One of the disputed subjects in the church today is the necessity of obedience for salvation. Is obedience necessary? Clear statements in Scripture demonstrate that this dispute has an agenda behind it, since the Bible leaves no doubt.
GOD’S COMMANDMENT IS
Jesus said, “And I know that his [God’s] commandment is eternal life” (John 12:50a NET).
The New Living Translation renders it, “his commands lead to eternal life.” That’s the general idea, but when Jesus connects “commandment” with “eternal life” by the simple connector verb “is,” he makes the identification extremely strong, similar to when Jesus says, “I am the door.”
This is that. One thing “equals” another. That’s pretty cosy.
But in what sense is God’s commandment(s) eternal life?
It is the keeping or obeying of God’s commandment that brings or leads to eternal life. Obedience is necessary for one to have eternal life.
TO ALL WHO OBEY
Many balk and others squawk at obedience being required for salvation. But the Bible teaches it clearly, says it plainly: the Hebrew writer stated that Jesus “became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:9). Jesus grants eternal salvation — so there’s no doubt here what we’re talking about — only to those who obey him. Here obedience is clearly linked to salvation and shown to be necessary in order to receive it from the source, Jesus Christ.
It also shows that obedience does not cancel out the grace of God. Jesus is still the source, no one creates or produces salvation based on one’s own merits.
OBEDIENCE IN ROMANS
Obedience is even all over that inspired apostolic letter that Protestants hoot about, saying that it teaches justification by faith alone. Nothing further from the truth.
Paul frames his letter to the Romans stating the need to bring Gentiles to the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5; 16:26). It could well be translated “faithful obedience.” It’s not by chance that the phrase opens and closes the letter. (That’s called an “inclusion” and hints at content in between.)
In the book, Paul is quick to point out that “eternal life” goes to those who maintain “perseverance in good works” (Romans 2:7). Amazing!
This is a truth that spans the two testaments, as Paul quotes from Psalms and Proverbs to say that God “will reward each one according to his works” (Romans 2:6). Or maybe he heard that Jesus quoted it, and liked to quote verses that Jesus did (Matthew 16:27).
Don’t let anybody tell you different: we can’t go to heaven without obeying the commands of God. Jesus said it up front, early on, no mealy mouth:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven — only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
A LITTLE DETAIL
Now there’s a little detail we need to note about obedience.
There aren’t any direct commands in Scripture to you or to me. Nowhere does God write, “J. Randal Matheny, I want you to do THIS.” Nowhere.
But it’s not all that complicated. By noting which commands are applicable to everyone, I, through a process of inference, can figure that out. (An inference is when I correctly pick up on an implication of a statement not directly present in so many words.) It’s a natural process we use frequently, so much that it hardly needs a name. But a few hardheads like to deny it, so we name it.
Here’s what I mean. The New Testament says that God wants “all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 NET). I’m a person, so I infer that I’m included in that divine desire that all people repent. That wasn’t hard, was it?
And God, of course, wants us to learn by example. Jesus is set forth in many ways as an example to disciples (John 13:15; Romans 15:1-3; Philippians 2:5-8; 1 Peter 2:21). Paul often puts himself forth as an example (1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 3:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:9; 2 Timothy 3:10). Many Old Testament figures are set down, both negatively and positively, as examples to be followed or shunned (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11). And there are other many examples to follow, such as early Christians: the church in Troas (Acts 20:7), the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:7), the Macedonians (2 Corinthians 8:1-5), Demetrius (3 John 11-12). Much of what early Christians practiced is prescriptive, meaning we ought to follow their example.
Men have their explanations ready as to why none of this means what it says. I’ll stay with the plain language of inspired Scripture. How about you?