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Obeying God: Why?
By David A. DePra
Should Christians obey God? Yes. But WHY? Why should Christians obey God? Arenít we saved solely, "by grace through faith?" Sure. So why obey?
Actually, few Christians understand why we ought to obey God. We think we understand, but we donít. Some obey God to simply keep out of trouble with Him. Others obey Him to try to earn a bigger eternal reward. Others do it for the sake of their "witness." Still others, while denying they are trying to earn their salvation, obey God to sort of MAINTAIN their salvation. They wouldnít say that, but that is how it works inside of them. Finally, there are many Christians who DONíT obey God. They never give obedience a thought. They believe that since everything is of grace, that the question of obedience was answered a long time ago.
The Foundational Truth
We will never understand the place of obedience in the Christian life unless we realize that it is supposed to be the OUTCOME, rather than the MEANS. What I mean by that is that obedience is the OUTCOME of being correctly related to God by faith. Contrast this over and against legalism, which would say that obedience is the MEANS by which we are correctly related to God.
If we see nothing else, we must see that one Truth. My obedience to God does absolutely nothing to convince Him to save me, love me, or care for me. Neither does my obedience do anything to make me righteous. All of that is accomplished completely independent of me, and given to me, "by grace through faith." But once it is accomplished Ė once I embrace Christ Ė then the OUTCOME of my faith will be obedience.
Obedience is the outcome of being rightly related to God through Jesus Christ Ė by faith. Obedience is the result of the life of Christ in me Ė His righteousness Ė being lived out. Paul said this exact thing in Romans:
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no distinction: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: (Rom 3:19-24)
God has saved us, and made us righteous, completely APART FROM Ė independent of Ė our works. If we have received Christ by faith, not only does God legally impute to us the righteousness of His Son, but He actually INFUSES us with the righteousness of Christ. We are given a righteous life within.
We read this even more clearly in I Corinthians:
But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glories, let him glory in the Lord. (1 Cor. 1:30-31)
The life of Christ within us is, by nature, righteous. HE is our righteousness. But this righteousness must be lived out. Thus, as we yield ourselves to God, the outcome will be RIGHTEOUS WORKS. Again Ė obedience, or righteous works, are the OUTCOME of being rightly related to God. A new creation in Christ Jesus ought to be living like one!
Faith Ė if it is real Ė results in obedience. It HAS to, because faith isnít simply a matter of believing that something is true. Faith is a total surrender and a complete reliance upon the object of my faith. I got saved by surrendering my life to Christ. I am no longer my own. By definition, all of this means that I will want to obey God.
Wanting To Obey
A Christian has this thing called, "the flesh" to contend with. "The flesh" is that part of us which isnít born again. It includes our body and everything having to do with the natural man. But the, "new man in Christ Jesus," is that part of us which is united with God through Christ. That is the REAL US in Christ. Our walk with Christ involves overcoming the flesh, and bringing it into subjection to the Holy Spirit. This too, is obedience.
Notice what Paul said about himself:
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing: for to want to do is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I donít know. For the good that I want to do, I cannot do. But the evil which I donít want to do, that I do. Now if I do what I donít want to do, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that, when I want to do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. (Rom 7:18-25)
We see in this passage that a Christian is going to have times when they WANT TO obey God, but canít. But as Paul says, the attitude of heart of "WANTING TO" matters! That is faith. That is the real us, desiring to obey God. If we read all of Romans 6-8, we find that if we WANT TO obey God, that in time, through the victory of Christ, we will find the freedom to obey Him.
Of course, we are here talking about some of the more difficult points of obedience with which we are all familiar. All Christians have those. But we also have many things over which we can obey God right now. Matters of honesty, for instance. So what God would say to us is this: Obey Me now in what you know to obey, and can obey. Seek the freedom to obey Me where you seem unable to obey.
The desire to WANT TO obey God is part of what it means to be born again. There is no such thing as someone who is born again of God who truly desires to SIN and DISOBEY God. Even with regards to those things which might appeal to our flesh, we will want to obey God in our hearts.
Notice: There are things our flesh might WANT TO do. Things appeal to the flesh. But what is our REAL DESIRE. Do we really want to obey God? Ė despite failures to do so? For a Christian, we do want to obey God.
Paul says that this struggle between flesh and Spirit is going to be there as a NORMAL part of our life. He writes to the Galatians:
For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. (Gal 5:17)
If I donít have this struggle going on inside of me, then it is either because I donít have the Spirit of God (I sure do have the flesh!), or itís because I have not be awakened to it yet. But I will have the struggle. Warfare requires two sides fighting. And if I donít have THIS warfare between flesh and Spirit, then one side isnít in there, has given up, or the battle isnít yet begun.
Despite the impossibility of making our flesh behave, the normal Christian wants to obey God. And because we want to obey God, we will spend our lives, through the faith of Christ, slowly becoming more and more able to obey. The Christian life is one where the new man in Christ progressively emerges into the attitude, conduct, and living, of a born again person.
Obedience is the OUTCOME of being rightly related to God BY FAITH in Jesus Christ! If Christians would simply grasp this Truth, it would do away, once and for all, with legalism and with license. It would bring us back to the true essence of Christianity: Christ in us, the hope of glory. (Col. 1:27)
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