No doubt in my mind, it is one of the more difficult aspects of living in line with the gospel. Is it about grace, or is it about obedience? If I say “both” – which I do – then how does this not add a requirement of works to the gospel requirement of faith alone for our justification/salvation? If I say obedience is not necessary to our salvation – which I also say – then are we not very close to the precipice of anti-nomianism (lawlessness)? No wonder people scratch their heads, and then revert back to patterns learned or to personal instinct – both of which are often wrong.
To avoid confusion, I answered “Yes” to both grace and obedience for a reason. Let me clarify.
I must say that our obedience is not necessary to our salvation, because we are incapable of perfect obedience – and perfect obedience is what the Law demands. To add any measure of obedience to our justification would be to minimize the law and deny the gospel at the same time. Christ became like us, and lived in perfect obedience to his Father, and then died in our place, because we are not and cannot be perfectly obedient. And it we are not perfectly obedient, we are not obedient. But by faith, we are counted as righteous – credited with Jesus’ righteousness as if it were our very own. But part of what we must believe, as part of that faith is that we are disobedient. In a real sense the admission of being disobedient is requisite to be saved. How then could we say that obedience is required for salvation?
On the other hand, God does demand obedience – and he is worthy of our total obedience. But two things occur here, in some ways simultaneously. First, the demand for what we do not and cannot do highlights our brokenness and our dependence upon grace – the grace of a savior. The demand, coupled with our lack of obedience, drives us to either despair or to the cross. Those driven to the cross find, not condemnation, but forgiveness and love, through unmerited grace extended to us by God, because of Jesus. This breaking, because we become aware of our disobedience, is a necessary step toward healing and wholeness. But second, God’s demands are not a mere bait and switch. When he commands obedience, he means it. Inability it no excuse. He commands because obedience not only pleases him, we find that his ways are the ways the work, that lead us to the greatest joy. In short, we find in both obedience and our failures to obey that God’s commands are really a tremendous gift of his love.
While I hope the reader will see the dichotomy – the two distinct tracks – I also hope all will be able to see how these two tracks work together. Obedience cannot be required for salvation, because it denies both our reality and the necessity of the gospel. But in walking with God, obedience is expected – though we fail, and are reminded of our continual need of grace – but it is expected, demanded, because through obedience we are able to bring joy to both God and ourselves. Failure, or disobedience as a Christian does not cause the forfeiture of our salvation; but as Job discovered, we can forfeit the grace of joy that would otherwise be ours – and rob God of the joy that we would give to him. But if that drives us back to the cross, we find grace anew, and we are renewed in faith, strength, to experience the joy that comes through gospel-prompted obedience.
Because this can be such a dizzying subject, I was appreciative when I recently read a short piece by Brad Watson, titled 5 Obedience Killing Lies. Watson rightly notes:
Our ability to quit and become sidetracked is great.
I believe we get sidetracked by the confusion of the place of obedience, as well as by many other things that creep into our consciousness that hinder our pursuit of obedience. Watson focuses on the more practical issues, rather than the confusion of the relationship of Law vs. Grace. As he says in his article:
Our hearts are constantly being attacked by lies that keep us from persevering in faith. These five lies are particularly successful. They are deceptive and effective in killing our conviction to follow Jesus and trust in his work.
1. “You are above this.”
This is the lie of strong pride. That the grunt work isn’t for you. I first heard this lie when I cleaned toilets for a church in Los Angeles. You may hear it while you are watching babies in the nursery Sunday after Sunday. Or when you get stood up once again by your not-yet believing friends for dinner. You hear it when your neighbors shun you for being crazy people who believe in Jesus. The lie is, “You are better then this.” When you believe this lie, you think you are entitled to fame. In reality, you are only entitled to be called a child of God, and that right was purchased by Christ. Don’t settle for position and fame. If you think you are above the job and task, you will not persevere in obedience.
2. “You are below this.”
Many times it also sounds like, “You don’t belong and you don’t deserve this.” This is a lie attacking Christ’s ability to work in and through you. If you believe this lie, you believe that God is not at work, but you are the one at work. This lie leads to fear and rejection of your identity as a son or daughter of God. It is also born out of comparison to others instead of Christ. What is so devastating about this lie is it paralyzes folks from obedience that would give God glory. No one is capable or skilled enough to do what God has called them to do. The Holy Spirit empowers us for the tasks and God is glorified in using us.
3. “If you were better, it would be easier.”
This one comes when things feel incredibly hard. It leads to self loathing and increased suffering. This lie shakes your sense of purpose. You begin to place yourself as the focal point of God’s work and conclude you are either in the way or driving it forward. When things improve, you believe it is because you have done better and have earned it. When things fail, you are certain it is your fault. Similar lies are, “You have to be good to be used for good.” Or “You have to be smarter, better, quicker, more talented, more educated, rich and moral in order to do good.” This leads to a personal quest for self-rightness, excellence, and God’s job. This lie essentially says, “You are this city’s savior.” Eventually you quit in desperation because you have labored without a savior.
4. “If it isn’t happening now, it never will.”
This lie says, “today is all there is and God can’t work tomorrow. If God hasn’t answer your prayers for revival by now, he never will.” When you believe it, you lose perspective on the scope of life and count everything you are doing as worthless. You are no longer content in obedience alone, but want to see what your obedience will create. This is nearsighted dreaming. This lie results in quick quitting or shrinking versions of worthwhile-God-given dreams. This is a lie people believe when the settle for less then the radical surrender and obedience God called them to. When we believe this lie we are saying, “God doesn’t care anymore or he can’t do it.”
5. “You are alone.”
This is the hardest one. Our sinful hearts leap to this lie when we are tired and discouraged. The goal of this lie is to isolate you and make you think no one else cares, and no one else is coming to help. No longer are you being obedient to God’s work, but now you feel like a hired hand. It is as if God is paying you to establish a franchise of his kingdom and is looking for a return on his investment. Your belief in this lie says, “Jesus doesn’t love me or this city. He didn’t died for this city of for me . . . God abandons his people.”
I suspect most of us – all of us, if we are honest and self-aware – have experienced every one of these mindsets that lead to disobedience.
But what I appreciate most about Watson’s article is that does not only point out the problems, then by implication challenge us to do better. Watson digs into our hearts, and applies the gospel – which is the power of God for life and transformation to all who are believing it.
At the heart of each these lies is an attack on your motivation and an attack on the gospel. The truth is Christ died for you. You are loved and you are his son or daughter (1 John 3:1). He has empowered you with his Spirit to be his witness (Acts 1:8). He will work in you and through you as he works all things together for good and conforms you to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:28-29). He is with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28).
The complete article, which includes more of Watson’s own story to illustrate what he is saying, is worth reading, downloading, and sharing. To read the original article, click: 5 Lies