WHY “must” we obey?

There are several scriptures that say we “must” obey, expectations we must meet. and obligations we must fulfill, as in Colossians 3:8, “But now YOU MUST rid yourselves of all such things as these,” followed by a list of 6 things we should get rid of. And Ephesians 5:3, “But among you there MUST NOT BE even a hint of…,” followed by another list of 6 things we’d better not do. And there’s another list of 6 things we must get rid of in Ephesians 4:31 too.

Romans 8:12 also bluntly states that “we have an obligation” to not live according to our sinful nature, and it’s up to us to “purify ourselves by obeying the truth,” 1 Peter 1:22. There are tons of scriptures saying what Christians must do.

But WHY must we do all these things? It’s not for our salvation because “it is by grace you have been saved,” Ephesians 2:5, and salvation can’t be “attained by human effort,” Galatians 3:3, including our efforts at obedience. So if we’re not obeying to gain salvation, why all these lists of things that WE MUST do?

Because Paul had learnt by experience what a Christian is capable of when he’s “been crucified with Christ” and the resurrected Christ now lives in him, Galatians 2:20. He’d learnt an amazing “secret,” as he called it, the secret being, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength,” Philippians 4:13. There wasn’t any sin, or temptation to sin, that Paul couldn’t handle. He could respond to it exactly as Jesus himself would have responded. It was an amazing discovery that made him want to know a lot more of “Christ and the power of his resurrection,” Philippians 3:10.

And he discovered that “(all) the righteous requirements of the law” could be “fully met” in him, Romans 8:4, and “by the Spirit” he could “put to death (all) the misdeeds of the body,” verse 13. In other words, he could obey God in every circumstance. So when he wrote that “we must” obey, it’s because he’d discovered “we CAN” obey – because Christ is now living HIS perfect life in us through the Spirit.

Everything Paul tells us we must do, therefore, is actually a promise of what the SPIRIT will now do in us. So our focus is not on trying our hardest to obey, but to recognize – and keep recognizing, Colossians 3:2 – that “Christ is our life” now, verse 3, and because he’s our life HE is now transforming us into his likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18). In what ways? They’re all listed for us in those “must” and “must not” commands in Paul’s writings. Every one of them is what Christ through the Spirit is now making possible in those who trust in him.


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