To oBEy or Not to oBEy? That is not the Question.

HamletI recently heard a radio preacher from a large evangelical church in Southern California say, “The reason that there is no revival today is the sin in the church. How could God bless us if we are involved in the sins we are.” Is that true? Imagine if He was right. Imagine if God’s will and work in the world were dependent on me. That is a pretty heavy burden and weight of guilt for a mere mortal like me to bear. The reality is, if my sin really held back revival – then revival would never come. Because, as Luther aptly stated, we are simultaneously justified and sinful. I have been radically saved and transformed, but I remain a sinner in need of a Savior.

This pastor is not alone. There are thousands of pulpits in evangelical churches proclaiming this people-centric theology; that what God wants most is my obedience, and when He gets it He blesses and when He doesn’t get it He curses or ignores. If that were true, that would mean that our performance is what drives the hand of God; and it would degrade God’s sovereignty by making His will subject to my actions. It would make me the initiator and Him the responder. That is a scary thought and simply not what the Bible teaches.

While I appreciate a pastor’s desire to motivate their congregation toward holiness (I have the same desire) we must not let that desire lead us to “beating the rock a second time.” So let’s be careful to properly represent God and how he relates to His people (Christians). Let’s not give our people the impression that when they are committing less outward sins, that their deeds are somehow good enough to earn something from God. That somehow in those instances, when their spiritual performance looks good and their actions appear to be obedient, that God is more willing and able to work in their life and in the world. As good as that sounds, it’s not true. They could never be good enough. God’s holiness requires something that none of us is capable of delivering – sinless perfection. That means that our works can’t earn us anything. Even the most pious devotion and dedicated work, if it is performed as an attempt to be righteous, will fall flat. We need a righteousness greater than we can muster up. We need a Savior.

 With that in mind, let’s return to the revival issue. I truly believe that radio pastor was trying to be helpful, and that he whole-heartedly believed what he was saying. However, for the reasons stated above, I vehemently disagree with him. And I disagree because I believe he has the proposition backward. Revival doesn’t tarry because sin abounds. Sin abounds because revival tarries. And one of the reasons we aren’t experiencing revival is because the church is spending too much time looking in the mirror trying to fix ourselves and not enough time looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. My white-knuckled attempts at being good enough and focusing on my performance as a means to convince God to do something, is a poor substitute for worshiping the One who has already done everything in my place.

OK, so what do we do with a Bible is chocked full of rules and commands? Are you suggesting that we ignore them? Of course not. But lets be honest, what I find is that I can’t and often won’t obey them; even on my best day. And if by chance or by heroic effort I manage a few minutes of perfectly obedient behavior – it is likely that my motives for doing so were mixed at best.

Now don’t misunderstand what I am saying. Obedience is a wonderful thing. I actually prefer it to disobedience. But obedience to earn or keep a righteous standing before God is an insult to God’s Holiness and Christ’s sacrifice. Only Christ’s PERFECT obedience, in my place, is good enough for a holy God. My works earn nothing, because there is nothing to earn. We already possess God’s full unwavering love and acceptance. It was given to us when we believed the words that our glorious Savior whispered 2000 years ago, “it is finished.” Today He still bears the scars to prove it. We are as holy as we are ever going to be every moment of every day. The shocking truth is we are as holy as Jesus, even when we are in the act of sinning (which we almost always are), because our righteousness comes from outside of us. It comes from Christ. It is a gift of free grace from our holy God at the expense of His Son. That’s not an excuse. It’s just the truth.

So what is a Christian to do? Do I give up on trying to obey? Well, that’s where grace comes in. By His grace, mweak and feeble attempts at obedience actually become something. Though they are not good enough to earn anything or change my status; by grace they become a beautiful offering of love from a grateful redeemed sinner to their loving Father. Though my obedience does not move God’s hand, it does bless His heart; and becomes an act of worship to the One who is worthy of it.

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness. Psalm 29:2

14 thoughts on “To oBEy or Not to oBEy? That is not the Question.

  1. It is funny how the church struggles with obey or not to obey. Does God require us to obey or is it His best suggestion. The man on the radio reads God’s word and concludes God requires it. But when we look at ourselves and see our own sin nature we feel it is impossible to not sin, therefore it becomes God’s will for us not to sin. But not an absolute requirement.

    So again, does God reuire us to obey or is it His best desire for us? I find it shocking that John in his first letter says that a believer in God can not sin because God’s Spirit remains in him. He doesn’t stop there, he says if we sin we are of the devil. Not stopping there he says this is how the sons of God and the sons of the devil are manifest, by whether they obey God or not.

    To obey or not to obey?

  2. It is confusing for people. That is why this post is sub-headed, “that is not the question.” Obedience is not optional. God’s Law is good, and He commands us to obey it, but we can’t do it perfectly (also a requirement). That is why we need His grace, purchased at the cross. Those that are afraid of grace think that it is mutually exclusive with obedience. It is not. Grace simply says, that our imperfect obedience and corrupt good works earn us nothing. Jesus did it all. Bearing that in mind, our obedience and good works become truly valuable to God, because we are actually doing them for Him; not to earn something from Him. To obey or not really isn’t the question. Why we obey is. Grace and Peace.

  3. Thank you for the reply.

    I hear what you are saying. Many say the same thing. I can go all over the web and in churches and here the same message. But at the same time I see scripture that would not agree with what we say.

    What is more true:
    Heb 5:8-9 KJV Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; (9) And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation
    Heb 5:8-9 KJV Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; (9) And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;

    I don’t know, but it seems James, Hebrews, Paul agree
    1Jn 2:29 KJV If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.

    Paul’s comments in Galatians where he said God will not be mocked, what ever a man does that will he reap. Either it is righteouness unto eternal life or unrightoueness unto death. He says the same thing in Romans 6:11-23.

    Not to be a harpie, but in Romans 8:1 we like to quote: Rom 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus
    But it actually says:
    Rom 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

    Then Paul again goes into an explaination of this grace is only for those who do not walk according to the sinful nature but rather walk in rightoeuness according to the Spirit. Match this with James comments about those in God can not sin (mentioned above) it seems that scripture is holding a different opinion on the subject. It seems rather if we continue to walk in the sin nature after we come to believe we have not participated in grace.

    Heb 10:26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,

    I can find these and other verses which seem to be quite clear. But I can not find any scripture that teaches anyone they can live a sinful life and be His. I find that a sinner can repent and turn from sin, experience God’s grace and be His. But I can not find where the sinner can be His and continue to live in sin. Instead I read that Jesus came so we would be set free from the sin nature by our turning away from our inquities.

    Acts 3:26 Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.

    I understand what you and so many are saying. I just see so many scriptures that say something else. It doesn’t appear to me that both can be correct. I am no legalist! I can’t stand it when others say we have to obey the Law. That is not the gospel message at all!

    1. I think we agree on everything except our ability to actually meet the righteous requirement of the Law in and of ourselves, or where our righteousness comes from. Paul, the author the the Hebrews and James all agree that we are saved by faith alone, but faith that saves is never alone. My point is not that Christians aren’t to obey; we are. My point is that we aren’t righteous because we obey, we obey because we are righteous. The verse you quoted in Hebrews makes that point. “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,” (Heb 5:8-9). It is His perfection that pleased the Father, He became the source of our eternal salvation. His perfection alone is the source of my eternal righteousness that naturally results in my obedience, else my heart has never really tasted grace.

      Cheap grace is not grace that saves sinners and keeps Christians; without help from their performance. That grace must be priceless to accomplish such a feat. Only the blood of Christ could purchase such a treasure. Grace that is only capable of starting the Christian life and unable to keep the Christian, and must be supplemented by good works and obedience is cheap, because I can afford that myself.

      The real question is, do we believe that Jesus did, once and for all what we could never do for ourselves. And do we believe that truth is enough to motivate me to live righteously for His glory, not because I have to (it is finished) but because nothing brings me greater joy. That is the gospel that I believe the whole of Scripture teaches. That is the gospel that set me free from worshiping at the feet of the idol of “the good Christian.” That is the gospel period.

      I would encourage you not to scour the internet for answers. Pick up a couple good books by educated men that have lived it. Men who have tried to live and minister as religious moralists, only to be set free by the gospel of His amazing grace. Here are a couple suggestions – both available on Amazon

      Jerry Bridges – Transforming Grace
      Bryan Chapell – Holiness by Grace

      Grace and Peace.

  4. Thanks for your comments.

    There is one thing I find very interesting about people who hold certian persepectives about scripture. Like in this case, I give specific verses and would really like your input on them because I can’t reconcile what your saying with the verses I gave above. Instead of addressing the verses people always tell me to go study. Read a couple of good books, go get under some good teaching. But no one ever wants to say, this verse you are bringing up means this. And this one means that, and this is why I hold to my view. Over and over again I get encouraged to go somewhere else to get the education in the things of the Lord by those who preach the educated things on the internet.

    Just so you know I believe the grace given to Abraham was given to us. Through Christ becoming a curse on the cross we gentiles are now included in the blessings given to Abraham by which we recieve the Holy Spirit. This grace is imputed righteousness.

    I also believe when we receive His Holy Spirit we are born again and the old sin nature is supposed to be dead. This is why scripture speaks of our sins past being forgiven. If we are born of Him as John says, we can not sin. This is only possible by living in the Spirit. Not by teaching Christians to be moral.

    When we have the fruits of the Spirit in our lives how can we violate the Law of Moses? We can not, it is not possible. This is how we can be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect. Evidence of our being His is in the transformed life.

    I believe Christ redeeming work is powerful enough to make it so christians do not have to go to 12 step programs to be set free from addiction or have secret sins that plague us. Every tree that bears bad fruit will be cut down. I believe God has given us everything we need to have evidence of the saving work of Christ on the cross in our lives. We don’t live righteously in the Spirit to be good, we live righteously in the Spirit because God has taken lust out of those who struggle with adultry. God takes hate out of those who would murder. God takes greed out of those who want only the things of this world. We can be holy as He is holy when we are in the Spirit.

    To me this is how those verses are relevant and true in the Christian life. If we are born again, there is nothing of the old man to manifest himself again.

    1. Thank you for reading my blog and the dialogue that has followed. I appreciate it greatly. Regarding your last comments, it seems a little unfair to say that “people like me” don’t want to talk about the scriptures and just want to redirect to other writers etc. I was certainly not implying that you need to educate yourself, insinuating that you weren’t. I thought you were genuinely interested my position. If that were true, you would also be interested in how someone who previously held beliefs nearly identical to your own, has come to see things differently. I was only trying to point you toward good resources rather than reading the musings of people with an ax to grind. There was no desire to dodge your questions or disparage your point of view. There are way too many in the blogosphere that are preaching grace ungraciously. I certainly don’t want to join their ranks. We could go back-and-forth tit-for-tat, and offer differing opinions and interpretations of various passages, but proof-texting would be an unprofitable use of our time and God’s word; because we are approaching these passages from different points of view. I am not sure either one of us is going to change our point of view any time soon. However, I will praise the Lord that both you and I have a deep desire to love and obey the one who bought us with His blood, by the power of His Spirit, for the glory of His name! Grace and peace to you. CM

      1. Respectfully, I have only been asking what is your view of those scriptures I have brought up. I have been asking how you connect the dots with scripture. I know your opinion of the scripture as a whole but I would know what you think of those verses that seem to stand in contradiction to what you are saying. Certainly they are part of the thinking process that has brought you to your conclusions.
        Please do not think of me as wanting to be disrespectful. Maybe make a post concerning the truth of the gospel you hold and those scriptures I have brought up. Maybe you could ask me what ones in particular I wanted you to address. Wouldn’t this be most helpful for a discusion and others can see how you made such a dramatic change in your views and life in Christ.
        Would not this be good?

      2. Thank you.

        Could you please take the time to explain the following verses. This way you can address not only me but others that stumble upon them.

        Heb 10:26-27 KJV For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, (27) But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.

        1Jn 3:5-10 KJV And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. (That part we agree on) (6) Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. (7) Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. (8) He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. (9) 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. (10) In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.

        Heb 5:8-9 KJV Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; (9) And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;

        Rom 2:5-11 KJV But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; (6) Who will render to every man according to his deeds: (7) To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: (8) But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, (9) Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; (10) But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: (11) For there is no respect of persons with God.

        Heb 5:8-9 KJV Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; (9) And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;

        2Th 1:7-9 KJV And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, (8) In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: (9) Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;

        This isn’t all of them but it does show a possible pattern and teaching that speaks of the requirement of obedience to abide in Him. This does not mean that we make ourselves righteous before God. But being made righteous we need to obey or our faith is in vain, if you believe faith can be in vain. If you want more scriptures please let me know. I really look forward to your addressing these scriptures. Thank you.

      3. Dave,

        I have not forgotten my promise to interact with the passages you have given me. I have been crazy busy finishing up a seminary class, working my day job, and pastoring a church. However, I am now prepared to address your questions, but not through a typical blog post. I am going to do a two week sermon series on grace starting this Sunday. This week I will lay a foundation with a message called, “oh how great a salvation.” Next week I will preach “grace under fire,” and interact with at least some of the verses you gave me. I don’t know if I can get to all of them, but I will try to address the ones that seem to be most at odds with sanctification by grace. If you are interested in tuning in live, you can do it at 11am Pacific Time. Otherwise I will put links up to the recorded messages on this blog. Thanks for seeding the clouds with a great idea. If grace doesn’t apply to all of scripture, then it doesn’t apply at all.

        Grace and Peace.

      4. Thanks Charlie,
        Please put up the link. I have a very slow internet access and don’t think I can do live stuff. I can’t even use skype it is so slow.

        I too have been trying to describe grace. On my recent post I have been describing it not only as our sins nailed to the cross, but our old sin nature was also nailed to the cross according to Paul. Paul also teaches our old sin nature was buried with Christ and now we are raised as a new creature in creation to live in by the Spirit in the Spirt were we do not live according to the old sin nature. All of this is by the same grace of God that puts our sins on the cross. For we could not crucify our old sin nature, we could not bury our old sin nature and we certainly could not make ourselves new by ourselves either. All of this was by the grace of God.

        Someone told me that salvation is not what God does in us but for us. I think scripture clearly teaches salvation is what God does in us and for us.

        Please review my comments and think of them in the context of God’s salvation is something He does in us and not just for us. To me it makes scripture really make sense.

        Only thing is it takes away the confidence of people who make a confession of faith and do not obey the gospel as scripture says in several places.

        Again, please put your link here so I can see that you did it.

        Thanks again.


  5. thank you guys for having a respectful conversation, with differing opinions. I am learning so much from these comments. Serving HIM.

  6. Love to interact with those passages. Looking forward to it. It may take me a little while to get to it, but it will be my next post. Grace and Peace.

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