Grace-Fueled Obedience Is Absolutely Necessary for Christlikeness
Can you imagine a Christian couple actually praying about living together before marriage? Can you fathom a young woman who professes Christ even bothering to pray about whether she should marry an unbeliever? Can you grasp a Christian businessman having to pray about whether he should tell the truth in a transaction? When the Word of God is so clear, praying to discern God’s will becomes a convenient excuse—or even a prolonged filibuster—to avoid doing what Scripture commands.
Many who profess Christ today emphasize a wrong view of grace that makes it a free pass to do whatever they please. Tragically, they have convinced themselves that the Christian life can be lived without any binding obligation to the moral law of God. In this hyper-grace distortion, the need for obedience has been neutered. The commandments of God are no longer in the driver’s seat of Christian living, but have been relegated to the backseat, if not the trunk—like a spare tire—to be used only in case of an emergency. With such a spirit of antinomianism, what needs to be reinforced again is the necessity of obedience.
For all true followers of Christ, obedience is never peripheral. At the heart of what it means to be a disciple of our Lord is living in loving devotion to God. But if such love is real, the acid test is obedience. Jesus maintained, “If you love me,you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Genuine love for Christ will always manifest itself in obedience.
This does not mean that a Christian can ascend to sinless perfection. This will never be realized this side of glory. Neither does it imply that a believer will never disobey God again. Isolated acts of disobedience will still occur. But the new birth does give a new heart that desires to obey the Word. In regeneration, God says:
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezek. 36:26–27)
In this heart transplant, God causes the believer to pursue Spirit-energized obedience. The Apostle John agrees when he writes, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3). In the new birth, the elect are granted saving faith, and they immediately begin to walk in “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5). There is no timelapse between the time of conversion and when one begins to obey Christ. The exercise of saving faith is the first step of a life of obedience. When Jesus preached, “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14–15), this was issued as an urgent imperative. The gospel is more than an offer to be considered—it is a word from God to be obeyed. John writes, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life” (John 3:36). In this verse, believing in Christ and obeying Him are used synonymously. Simply put, true faith is obedient faith. Our obedience of faith is not the grounds upon which God declares us righteous, but it reveals our faith to be genuine.
At the moment of conversion, we transfer our allegiance from our old master, sin, to a new Master, Jesus Christ. Paul explains, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Rom. 6:16). Here, the Apostle quotes a general axiom in life, namely, that slaves live in obedience to their ruling master. In conversion, there is an exchange of masters, a relinquishing of our old bondage to sin for a new loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul further stresses this truth: “You who were once slaves of sin have became obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, became slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:17–18). Everyone is a slave, either of sin or of righteousness. Before conversion, we were slaves of sin and lived in obedience to sin. But in conversion, we became slaves of Christ and live in obedience to Him.
Throughout one’s Christian life, John claims that genuine believers will continue to “keep his commandments.” “Keep” is in the present tense, indicating an ongoing obedience throughout the entirety of a believer’s life. Here is the perseverance of the saints. All who are born again will pursue obedience to the end. “Commandments” is plural, indicating obedience to the full spectrum of the divine requirements. Following Christ does not allow for selective obedience. Rather, we must obey all the commandments of God, not merely the convenient ones.
When John says believers “keep” the commandments, this pictures a guard or watchman watching over a priceless treasure. In like manner, the one who knows God will keep a sharp watch over all that His Word requires. “And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3), but they are a blessing (Ps. 1:1). Every step of heart-prompted obedience leads to experiencing abundant life in Christ. Conversely, every step of disobedience takes us away from the joy of divine goodness.
Far from being optional, grace-fueled obedience is absolutely necessary for Christlikeness. Is there any need to pray about whether or not to obey God’s Word? You just need to obey.
This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.