I don’t believe anyone can make an honest case for works righteousness, meaning we can do enough good things to merit or earn our salvation. Paul and Jesus both kill that one outright. But what is interesting is that both of them still thought obedience was important. When Jesus finished the sermon on the mount he ended it with a story about two men. One built his house on sand and the other built it on the rock. Jesus says was differentiated these two men was not hearing but doing, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock…But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.” (Mtt 7:24,26).
Once we find out our good deeds and obedience cannot save us it somehow gets discounted and emphasized very little. To be perfectly fair much of the problem is because we talked like obedience saved us for so long that once people realized it wasn’t really the case that the baby got thrown out with the bath water. Just because obedience doesn’t save us by twisting God’s arm enough to make him cry uncle and be forced to save us doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about or is not looking for obedience in our lives. Paul mentions twice in Romans (1:5 and 16:26) that the Gentiles have an obedience that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, their faith in Christ (which does play a role in salvation – Gal 2:16, 3:14; Eph 2:8-10) resulted in obedience. Paul tells us in Eph 2:10 that our salvation by faith in Christ leads us to good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. 2 John 1:6 is a marvelous circular passages that weaves it all together for us in perfect balance – “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” Wow! So our love is shown by our obedience and what we are to be obedient to is God’s command to live a loving life!
It seems to me that the New Testament still teaches obedience (properly defined) is important. We don’t run around like lunatics trying to check boxes. Instead, when God has transformed our hearts the natural outcome will be for us to obey the command to love God and neighbor. Doing so is being obedient. It is interesting that our generation has come back to those two greatest commands as sort of a mantra for the Christian life but often misses the point that even living that way is being obedient to those two commands because if my memory is right commands is what the young man asked Jesus to lay out for him.
Let me close with one example. You have been married 20 years and you decide that the marriage covenant is secure, she should love you just the way you are. So you decided to never again lift another finger to help her around the house. She married you for love, not for housework, right? Was housework in your vows 20 years ago? So you give it all up. What would that result in? Do you think she might eventually question if you really loved her if you had a heart that saw good things that needed to be done and saw that she needed you to be involved in those things but you no longer cared because you married for love not for chores. Chores don’t make a marriage but they show you are on board and invested on the greater good of the household.
Obedience matters to God because obedience reveals the condition of our heart. The one thing Jesus had to learn was obedience (Heb 5:8). Maybe God wants us to learn it as well. Last thought here. Words like Lord and principles like submission have obedience implied all over them, right? If Jesus is Lord and calling the shots in my life what am I supposed to do with that? If I am supposed to live a life of submission wouldn’t that result in my being obedient to someone, somehow? I have never regretted any decision that I have made that was an effort to be obedient to God. I have many regrets from times I chose another route.
Does obedience get a bad rap?