Have you ever known someone who is always questioning things? Surely we have all been around an inquisitive youngster whose every other word, it seems, is “Why?” Asking questions is how we learn.
Perhaps you have wondered what makes a Christian a Christian or contemplated about the experience into which the true gospel would lead you. Perhaps you have pondered sanctification and what comprises it, or mused about the experience you must have that will allow God to redeem you. Have you wanted to know what makes God’s people on this earth distinct and separate from the world?
An Alternative to Sin
Interestingly, each of these queries are answered with the same three-word phrase: Obedience to God.
“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” Romans 5:19. That statement tells us that there is an alternative to sin. It also tells us what sin is—it is disobedience. God is going to redeem us through obedience, by the experience of obedience. Do you notice it says, “So by the obedience of one . . . .” Who was that One? Jesus! Jesus’ obedience was perfect. Jesus’ obedience took Him to the cross, where He paid the penalty for our disobedience!
God Prepared the Way
Could we say that righteousness is obedience? Yes, and we are not taking anything away from it. God has made a way through His Son, Jesus Christ, to make us obedient to His will, to His law.
“Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” 1 John 3:4. So, God said, I am going to make you righteous, obedient to My law. It is a wonderful thing that God has given us an alternative to disobedience. That alternative is obedience. God says, “I am going to make you righteous through My Son, through His sacrifice for you. I want to bring you back into harmony with My will, My law; I want you to be an obedient child.”
“Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” Romans 6:16. That text tells us that obedience is our choice. Another thing that text reveals is that everybody in this wide world of ours is obeying someone.
As we look at these statements, inspired by God through the apostle Paul, we are looking at how encompassing is obedience to the plan of salvation. “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” Hebrews 5:8. This text tells us that Jesus himself, coming into this world as a human being, learned obedience.
We just saw in Romans 6 that we learn obedience by first choosing it. So Jesus chose to obey, and He learned it through the things which He suffered. Sometimes, when we obey God, we may suffer, but if we continue to choose to obey God, we are going to grow up in that suffering; we are going to truly learn what it means to obey God.
Now notice, “And being made perfect, he [Jesus] became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” Verse 9. Do you see how encompassing the word and the action of obedience is in regard to the plan of redemption? You cannot get around it. It is there. Obedience is the issue of salvation.
Our Saviour was obedient, and He says that He is able to save every one who will obey Him. Now if we hear of a gospel that eliminates obedience from the plan of salvation, do you think that that is the true gospel? No, and we have not even looked at the whole of the subject yet.
Making a Choice
God clarifies even more fully what obedience means and what the end will be to those who choose not to obey. “But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile.” Romans 2:8, 9. This is not an arbitrary decree on the part of God, because we are making the choice. God is just confirming our decision and saying, this is where your decision is leading you; do you want to continue in that direction?
We are told in Galatians 6 that God will not be mocked. What a man soweth, that is what he is going to reap. And that is all we are seeing here in Romans 2. Do you see how God reiterates things to us in various ways? I was told early on in my life that a good teacher is a teacher who always reiterates.
There is a difference between redundancy and repetition. God is not redundant, but He is repetitious. Repetition is telling us over and over again what is necessary for us to know. Being redundant is telling us over and over again that which is not necessary. God is very repetitious with us, because He loves us.
Notice what the people are who choose not to obey: “But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth . . . .” Verse 8. The truth is what God wants us to obey.
Rejecting Truth Rejects Jesus
The truth goes far beyond mere doctrine. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life . . . .” John 14:6. Did you know that all truth that we read about in God’s word has its origin in a Person? Every truth.
Every truth has its origin in Jesus! All the light we have comes from Him. Should we respond with warmer hearts? Oh, yes! He wants us to obey not merely the letter of the doctrine, He wants us to obey Him. He is able to give eternal life to all those who obey Him. (See Hebrews 5:9.)
Even though it is truth, if we try to obey it to the letter, not sensing it has come from Jesus, we will never obey in the manner in which God wants us to obey.
True obedience is where the true gospel leads us—into an experience in order that God can save us some day. Out there in the universe where there are innumerable worlds that have never fallen into sin—they obey God. It is interesting to learn, as we study Scripture, that everything which God created obeys Him, except man.
Even the demons and unclean spirits obey God. (See Mark 1:23–26.) Inanimate nature obeys Him; the wind and the sea obey Him. (See Mark 4:37, 39.) The angels in heaven obey Him. (See Testimonies, vol. 2, 271.) So if you and I are planning to go to heaven, where everybody is in obedience to God because they love Him for the kind of God that He is, then we are going to have to have that kind of experience. “All true obedience comes from the heart. [Where you see the word “true,” you can always know that there is a counterfeit.] It was heart work with Christ. And if we consent, He will so identify Himself with our thoughts and aims, so blend our hearts and minds into conformity to His will, that when obeying Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses. The will, refined and sanctified, will find its highest delight in doing His service. When we know God as it is our privilege to know Him, our life will be a life of continual obedience.” The Desire of Ages, 668.
Did you notice that obedience is linked up with knowing God? That is why, if we obey Him, we obey all the truth as it is in Him, as He gives it to us. But we are going to have true obedience only if we are motivated by a knowledge of Him, not just merely a knowledge of doctrine. A popular message from pulpits today is one of a relationship gospel. There is a lot of truth in that, because if we know God, we are going to love Him, and when we love Him, we are going to obey Him and keep all of His commandments. It is going to be our highest delight to please Him, and part of that pleasing Him is obeying.
Hebrews 11 is known as the faith chapter. You may wonder why this is not called the obedience chapter, but faith precedes all true obedience.
Notice verse 4: “By faith Abel offered . . . .” Verse 7: “By faith Noah . . . prepared an ark . . . .” Verse 8: “By faith Abraham . . . obeyed . . . .” Verse 28: “Through faith he [Moses] kept the passover . . . .” Verse 30: “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down . . . .” What followed faith in every instance? Obedience! Genuine obedience will always be preceded by genuine faith.
Is Justification Enough?
We hear a lot today in Christianity about justification by faith. There are those who believe that justification in and of itself is enough. That is the theology that accepts that Calvary is sufficient. When we take that concept, we negate the work in the sanctuary by Jesus after He left this earth and went back to heaven.
Is Calvary enough? Is justification enough? Is it enough just to be forgiven? No, we already read in Romans 5:19 that God has made a way through the death of His Son, through His obedience, to make us a righteous or obedient people. That deals with sanctification. Peter says, “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience . . . .” 1 Peter 1:2.
God wants to justify us through the obedience of His Son and His sacrifice in our behalf for our past, and now He wants to bestow upon us His Spirit by which He will sanctify us unto obedience. So the whole plan of redemption focuses on bringing us back into an attitude of complete obedience to God’s will. If we are hearing any other gospel, and sad to say, many are, it is not the true gospel.
God, by His Spirit, sanctifies us, and that sanctification is unto obedience. The messenger of God tells us that obedience, true sanctification, maintains our justification experience for us: “As the sinner looks to the law, his guilt is made plain to him, and pressed home to his conscience, and he is condemned. His only comfort and hope is found in looking to the cross of Calvary. As he ventures upon the promises, taking God at His word, relief and peace come to his soul. He cries, ‘Lord, Thou hast promised to save all who come unto Thee in the name of Thy Son. I am a lost, helpless, hopeless soul. Lord, save, or I perish.’ His faith lays hold on Christ, and he is justified before God.
“But while God can be just, and yet justify the sinner through the merits of Christ, no man can cover his soul with the garments of Christ’s righteousness while practicing known sins, or neglecting known duties. God requires the entire surrender of the heart, before justification can take place; and in order for man to retain justification, there must be continual obedience, through active, living faith that works by love and purifies the soul.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 366.
Grace is the Way
God says, through the apostle Paul, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8, 9. We have said this before—our total salvation comes by way of God. Every step we make in progress is from Him as we choose to respond.
Do you see that it is by grace only that we are saved? We are not saved by what we do for ourselves. It is by allowing God’s grace to work in us through His Spirit unto sanctification (see 1 Peter 1:2), unto obedience, that we are saved.
Grace is the only way that we can be brought back into harmony with God. God is trying to tell us what He wants to do for us. Paul says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works . . . .” Ephesians 2:10. Good works is just another way of saying obedience. The end of grace is obedience.
“What shall we say, then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid.” Romans 6:1, 2. You do not continue to disobey because you have grace. Notice verse 17: “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.”
That is a “from the heart” experience. “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under [condemned by] the law, but under grace.” Verse 14. If we are receiving the grace of God, then we have been pardoned—forgiven. That is why we are not under the condemnation of the law. “What then? shall we sin [continue to disobey], because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” Verse 15.
Means to the End
Put that thought [that we can be saved in our sins] far from you, Paul says, yet that thought is the theology of the day! What the theologians are preaching in the churches of Christianity today is a twisting and a perversion of Scripture. When preachers say, “Justification is all;” when they say, “Calvary is enough;” when they say, “Just to be forgiven is sufficient;” when they say, “Grace is all there is,” they are wrong. Grace is not the end. It is the means to the end, which is obedience.
The New Covenant is not new; it is the original covenant. Abraham and Moses were saved in the same manner as we are saved—by grace, through faith, unto obedience.
But God gives a wonderful promise, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.” Hebrews 8:10. If you and I are going to be the people of God, His law will be in our minds and in our hearts. Who puts it there? God does. Who chooses to have Him put it there? You and I do.
Jesus gives another wonderful promise to the Laodicean church (us) in Revelation 3:21: “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.”
The question is, What did Jesus overcome? He overcame the temptation to sin! He was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15. What is sin? It is the transgression of God’s law, or disobedience.
If Jesus was tempted in all points as we are yet without sin, what does that tell us? He never disobeyed! Then how did He overcome sin? By obedience. “Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book [it is] written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law [is] within my heart.” Psalm 40:7, 8. God’s law was in His heart and He continually chose to obey His Father. This is the experience He wants us to have, the experience of overcoming sin by being obedient to God’s Word.
Obedience Brings Victory
Jesus says, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” John 15:10. Keeping the commandments will give us victory over sin. Obedience is the means by which God gives us victory over sin. He writes His law upon our hearts and we are brought into harmony with His law by our choice.
“Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. . . . Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” 1 John 3:6, 9. The experience that Jesus had in regard to obedience to His Father’s will, His law, is the experience that He has called us to have. Any experience other than that will not allow us to some day be a part of His kingdom. That is the only experience that will give us victory over sin.
“Christ came to this world and lived the law of God, that man might have perfect mastery over the natural inclinations which corrupt the soul. . . . Obedience to God is liberty from the thralldom of sin, deliverance from human passion and impulse.” The Ministry of Healing, 130, 131.
“When one surrenders to Christ, the mind is brought under the control of the law; but it is the royal law, which proclaims liberty to every captive,” if we choose to obey it. Ibid., 131.
It is very obvious that obedience is not an optional experience in the Christian life. It is required. If we are going to be brought back into harmony with God’s will, we must be obedient.
Two Forms of Obedience
There are two forms of obedience between which all professed Christians can choose. There are only two, so it is not a hard decision. We know that if there is a true obedience, there is also a counterfeit or false obedience. It appears to be genuine, but it does not lead to heaven.
In an encounter Jesus had with a young man, both forms of obedience are shown. One is inferred; the other is directly brought to view. “And, behold, one came and said unto Him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” Matthew 19:16.
This young man was sincere and earnest, but these qualities were not enough to inherit eternal life. Jesus responded: “Why callest thou me good? [There is] none good but one, [that is,] God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” Verse 17.
Obedience! That is what Jesus told him. The young man wanted to know for certain which commandments Jesus meant. So Jesus made it very clear to him, as He always does for anyone who is sincere. He repeated to him what we recognize as the last six of the ten commandments. (See verses 18, 19.) Jesus said, “If you keep these commandments, you shall have life eternal.”
But the young man responded: “All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?” Verse 20. Did he have obedience? Yes, he had a form of obedience. However, he was not satisfied with the obedience that he was offering to God, because he was not gaining complete victory in his life. Complete victory over sin comes by way of true, perfect obedience to God.
The next verse tells us what constitutes true obedience: “Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go [and] sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come [and] follow me.” “Follow me” means to obey. Jesus got right to the heart of the issue. He pointed out to this young man that true obedience is heart obedience; it is spiritual obedience. Physical obedience is necessary, but God’s law goes beyond physical obedience—it goes right to the heart, and the heart of the issue with this rich, young man was selfishness—covetousness.
Jesus presented him the opportunity of true obedience. “But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.” Verse 22. He was a sorrowful Christian when he left Jesus, because he chose to retain a form of obedience that would not lead to complete victory over sin. He chose compromising obedience.
Head or Heart Obedience
Where are we in our personal experience with God in regard to obedience? Do we have merely a head obedience like that rich, young man, or do we have the heart obedience that Jesus had?
True obedience does not compromise. Jesus did not compromise a bit with this young man. He did not tell him to go and give 80 percent of what he had to the poor. It was all! He did not say, “Come and follow Me one day a week.” He said, “Sell all that you have, and come follow Me all the time.”
Do you know what the joy of Jesus is? It is overcoming. He overcame the temptation to sin through complete obedience to His Father’s law. Heart obedience is what we need. True obedience will always express God’s love in our life to others.
Paul said, in Romans 13:10, “Love [is] the fulfilling of the law.” We could say it this way: Love is the fulfilling of all true obedience to God. If we are someday going to reach our final destination—heaven—obedience is necessary. No matter what any man may say, obedience is not an option!