In Sunday’s message we observed how Peter, Andrew, James and John responded immediately to the Lord’s command to follow Him. Their obedience was instantaneous and without hesitation. We, thus, concluded that true faith results in obedience. Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated, “Faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience.” Is that true, though?
Some would argue that to make obedience a definitive result of faith muddies the waters of salvation by grace alone. They would insist repentance is a change of mind about Christ and not necessarily a change of mind about sin. A Christian may fall into a state of lifelong carnality and never practice consistent obedience to the commands of Christ. (So Great Salvation, Charles Ryrie, Wheaton, Ill.: Victor, 1989) I strongly disagree with such assertions. To divorce obedience from faith is to cheapen the value of the gospel. Sadly, such a divorce is clearly seen in today’s Christian culture, where many claim to be followers of Jesus Christ but their life has never changed. Here are a few thoughts:
First, we must realize that to join faith and obedience does not change the intrinsic nature of the Gospel. Salvation is still a total work of God. Man’s effort is not involved. Man can do nothing to save himself. God is both the Author and the Completer of our salvation.
Titus 3:5 – He saved us, not because of the works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 2:8 – For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Secondly, real faith does produce a changed life. There is no way a person can be indwelt by the omnipotent power of God and their life not be different. Let me quickly add, though, that such a transformation is not instantaneous and not without great struggle. Even Paul testified about the inner sanctificational struggle he faced (Romans 7:13-25). Nevertheless, in Christ the old way of living, acting and thinking gradually passes away and all things do become new (II Corinthians 5:17). God changes us from the inside out.
Thirdly, such an expectation of a changed life does not come from an external command but from a changed heart. It is not a list of legalistic rules that we follow, but the inner conviction and leading of the Holy Spirit. Charles Spurgeon stated, “The obedience of faith springs from a principle within and not a compulsion from without.”
One author compared such a response to the obedience of a child contrasted to the compliance of a slave. A slave obeys out of mere obligation. His submission is demanded and thus enforced. A child on the other hand, obeys out of love, loyalty and respect for his or her parent. In the same way, as followers of Christ we obey with a cheerful and a willing heart.
John 14:15 – If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
Finally, obedience should never be used as a litmus test of one’s conversion. During the Great Awakening, (a revival that was led by the powerful preaching of Jonathon Edwards and George Whitfield), a believer’s works became the supreme test of one’s faith. Those who did not meet religious expectations were ruled unconverted. Works rather than faith became the basis for salvation. That is a dangerous position to take!
We must always remember that the joining of faith and works is a personal issue. It is a question of individual examination and not congregational condemnation. The Bible never encourages us to examine the validity of another’s salvation. We are, though, to examine our own.
II Corinthians 13:5 – Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
So let me ask, has your faith resulted in your obedience to the Lord? Do you more often find yourself in a state of willful submission or willful rebellion? Once again, Spurgeon said, “Only he who believes is obedient and only he who is obedient believes.” May our faith in Jesus Christ propel us to joyfully obey Him!