“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
There are more than a few dozens of verses in the Bible that contain the word obedience or other forms of it, but none are as well remembered as the refrain of the hymn Trust and Obey. This article aims to show that there are two ways the term is interpreted and applied, one is of the obedience to avoid sins, or to do what is good—this is the most common, and is the type that I call “rudimentary obedience”—, and one of a response to the gospel to enter into a trust relationship with God through Christ—this is rarely taught as an act of obedience as compared to the other.
Obedience and the law
Though there are many things we should be obedient about, it appears obedience in relation to sins seems to be something people are most concerned with; either by commission or omission.
Much energy is spent trying to get the flesh under control, to avoid sins as much as possible. But how successful are these efforts through the ages? Are Christians sinning less and less? The amount of material still dedicated to flesh control shows if it isn’t a losing battle, it hasn’t made any progress.
Also obedience cannot exist apart from a certain system of law. The person following certain patterns of obedience must be under some law. It draws a line between obedience and disobedience, it defines what meets a certain criteria and what doesn’t. To a Christian who did not come into the faith from a Jewish system of laws, he may be under a conscience based law (Romans 2:14) that can exacerbate the problem.
This mode of living runs decidedly against what is taught in the Bible that we’re no longer under law but under grace (Romans 6:14), and we have died to the law since Christ died for us (Romans 7:4). Romans 7:6 says it more emphatically that “we have been released from the law”. And if we follow the thread of reasoning in Romans all the way to Romans 8:12, we’d find that those who measure their standing with God through the law/obedience are actually living according to the flesh.
The following verse may explain why the law fails in restraining the flesh:
For when we were in the flesh, the sinful desires, aroused by the law, were active in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. (Romans 7:5)
There was a time when obedience/law was required to lead us to Christ. The Bible describes us during this time as little children whose guardian, or schoolmaster, is the law who we must obey until we come to Christ. The problem as we have seen is the overwhelming majority of Christians still insists on living under the law, or the obedience to it.
The Obedience which is Faith
However there is a much better obedience, one that is not powered by the law, but by grace through faith. It doesn’t require useless efforts of the flesh, but it requires rest. A rest freely given to those who comes to Christ to trust in His proclamation: “It’s finished!”
Both Calvinists and Armenians believe that the only people who can make it to the kingdom of God are those who persevere, or be obedient, all the way to the end of their lives. Their obedience is based on compliance to the law. Not the obedience proposed by this article.
This article proposes that the very faith in the finished work of Christ is itself the obedience that Christ came to die for. This obedience is expressed in the following two verses:
. . . through whom we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name. (Romans 1:5 —NKJV)
. . . and by the prophetic Scriptures [the mystery] has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith. (Romans 16:26 — NKJV)
Let’s also consider these verses that help us see that to obey God is to believe in the one He’s sent: Acts 6:7, Romans 10:16, 2 Thessalonians 1:8, John 3:36, John 6:28-29, 1 Peter 1:2, 1 Peter 1:22, 1 Peter 2:7-8, and Acts 5:32 (please go here for a great explanation of the “obedience which is faith”).
Who do you believe, the Calvinists/Armenians or the Bible? John 3:16 puts it very simply, and powerfully, directly from the mouth of God: “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 (KJV).”
This is the obedience that pleases God. This is the obedience that works. And this alone is the obedience that takes you to heaven. The other obedience may actually make you fall from grace because all will have failed it all the time.
- Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.
Disclaimer: This is my own opinion on the topic, which does not necessarily reflect the church's theology, or beliefs of the individuals in it — Nghi Nguyen
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