BY DAVE STEEL
In the New Testament, obedience to Christ is the standard evidence that someone is a true believer. There faith and obedience are inseparable. Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw faith and obedience as so intertwined that he said,
“Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.”
If this is true, then obedience is not optional for a disciple of Jesus. Nor is helping others obey Christ optional for the disciple maker. And since a Christian is both a disciple and a disciple maker, the topic of obedience to Christ must be of utmost importance to us as believers.
But do you ever find yourself downplaying the importance of obedience in order to steer clear of legalism? Jesus gave us good reason to repudiate legalism when he repeatedly chastised the Pharisees for it. But we need to take care that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. A legalist obeys in order to earn God’s approval. A disciple obeys because he has received God’s grace. The fact that obedience to Christ has been counterfeited in the pursuit of self-righteousness doesn’t make Holy Spirit-driven obedience any less valuable or necessary.
The apostle Paul alludes to the necessity of obedience when he opens his Epistle to the Romans by describing his apostleship as a mandate to “call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith” (Rom. 1:5; italics added). He closes the letter with that same phrase: “the obedience that comes from faith” (Rom. 16:26). In between these two bookends, Paul unpacks what that phrase means, though no one is more concise than the apostle John: “We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands” (1 John 2:3). Obedience, according to John, is a litmus test for authentic faith in Christ.
James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the church in Jerusalem, devoted an entire chapter of his Epistle to this subject, concluding that, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (Jas. 2:26). Doug Moo explains that James is here saying that, “Faith that is not accompanied by works ceases to be. It becomes mere profession and has no claim to be biblical faith. . . . James is not arguing that works be ‘added’ to faith, but that one possess the right kind of faith, a ‘faith that works.’”
Numerous other passages could be cited, but these will suffice in demonstrating that, in the words of Jonathan Lunde, “Biblical faith inevitably expresses itself in obedience. Where the latter is lacking, the former is most likely illusory.”
So ask yourself, “Do I find in my heart a holy desire to do what Jesus says?” If so, never deny this urge. Trust it. Act on it. It reveals that something supernatural has happened in your heart: you have come to faith in Jesus Christ.
The urge to obey Christ reveals something else about your heart as well. We’ll address that in my next blog post.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, rev. ed. (New York, NY: Collier Books, 1963), 69.
Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 144.
Jonathan Lunde, Following Jesus, the Servant King: A Biblical Theology of Covenant Discipleship (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 279.