by faith."
The Apostle Paul tells us that if we would inherit eternal life we must choose to obey righteousness. It is obedience to God that leads to righteousness. Eternal life is the righteousness that comes from obedience.
Don’t you know when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Romans 6:16)
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (Romans 6:22)
We see from the above that it is slavery to God, stern obedience to God, that leads to holiness and the resulting eternal life.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
We Christians of today have seized on the above verse, Romans 6:23, and have declared that eternal life is a gift that God gives us because we have professed belief in Jesus Christ. We ignore totally the context of Romans 6:23, which is that it is slavery to God that leads to eternal life. In fact, Romans 6:23 was not written to the unsaved but to believers who had been baptized in water.
We have done this with all the verses we use to construct the "four steps of salvation." We have removed them from their contexts and put together a nice little formula by which American Christians can continue to walk after the desires of their sinful nature and still go to Heaven when they die (or be caught up in an unscriptural pre-tribulation "rapture").
Eternal life always is the result of obedience, whether we have been commanded to "only believe" or whether we have been commanded to take some action.
The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (I John 2:17)
From the beginning of time, those who have done the will of God have borne an eternal witness. Noah, Abraham, Moses, Daniel are still testifying to us and always will testify of God, because they did His will.
But those who say "I believe," and then walk after the imaginations of their evil heart, will never testify of God. They are living in deception. They may be saved as by fire, or they may end up in the Lake of Fire even though they have made a profession of faith. They have not obeyed God, and eternal life is the result of obeying God when He speaks to us personally or through the written Word.
They keep saying to those who despise me, "The LORD says: ‘You will have peace.’" And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts they say, "No harm will come to you." (Jeremiah 23:17)
This is what American Christians are being told: "You do not have to serve Christ. God loves you with an unconditional love. You may continue in sin for the rest of your life, but you will have peace. No harm will come to you. You have been saved by grace."
When the Lord Jesus appears He will say to such "believers," and to their teachers along with them: "Depart from me you evildoers. I never knew you."
This is what is going to be declared to multitudes of American Christians unless they turn from their wicked ways and begin to live as disciples of the Lord Jesus.
If you are not obeying what you know to be God’s will for you, then you are not righteous in God’s sight. You are under condemnation.
You do not need to stay that way. You can choose to pray and present your body a living sacrifice. You can turn your condemnation into conviction, and then begin to serve God as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But if you continue in the typical Christian pattern you eventually will find that you have been deceived. And it is your own fault, because the Bible is available to you to read. Go to the New Testament and see if it emphasizes naked belief, or obedience to Christ and His Apostles. Come out from the lawless- grace, "rapture" teaching. Find some earnest disciples if you can. Fellowship with them and serve Christ with all your might.
And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. (II John 1:6)
We show that we love God when we obey His commands. God has commanded us, among other things, to walk in love. This is so difficult! Most of us are quick to judge, criticize, and slander other believers. We cause division by our bitterness and spite. We are not obeying Christ by doing so. We must pray, pray, pray, until we can overcome our gossiping and criticizing and the other acts of our sinful nature. The Holy Spirit will help us to walk in perfect victory if we will pray and ask for assistance.
Sometimes we are given a very bitter cup to drink. When this happens we are to stay faithful to God; we are to remain in the prison where God places us. We are to remain obedient under the hand of God until He gives us the desires of our heart.
"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42)
Even the Lord Jesus had to submit His will to the will of the Father.
Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8)
God often chastises us, sending much suffering on us, that we might be taught obedience. We are not to complain or be amazed at the fiery test we are required to endure. We are to remain faithful, obeying God in every detail. God honors such faithful obedience and rewards us with eternal life.
Are we earning our salvation by works? Not at all. We merely are obeying God as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling. To not do this, to not obey God in every matter, is rebellion. Rebellion is not permitted in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is the doing of God’s will in the earth as it is performed in Heaven.
The original sin was rebellion against the Father’s will. We as Christians are given a cross to bear that we might be healed from our sinful, rebellious nature. It is this very healing that itself is salvation. Salvation is not residence in Heaven. Sin began in Heaven around the throne of God when Satan rebelled against the will of the Father. No, salvation is not residence in Heaven, it is deliverance from our sinful rebellious nature.
To be saved is to be set free from disobedience to God. Obedience pleases God and brings fellowship with God and eternal life to us.
And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete. (II Corinthians 10:6)
While Paul was speaking here of the obedience of the believers in the local congregations, it is applicable on a Kingdom-wide scale. As soon as the obedience of God’s saints is complete, the Lord Jesus Christ will return and destroy disobedience from the whole earth.
Notice carefully the following verse:
Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. (II Corinthians 9:13)
We see that there was an obedience that accompanied their confession of the Gospel of Christ. True faith in Christ always results in visible works of repentance.
First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. (Acts 26:20)
"Prove their repentance by their deeds."
Compare this with the current anemic "Slip up your hand and let Jesus into your heart and you will go to Heaven by grace."
Paul preached repentance, not just naked belief. They were to prove their repentance by their deeds. Paul did not preach "faith alone," but faith that resulted in stern obedience to God. His argument in Romans was, as we have stated, to prove to the Jews that belief alone could bring righteousness apart from the works of the Law of Moses, when belief was all that God was requiring. Throughout his epistles the Apostle Paul stressed the absolute necessity of works of righteousness.
The whole Bible is one seamless robe of Christ. We Christians are not in a "new dispensation" in which God requires only belief in a theological position. The intention of God from the days of Adam and Eve to the present has not changed. God always has and always will look for faith in people, faith that results necessarily in strict obedience to God. God will not have disobedient children. God never has and never will accept disobedience on the part of those who would have fellowship with Him.
Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites." (Exodus 19:5,6)
From the time I brought your forefathers up from Egypt until today, I warned them again and again, saying, "Obey me." But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubbornness of their evil hearts. So I brought on them all the curses of the covenant I had commanded them to follow but that they did not keep. (Jeremiah 11:7,8)
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:19,20)
If you love me, you will obey what I command. (John 14:15)
And why do you call Me, "Lord, Lord," and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46)
His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." (John 2:5)