Among Christians today, a frequently debated question is, Do we really have to obey God exactly? Some people say that it is impossible to obey God exactly and completely, so we should just try to be as good as we can. Others think that we do not even need to try, since God will save us just the way we are. What is the Bible’s answer to this important question? There are several Bible stories that we will examine to help us discover that answer.
In the Garden of Eden, Eve did not think that it was really very important that she obey God exactly, so she ate a piece of fruit that God said not to eat. As a result of this seemingly small deviation from God’s command, the floodgates of misery, woe, sickness, suffering, death, strife, and war were opened up for all of her descendents.
Cain was another person who did not think it was important to obey God exactly. He thought that he could choose the part of God’s command he wanted to follow, so when God instructed them to bring a lamb as a sacrifice, he brought a sacrifice, but instead of a lamb, he brought the fruit of his own hands to offer to God. What response did he receive from God? “And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. So God said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why is your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is at the door.’ ” Genesis 4:4-7. Cain was worshipping the Lord. He was even bringing an offering to the Lord, but he did not follow the divine instructions. His obedience was not exact.
A Rebellious People
This failure of the human race since the time of Adam to recognize that God means what He says is also seen in the story of the children of Israel in the wilderness. When God worked a miracle every day to provide manna for their food, He gave them special instructions about its preparation and use. In Exodus 16:19, 20, we read, “And Moses said, ‘Let no one leave any of it [the manna] till morning.’ ” Did they follow these simple instructions? “Notwithstanding they did not heed Moses. But some of them left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them.” They refused to listen to God’s counsel through Moses. They did not think it was important to obey exactly.
When they disobeyed God, they saw the results. And it would seem logical that they would have learned to obey God when He gave them instruction, but when He told them to gather a double portion for the Sabbath day and not go out on the Sabbath to gather food, they again tested God. “Now it happened [that some] of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found none. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws? See! For the Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.’ So the people rested on the seventh day.” Exodus 16:27–30.
Human beings seem to have a hard time learning that God means what He says even though His requirements are few. There are only Ten Commandments in the whole moral law. There is not an encyclopedia or books and books of laws. His Law is simple enough for a child to understand, but God is particular as to whether or not His Word is obeyed.
It is important to obey God exactly. In fact, your eternal destiny is determined by whether or not you obey God exactly. Exact obedience does not earn salvation, but the gift of salvation is not given to those who are rebellious against God and are not particular to obey Him.
A Disobedient Prophet
The story of the prophet sent to rebuke king Jeroboam and to prophesy what was going to happen to him because of his idolatry adds to our understanding of the seriousness of this point. After the prophet gave His message, the king was so angry that he ordered his seizure. As he pointed his finger toward the prophet, his whole hand withered up, and he could not move it—his hand was paralyzed. In terror, he pled with the prophet, “Oh, please, pray for me!” So the prophet prayed for him, and the Lord worked a miracle and restored his arm to perfect function.
Here he had very plain evidence, in his own body, that the Lord had spoken to him through this prophet. He realized that it would only be wise to listen to this prophet, so he said to him, “Come home with me and eat with me.” But the prophet said, “No!” “ ‘If you were to give me half your house, I would not go in with you; nor would I eat bread nor drink water in this place. For so it was commanded me by the word of the Lord, saying, “You shall not eat bread, nor drink water, nor return by the same way you came.” ’ So he went another way and did not return by the way he came to Bethel.
“Now an old prophet dwelt in Bethel, and his sons came and told him all the works the man of God had done that day in Bethel; they also told their father the words which he had spoken to the king. And their father said to them, ‘Which way did he go?’ For his sons had seen which way the man of God went who came from Judah. Then he said to his sons, ‘Saddle the donkey for me.’ So they saddled the donkey for him; and he rode on it, and went after the man of God and found him sitting under an oak.
“Then he said to him, ‘[Are] you the man of God who came from Judah?’ And he said, ‘I [am].’ Then he said to him, ‘Come home with me and eat bread.’ And he said, ‘I cannot return with you nor go in with you; neither can I eat bread or drink water with you in this place. For I have been told by the word of the Lord, “You shall not eat bread nor drink water there, nor return by going the way you came.” ’
“He said to him, ‘I too [am] a prophet as you [are], and an angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord, saying, “Bring him back with you to your house, that he may eat bread and drink water.” ’ (He was lying to him.) So he went back with him, and ate bread in his house, and drank water.
“Now it happened, as they sat at the table, that the word of the Lord came to the prophet who had brought him back; and he cried out to the man of God who came from Judah, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Because you have disobeyed the word of the Lord, and have not kept the commandment which the Lord your God commanded you, but you came back, ate bread, and drank water in the place of which [the] Lord said to you, ‘Eat no bread and drink no water,’ your corpse shall not come to the tomb of your fathers.” ’
“So it was, after he had eaten bread and after he had drunk, that he saddled the donkey for him, the prophet whom he had brought back. When he was gone, a lion met him on the road and killed him. And his corpse was thrown on the road, and the donkey stood by it. The lion also stood by the corpse. And there, men passed by and saw the corpse thrown on the road, and the lion standing by the corpse. Then they went and told it in the city where the old prophet dwelt.
“Now when the prophet who had brought him back by the way heard [it], he said, ‘It [is] the man of God who was disobedient to the word of the Lord. Therefore the Lord has delivered him to the lion which has torn him and killed him, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke to him.’ And he spoke to his sons, saying, ‘Saddle the donkey for me.’ So they saddled [it].
“Then he went and found his corpse thrown on the road, and the donkey and the lion standing by the corpse. The lion had not eaten the corpse nor torn the donkey. And the prophet took up the corpse of the man of God, laid it on the donkey, and brought it back. So the old prophet came to the city to mourn, and to bury him. Then he laid the corpse in his own tomb; and they mourned over him, [saying], ‘Alas, my brother!’ ” 1 Kings 13:7–30.
To Whom Do You Listen?
The problem for this prophet was that he listened to another prophet who lied to him, claiming to have a message from an angel. Do you realize that when God speaks, even if an angel should tell you to do something different, you are going to lose your soul if you disobey the Lord?
The apostle Paul makes this clear: “If we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:8. When God speaks, you will lose your soul if you listen to anybody else and disobey—even if it is an angel.
We need to learn this lesson today, for many people are going to eternal destruction who could be saved if they understood that whether you obey or disobey makes the difference between whether you will have eternal life or eternal death.
Notice what Moses said to the children of Israel about this very point. “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess. But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong [your] days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess. I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendents may live; that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He [is] your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.” Deuteronomy 30:15–20.
New Covenant Obedience
Moses said, “I am setting before you life and death determined by your obedience.” However, some will say, “But, I am living in the new covenant today.” Do you realize that the requirements of the new covenant are even stricter than the requirements of the old covenant? (Read the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5, 6, and 7.)
In the new covenant, Jesus said that it is not enough to keep the Law of God on the outside; you have to keep it from your heart. He declared the necessity of obedience in John 5:28, 29: “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” Jesus links the type of life that you live to your eternal destiny. Obedience or disobedience determines your eternal destiny.
The apostle Paul repeats the same warning as he speaks concerning God, “Who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God. For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law [are] just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; . . .).” Romans 2:6–13.
Another New Testament writer speaks to the same subject: “If you really fulfill [the] royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.” James 2:8–12.
It is clear that James is talking about the moral law, the Ten Commandments. Breaking one of these commandments makes you guilty of breaking them all. Obedience or disobedience will determine the eternal destiny of men and women, boys and girls.
The Bible predicts that obedience will distinguish God’s true people from His professed followers in the last days, when Jesus predicted that “Because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.” Matthew 24:12. God’s last day people are described in Revelation 12:17: “And the dragon was enraged with the woman [the symbol of a church], and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring [the last of God’s people], who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
God’s people in the last days will be commandment keepers. Again, in Revelation 14:12, we read: “Here is the patience of the saints; here [are] those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” God’s people are here contrasted with the disobedient, those who receive the mark of the beast. (See Revelation 14:9–11.)
The last chapter of the Bible says again, “Blessed [are] those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.” Revelation 22:14. The next verse describes those who do not obey God’s commandments. Three times in the last three chapters of Revelation God contrasts the obedient with the disobedient, so we will not make a mistake. Eternal destiny is determined by whether you obey God exactly.
But today there is a worldwide deception concerning the Law of God. Some people think that you cannot keep it. Others think that you do not need to keep it. But the worst deception of all is when people think that they can change or adjust the requirements of God’s Law, and that then they are keeping it when actually they are breaking it. This is especially true when people claim to be keeping God’s Law while they are breaking the fourth commandment, the Sabbath commandment mentioned in Exodus 20:8–11.
Through Jesus, God’s mercy has been manifested to men, but mercy does not set aside justice. The law reveals the attributes of God’s character, and not one jot or tittle of it can be set aside to meet man in his fallen condition. God did not change His Law. He sacrificed Himself in Christ to redeem man from the curse of the law.
The law requires righteousness, a righteous life, and a perfect character. But this man does not have, so he cannot give it. He cannot meet the claims of God’s holy law, but Christ came down to earth as a man, lived a holy life, and developed a perfect character. These He offers to give to man as a free gift, if man will receive it.
More than this, Christ imbues a man with the attributes of God’s own character, so He can develop, within this human being, the attributes of the divine character, that the principles of the law might be fulfilled in the life of the Christian. (Romans 8.) By His life and death, Christ proved that God’s justice did not destroy His mercy, as the devil’s deception claims. He showed that sin could be forgiven, that the law is righteous and can be perfectly obeyed. The law was not abrogated, which would immortalize sin and place the whole world under Satan’s control.
Because the law could not be changed, Jesus died on the cross and established the law. However, Christ’s death on the cross is the very act which the devil claims destroyed the law. He has led men to believe that the moral law, the Ten Commandments, was nailed to the cross, when, in fact, Christ came to do just the opposite.
Since the beginning of the great controversy, Satan has claimed that the law, spoken by God’s own voice, is faulty and that some specification can be set aside. The last great deception that Satan will bring upon the world will be on this same point. Bible prophecy foretells that in the last days Satan will assail one of God’s commandments, and lead men to keep a man-made law instead of God’s Law. Will the devil need to make you break the whole law? No, he knows that those who keep the whole law but offend in one point are guilty of all. (James 2:10.) He knows that if you consent deliberately to break one precept, that brings you under his control. So, the devil will work on the minds of men so that they will set up their laws to counterwork the Law of God and seek to compel the consciences of others to enforce their man-made laws.
This warfare against God’s Law will continue until the end of time. Every man is going to be tested. Obedience or disobedience is the question to be decided by the whole world. Every single human being is going to choose between the Law of God and the laws of men. Here the dividing line will be drawn. There will only be two classes. Every character will be fully developed, every person will demonstrate whether or not he will keep all the Law of God. What will your decision be?
Pastor John Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.