Continued Obedient Faith

"True obedience is instead based on a personal, intimate, living and growing love relationship with God." by Major Cherri Hobbins

We believe that continuance in a state of salvation depends upon continued obedient faith in Christ (Ninth Doctrine of The Salvation Army).

Obedience has never been a popular topic. It cuts across the grain of what we often think “freedom” entails. As I’ve been reading, studying, meditating and practicing Scripture this last year, obedience—doing and not only believing what Scripture says—has been wonderfully life-transforming. Obedience to the Lord as outlined in Scripture has brought renewed and joyful freedom.

So, if we are all reading from the same page, then what is not meant by living a life of “obedience?” It is not slavishly following a prescribed ritual based on a formula. It is not based on interpretations using “ought,” “must” and “should.” Religious people in Jesus’ day had advanced university degrees in this kind of obedience! It led away from joyful freedom and towards inner bitterness stemming from taxing and harsh regulations, making godly obedience almost impossible. Jesus decried this kind of “man-made obedience” when He called out and chastened the religious leaders of His day. Matthew 23 is a long chain of stinging indictments Jesus made against the religious leaders for obedience to their own sets of rules instead of the simple commands of God.

True obedience is based on a personal, intimate, growing love relationship with God. God loves us first! His Holy Spirit continually calls us by grace (prevenient grace, saving grace, growth in grace, sanctifying grace, glorifying grace) into a deeper relationship of love and trust. Over time, we come to understand and trust that God is who He says He is—a God who loves us unconditionally and lavishly. Radical, counter-cultural disciples of Jesus make time daily to deepen their love relationship with God through communion with Him. This is priority number one!

It is out of our love for God and relationship with Him that any kind of joyful and life-bringing obedience flows. Just before His crucifixion, Jesus challenges the 11 remaining disciples, “‘If you [really] love Me, you will keep and obey My commandments” (John 14:15 AMP). As if hearing their doubts and fears expressed by the “what ifs” of ignoring or disobeying His commandments, Jesus repeats Himself and then continues His challenge. “‘If anyone [really] loves Me, he will keep My word (teaching); and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our dwelling place with him. One who does not [really] love Me does not keep My words. And the word (teaching) which you hear is not Mine, but is the Father’s who sent Me’” (John 14:23-24 AMP).

Professor Mike Henderson taught very practical classes in Christian education when I was a student at Asbury University. He firmly believed and taught that only obedience to what was already known and understood in Scripture was what would please God. When asked, “How do I know God’s will for my life?” Dr. Henderson would answer quickly, “What has God already revealed to you? What has God told you to do? Are you doing it?” 

Many of us have studied Scripture for years. We give quick answers in Bible study and Sunday school classes. However, the true test of our study only occurs when we both know and practice what we know. To be pleasing to God, we “plug” Scripture into the everyday practices of our lives and then flip the switch to make them flow through us. This is radical discipleship.

If you have never read Scripture before, consider beginning the practice of reading and then obeying what you read. A good place to begin to know and understand the kind of obedience pleasing to God is in Exodus 20:1–17. Here, God gives to the newly formed nation of Israel the Ten Commandments to follow as they walk together. Consider slowly reading a commandment a day and seriously thinking about it. You might ask yourself some questions as you think. What is this commandment saying? What would following this commandment look like if I lived it out today? What does disobedience to this command look like? What are the consequences of disobedience?

Henry Blackaby, author of “Experiencing God,” has challenging words about obeying God. “In many ways, obedience is our moment of truth. What you do will reveal what you believe about God; determine whether you experience His mighty work in you and through you; (and) decide whether you will come to know Him more intimately.” 

This teaching pairs well with the apostle John’s exhortation in 1 John 2:3–6 (AMP): “And this is how we know [daily, by experience] that we have come to know Him [to understand Him and be more deeply acquainted with Him]; if we habitually keep [focused on His precepts and obey] His commandments (teachings). Whoever says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ but does not habitually keep [focused on His precepts and obey] His commandments (teachings), is a liar, and the truth [of the divine word] is not in him. But whoever habitually keeps His word and obeys His precepts [and treasures His message in its entirety], in him the love of God has truly been perfected [it is completed and has reached maturity]. By this we know [for certain] that we are in Him: whoever says he lives in Christ [that is, whoever says he has accepted Him as God and Savior] ought [as a moral obligation] to walk and conduct himself just as He walked and conducted Himself.”

Disobedience can have long-lasting consequences. Consider Sarah, who could not believe God’s promise to give her a son in her old age. Instead, she convinced Abraham to produce an heir with her servant girl, Hagar. Hagar did conceive and gave Abraham a son named Ishmael. However, Ishmael was not the son of God’s promise. That would be Isaac, yet to be born. Ishmael became a thorn in their flesh. There was always an undercurrent of distrust and hostility between Ishmael and Isaac. Even before his birth, God foretold the character and future of Ishmael and his descendants: “From this pregnancy, you will get a son: Name him Ishmael; for God heard you, God answered you. He’ll be a bucking bronco of a man, a real fighter, fighting and being fought, always stirring up trouble, always at odds with his family” (Genesis 16:11–12, MSG). The consequences of disobedience can reverberate for many generations. What about the consequences of obedience? The consequences of obedience are often eternal!

We need look no further than the earthly life of Jesus. He was constantly expressing and luxuriating in His love relationship with His Father. The instructions the Father gave Jesus in their times of intimate communion were obediently followed. Jesus spoke the Father’s message. Jesus practiced loving His Father and caring for those around Him. He was constantly obedient in living out the assignment given to Him by His Father.

Paul expresses this truth in recording what some believe to be one of the earliest hymns of the Church. As you read these words, note in your mind and heart the obedience displayed by Jesus. Paul writes in Philippians 2:5–10 (MSG):

“Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.”

Jesus’ beautiful life and selfless death on the cross have provided us with the best example of obediencethat is pleasing to God, that is absolutely counter-cultural and radical. Obedience that will take the whole of our attention and affection to emulate. Love God with every part of your being. Obey God every moment of every day out of your intense and intentional love for Him.  

Illustration by Janie Hao