Obedience from the heart
by Richard Amick
Once we sin there is nothing we can do, no steps we can take, nothing we can say that will set ourselves right with God. For there to be any hope of salvation from the guilt and penalty of sin, we have to look beyond ourselves. The only one to whom we can look is Jesus and the redemptive work God graciously accomplished through Him as our representative.
Obedience is not the basis of salvation
We cannot rely on our obedience as the basis of our being right before God. Righteousness “is the character or quality of being right or just.” [William E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New
Testament Words, Vol. III, Lo-Ser, p. 298] It was a frequent topic found throughout Paul’s writings. He spoke to the saints at Philippi about his gaining Christ and being found in Him not having a righteousness of his “own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:9). To the saints in Rome he argued, “throughthe obedience of the One the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). He had in mind the men and women of faith who look beyond themselves to Jesus as their representative. Paul told the people of God who were at Corinth it was by God’s doing that they were in Christ Jesus (First Corinthians 1:29-30) These are a few reasons why the focus of our teaching must be Christ, not “church” or “church polity” or “church doctrine” but Jesus Christ. When Paul went to Corinth, he devoted “himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.” When recounting his visit to Corinth, he said he “determined to know nothing among [them] except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (Acts 18:5, First Corinthians 2:2.)
Obedience is the evidence of salvation
Since we cannot rely on obedience as the basis of being right with God, since it is by God’s doing that men and women of faith are in Christ, and since it is by the obedience of Jesus that we who are in Christ are made righteous, is obedience therefore not important? On the contrary, obedience is very much important. The pursuit of a holy lifestyle should result from our coming to know God’s grace and mercy. The passage that says, “by grace you have been saved through faith” also says, “we are [God’s] workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works” Ephesians 2:8-10). God’s grace instructs us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly…zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14). It is God’s intent that knowledge and appreciation for His grace transform our lives. A transformed life is evidence that a person knowingly received God’s grace that brings salvation. Because of the merciful things God does, we are to present ourselves continually as living sacrifices before Him (Romans 12:1).
Obedience is acceptable when it is from the heart
Paul told the Romans they became “obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed” (Romans 6:17). The expression “from the heart” points to a conscious decision on their part of a desire they had. Earlier, he spoke of their having become united with Christ in the likeness of his death and resurrection so that they might “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4-5). The imagery is death to sin and living in righteousness unto God.
In the text of Romans 6, Paul also speaks of immersion (baptism [The
Greek word that represents “baptized” in Romans 6:3 is baptizō
(bap-tid’-zo). William Vine says, “Primarily a frequentative form of
bapto, ‘to dip,’ was used among the Greeks to signify the dyeing of
a garment or the drawing of water by dipping a vessel into another.”
The Greek word for “baptism” is baptisma, “consisting of the
processes of immersion, submersion and emergence.” (Vine’s
Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, An Expository Dictionary of
New Testament Words, p. 50)]) (Romans 6:3). Immersion in water points to Jesus’ death for our sins and His resurrection to life, which is the message of the “gospel.” The good news we proclaim is the redemptive work God accomplished for sinners by means of the perfect doing and dying of Jesus as our representative. Immersion is not what saves anyone today any more than it saved the saints in Rome. God accomplished our salvation in the Person of Jesus Christ. Immersion is an expression of faith that Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). For believers, immersion has significance because it expresses our trust in the gospel message of salvation.
Closing comments . . .
Is obedience essential? Yes! Does obedience save? No, our salvation is a work of God. It is a work He accomplished in the Person of Jesus Christ. Can we expect the Lord to receive someone for eternity if the person knowingly refuses to obey God’s will? No, not if the person deliberately rejects God’s will. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (Matthew 7:21). Obedience to God’s will should be from a heart of gratitude and love toward Him for his grace and mercy in saving us and delivering us from the punishment we deserve.
The Scriptures speak of “grace through faith” not through obedience. Any favor we receive from God is a gift. In the context of salvation, it is gift received based on faith. Anyone who hopes to have a right standing with God must rely fully on the perfect doing and dying of Jesus as his or her representative. The people who are of God know to look to Jesus for salvation.