Great Principles of our Salvation (III): How Obedience Saves
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (Jn. 3:16). We must understand God's great love and how to receive it. We must understand that grace, faith, and obedience save. Even those who are already saved need reminding (2 Pet. 1:13-15; 3:1-2). We either will remember or else neglect the great principles of our salvation. Neglect spells disaster. "Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip" (Heb. 2:1). Under Moses' law, "every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward;" but we live under a far better covenant with better promises. Does that mean God will be more lax with our neglect? To the contrary, if those under a less perfect covenant were surely punished, "how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation" under the perfect law of liberty (Heb. 2:23)?
God said of Israel, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge . . seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children" (Hos. 4:6). We, too, will be destroyed as the distinctive people of God if we forget the great principles of our salvation! "Ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls" (Jer. 6:16). Truth must stand out clearly from error. God's truth must be preached and practiced in its distinctive nature in order for people to be drawn unto Himself. Both for our own sake and the sake of others, we must demand nothing less than the sound doctrine of the certified Gospel. "Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee" (1 Tim. 4:16).
God's grace saves in that the Father purposed or planned salvation, the Son died on the cross for our sins, and the Holy Spirit revealed the message of grace. Our faith saves as it activates obedience. How does obedience save?
Grace, Faith, and Obedience Always Necessary
In every age of God's dealings with man, grace, faith, and obedience have been necessary for salvation. In the Patriarchal Age, "by faith Abraham . . . obeyed" (as did all the characters of great faith listed in Heb. 11). When Abraham brought his son as an offering according to God's command, God said that not only would He "multiply thy seed," but also "in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." Notice carefully the next words: "because thou hast obeyed my voice" (Gen. 22:15-18). Had Christ not come, not even Abraham could have been saved. Thus, Abraham's obedience was necessary for his own salvation, as well as necessary for the unfolding of the divine plan to save us all. In Genesis 26:1-6, God reminded Isaac of these promises given "because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws." In this context, God had just told Isaac not to go into Egypt but to remain in Gerar. Following the reminder concerning Abraham, the text records Isaac's obedience to God's command: "And Isaac dwelt in Gerar" (Gen. 26:6). That is the nature of true faith.
During the Mosaic Age, God constantly pled with the nation of Israel to obey Him. Obedience was NECESSARY! Moses warned the people near the close of his life that they must obey God's covenant-making no change in it at all (Dent. 4:1-2). Even if they should disobey and be sent into captivity, if they will turn back to God "and shalt be obedient unto His voice," God would show mercy again (4:29-31). This shows God's mercy is conditional on obedience, yet obviously shows as well that His mercy does not depend on a record of sinless perfection. If it did, there would be no hope of a return to His mercy on any conditions. It also shows God would not continue to show mercy to those who continued in sin-they had to meet the conditions, had to obey to obtain mercy. Mounts Ebal and Gerizim were appointed as perpetual witnesses to the conditional nature of God's blessings: "Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; A blessing if ye obey the commandments of the Lord . . . And a curse if ye will not obey the commandments of the Lord" (Dent. 11:2629).
The necessity of obedience may be traced throughout Israel's history. God chose Saul for king when he would obey, rejected him when he would not; this was then recorded as a constant lesson to later generations. Saul tried to excuse his disobedience as "pious." He spared some of what should have been destroyed, but spared it "to sacrifice unto the Lord." Such false piety will not excuse disobedience: "Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice . . . Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king" (1 Sam. 15). God sent prophets with this constant plea: Obey! Isaiah pled for the people to be "willing and obedient" in order that "your sins . . . shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isa. 1:18-20). God reminded His people through Jeremiah that He had sent many prophets "rising early and protesting, saying, Obey my voice" (Jer. 11:1-8).
Obedience is still required in "the day of salvation," the Gospel Age (2 Cor. 6:2). "The just shall live by faith" (Rom. 1:17). We must enter our relationship with God by obedient faith. We must maintain our relationship with God by obedient faith. Jesus taught, "He that doeth the will of my Father" shall enter "the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 7:21). Paul was sent out as an apostle "for obedience to the faith among all nations"; through such inspired men, God gave "the revelation of the mystery . . . to all nations for the obedience of faith" (Rom. 1:5; 16:26). Paul thanked God for all who "obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you," but regretted that among the Jews "they have not all obeyed the gospel" (6:17; 10:16). Through the Gospel, God seeks to bring "into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5). Those who have been saved by grace are "created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Eph. 2:10). In the end of time, Christ will return "taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thess. 1:8); in the meantime, God's people must continue to "obey . . . our word by this epistle," Paul warned (3:14). Peter said to Christians scattered in many regions, "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth," and he made it plain they were to conduct themselves "as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts" (1 Pet. 1:22,14).
Everywhere the New Testament makes plain the necessity of obedience. It is necessary in order both to enter and maintain a proper relationship to God.
How Obedience Saves
How or why does obedience save? How does it fit in God's eternal purpose? In the first place, obedience saves because salvation is conditional. This principle can be seen in the Mosaic Age. When Israel came into the Promised Land, God gave them Jericho as a gift (Josh. 6:2); yet to receive it, they had to march around the city as God required. "By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days" (Heb. 11:30). Reception of the gift was conditioned on obedient faith. When Israel settled in the land, God appointed Mounts Ebal and Gerizim as perpetual reminders of this principle. He promised a blessing "if ye obey" and a curse "if ye will not obey." That word 'Ff" makes the promises conditional. In the Gospel Age, sinners are commanded to believe and be baptized to be saved (Mk. 16:16). Christians are "created in Christ Jesus unto good works"-thus they must continue to walk "as obedient children" (1 Pet. 1:14). Meeting the conditions for a gift does not earn, deserve, or merit anything. That is a primary point missed by denominations and brethren who have drifted into denominational thinking.
Secondly, obedience coupled with faith demonstrates our reliance on God. The majority of the religious world believes obedience to God is an effort of man to rely upon himself-which completely misses the point! When Israel obeyed God's command to march around Jericho for seven days, Israel demonstrated reliance on God. They did not attack the city and fight after the normal manner (Josh. 6:lff). When Naaman dipped in the Jordan River seven times, he demonstrated his reliance on God's command and will and wisdom; therefore, "his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean" (2 Kgs. 5:1-14). When Naaman obeyed God, he was not relying upon himself. So today, "we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7). God's ways and thoughts are far above ours (Isa. 55:89). To lay aside our opinions, ways, and desires, to obey God's word, demonstrates reliance on Him.
Thirdly, obedience glorifies God. When Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire on the altar which God had not commanded, fire from heaven destroyed them. Why? God said, "I will be sanctified . . . I will be glorified" (Lev. 10:1-3). Men may be very pleased and impressed with their own efforts to serve God, but such does not glorify Him. In Numbers 20:7-12, Moses not only spoke to the rock to bring forth water as God commanded, he also struck it with a rod. He intended no disrespect to God, but did it in "pious indignation" at the rebelliousness of Israel. Still, God charged him with unbelief in this instance and pronounced punishment upon him. God said Moses did not "sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel." Had Moses obeyed exactly, God and His word would have been glorified in the sight of Israel. Anytime men accept God's way and set aside their own ways, God is glorified. It is the nature of the Gospel to glorify God through the obedience of men. 1 Corinthians 1 argues that when men searched for God by their own wisdom and could not find Him, God revealed the Gospel as His own wisdom and power unto salvation. "That no flesh should glory in his presence . . . according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord" (vv. 18-31). Likewise, Ephesians 1 presents the eternal purpose of God for salvation. That purpose is "according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace . . ." (vv. 5-6).
Obedience saves because salvation is conditional, because it demonstrates reliance on God, and because it glorifies God. If there is any salvation without obedience, it is unrevealed, unknown, and unknowable to man.
Some Things Not Involved In Salvation By Obedient Faith
The subject of obedience has been so badly misunderstood that it might help to point out some things not involved in salvation by obedience. (1) We are not saved by virtue of our never sinning. Abraham lied, Moses struck the rock, and David committed adultery. Coming to God as sinners (not as men who never sinned), they knew the blessedness of forgiveness (Rom. 4:1-8; Ps. 32). They came by faith and in obedience. God forgave. As many times as they sinned, they could come to God by obedient faith for forgiveness. The point is that we must meet God's conditions for forgiveness when we sin.
(2) No one is saved by any magical power in the act of obedience. There was no magic in the waters of Jordan nor in the act of dipping when Naaman's leprosy was cleansed (2 Kgs. 5). Had there been such, every leper in the Middle East would have dipped for cleansing in Jordan or hawkers would have bottled up and sold the water for a fortune! The same water that destroyed the wicked in the days of Noah, saved Noah-neither case involved magic incantations or actions. Since Noah had obeyed God in building the ark, the water lifted the ark above all the death and destruction: " . . . eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us" (1 Pet. 3:20-21).
(3) Men are not saved by any merit or goodness in the mere form of outward obedience. The prophets constantly rejected such an approach. "When ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood" (Isa. 1:15). John, the forerunner of Christ, in preparing the hearts of men for Christ, rejected all such attempts to fool God. "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance" (Matt. 3:7-8). Paul warned against such thinking in the Gospel Age, "They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him . . ." (Tit. 1:16). Some are described as "having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away" (2 Tim. 3:5).
(4) Obedience does not save on the grounds that it earns, merits, or deserves God's favor in any way. Salvation is conditional, but we could never repay the debt of love we owe. After we meet every condition God gave, we still cannot make ourselves worth the price paid: the blood of Christ! "When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do" (Lk. 17:10).
(5) We cannot be saved by obeying just anything. God's own plan, including its commands, excludes every thing else (Eph. 2:8-9). Some people are more meticulous in keeping "the commandments and doctrines of men" than God's people are in keeping His will. Often, the ordinances of men "have indeed a show of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honor to the satisfying of the flesh" (Col. 2:22-23). Salvation is not promised by God in such practices; rather, Christ Himself warned in regard to such practices, "Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up" (Matt. 15:13). Men cannot create for themselves a ground of righteousness, no matter how "pious" they may be in it; "but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Tit. 3:5).
Every sinner needs to face this question, "Are you obeying God?" Every Christian needs to face this question, "Are you continuing to walk 'as obedient children'?"
Truth Magazine XXI: 31, pp. 489-491